In March, shortly before the start of the pandemic, a series anti-Muslim pogroms broke out in Delhi, spurred on by the Brahmanic nationalism of Modi‘s party. The incidents joined long list of nationalist violence. Not few readers then asked us for recommendations on Indian history and audiovisual references -films, series- to understand social and political context in a closer way despite the inevitable ideological filters of any industrial story: they will never show class struggles, even if they point out contradictions. With the current tensions on the border of the Himalayas, those requests have appeared again. And since some Indian series are accessible on two of the biggest multinational platforms (Amazon Prime and Netflix), we think it can be a good contribution for the weekend to explore four of the best.
Although Prime has not bothered to put Spanish subtitles on it – they are only available in English – this crime thriller is undoubtedly the best series on the international circuit this season. In it are, used with discretion, all the ingredients of the great productions of political cinema: the contradictions between countryside and city, the weight of the caste system in the rural regions and of anti-Muslim discrimination in the cities, the links between political parties, gurus and mafias, the role of the state in the interlocking of the different layers and castes of the Hindustani exploiting classes… The series unfolds in a double axis of dramatic tension: between Delhi and the province on the one hand, and between the well-to-do, anglicized petty bourgeoisie of India, linked to “modern” industries such as the audiovisual industry, and the class structure that shapes towns and cities.
From this season’s best series to last year’s best. “Delhi Crime” is based on the Nirbhaya case: the rape and brutal murder of a young girl on a bus on her way back from watching “Pi’s Life” in the cinema with a friend. The crime had international repercussions as it managed to massively mobilize the student body and the urban petty bourgeoisie against insecurity and violence against women. The approach of the series, told from the point of view of the inspector in charge of the case, is realistic and points well to how the contradictions of capital and the Indian state end up becoming a real meat grinder continually creating monsters and victims among the decay. It is, of all the Indian series, one of the most clear-cut accounts of daily life in the working class neighborhoods and of the gulf between city and province. The scenes that tell of the fragility and the role of the state in “naxalite” areas are priceless for understanding a state that is gigantic and powerful but at the same time “stitched with gum and haywire”.
From Delhi we go to Mumbai, capital of Bollywood, with a series that was the first great international success of the Indian audiovisual. It’s a series of adventures and conspiracies, unlike the previous ones on this list. And yet, it takes place in historical time, building the lives of the protagonists around the great landmarks of “religious” and anti-Muslim violence of the last four decades. The role of Modi’s BJ party, the entanglement and conflicts between the different “religious” groups of the bourgeoisie, the clientelist organization of the parties, the omnipresence of the “services” -whether CBI (domestic intelligence, but also terrorism) or the RAW (external intelligence)… appear naturally in a story, sometimes a little cheesy, sometimes too “movie-like”, but always very entertaining throughout its two seasons.
Made in Heaven
And finally a series also of Mumbai and much less violent than the previous ones. In the end it conveys the world view of the petty bourgeoisie and the anglicised bourgeoisie of the city through the experiences of some luxury wedding planners. It is centered, of course, on love and sexual relations and all criticism is limited to the culture of interpersonal relations in the privileged classes. But even if the “message” is limited to the good intentions of sentimental and anglicized progressivism, the series is good, addictive even, with well-constructed characters and sufficiently full of details and diverse atmospheres so that a European or South American viewer will enjoy discovering parts about Indian reality that even if they knew or imagined beforehand, they probably wouldn’t get to understand fully.