Let's say you are envious of your friend's intellect, or social stature, or the power they wield over your life. Now, how would you choose to acquire these attributes? Raja Kolander a.k.a Ram Niranjan allegedly believed that he could obtain such qualities by beheading individuals who possess them, stewing their brains in a boiling pot, and drinking the soup that came out of it. He allegedly did this to 14 different people, over the years, until he was nabbed in 2000. If reading this gives you the jitters, imagine watching it, even if it's a reenactment. Indian Predator: The Diary of a Serial Killer is such a gruesome retelling of serial killer Raja Kolander's story.
Now, this might seem like a cause of concern to those who watched the underwhelming first instalment of the docu-series, ‘Indian Predator: The Butcher of Delhi’, which banked purely on the gore and brutality of the crimes committed by its subject. In this second instalment, however, despite its chilling depiction of gore, there is an earnest attempt to explore all facets of a baffling story. The series' focus never derails from telling Raja's story and what made him who he is, and there is a visible effort to investigate the accusations of cannibalism while not making it all about the heinous nature of the act.
It seems as if director Dheeraj Jindal and co. have taken notes from the underwhelming reception of 'The Butcher of Delhi', that we get an actual mental health professional, a social anthropologist, and a social activist with knowledge of Raja's community background, who dissect the subject's psyche as well as help us view the story through socio-economic, socio-political, and socio-religious lenses; all of which were absent or shallow in the first instalment.
What sets off the investigation into Raja, and reveals him to be a not-so-ordinary killer, is the discovery of a diary in which he used to note the names of his victims. Serial killers like Raja keep a diary to remember and revisit the murders and the high they got out of them, says Rajat Mishra, a clinical psychologist who works as an honorary consultant to law enforcement. Interestingly, Rajat also tells us what exactly makes this serial killer a ‘predator’: killers like Raja build a fantasy around a victim, imagine themselves acting out those fantasies, then lay out a meticulously designed plan, and work it out obsessively until they achieve the very last detail of it. It’s brilliant how, during such interviews with experts, the series intersperses shots of desolate nothingness of the night, and the scenes that reenact the details of the murders that Raja supposedly revealed during his confession. Despite laying out the most ‘shocking’ aspect of the story up front, the intrinsic nature of the story is such that there are many surprises to wait for in the three-episode run.
In a surprising move, the makers also manage to get us an audience with Raja himself. Of course, he challenges the justice system, blames the authorities for his condition, and categorically denies the accusations. But before you jump to a conclusion about all the accusations, the series pulls off something remarkable in the second half of the second episode. It is revealed that Raja hails from the tribal community of Kol, a marginalised community that has faced several forms of discrimination, even within the Scheduled Castes category under which they claim to have been wrongly placed instead of the Scheduled Tribes category. All the oppression arising out of caste and class divisions and the struggles that he and his people were forced to shoulder have played a vital role in Raja becoming this serial killer — the series lays down several points to support this argument.
At the same time, with the help of Badri Narayan — a social anthropologist with decades of experience in understanding the movements and assertions of subaltern communities — and Hansraj Kol — a social activist who works towards the upliftment of Adivasi society — the series concludes that the accusations of cannibalism have no relationship with Raja's tribal identity and that, if these accusations are true, it is a trait that arose out of his criminal self as a strategising tool. It's commendable that Indian Predator treads such sensitive ropes carefully, and aims to alleviate such notions that have historically been harmful to such marginalised sections of society. Meanwhile, Raja dismisses the very allegation of cannibalism as a fiction created by authorities and media (the role of media in the case is also argued about). These sequences show how the series chooses to take an impartial stand when it comes to accusations that are yet unproven. Such an objective stand is something that the previous instalment lacked, by not investigating Chandrakant's accusations of police brutality.
In the third episode, we see experts keep using the phrase “imagined reality” to describe the psychological space in which a psychopathic killer like Raja operates; it is clever how Indian Predator lays down several examples to explain this. Raja operates on metaphors and symbols that arise out of this imagined reality in which he assumes to be the whole criminal justice system. It is due to this that he chose the name Raja Kolander for himself, the name Phoolan Devi for his wife, why he names his children Andolan (protest), Zamanat (bail), and Adalat (court), and also why he chose to seize a Tata Sumo. Again, the series continues to state the many social and psychological factors that might have been at play here.
Ultimately, Indian Predator: The Diary of a Serial Killer is a chilling exploration into the darkest of corners of the human mind. There is a strong narrative structure in place — there is a reason why the series begins and ends with Dheerendra’s murder in particular— and it also resists employing cheap gimmicks to elevate drama or fear. Technical aspects like cinematography and editing are used in a more earnest and just manner.
Indian Predator: The Diary of a Serial Killer is currently streaming on Netflix