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Documentary Review – The Karma Killings

India and the rest of the world were left shaken in 2006, when a pair of serial killers were caught after killing 19 children, what made the whole situation even more shocking was that one of the serial killers was a local business man Moninder Singh Pandher who was regarded as a pillar of society. This documentary tries to piece together the complicated story and discover the truth of whether Pandher is the mastermind behind the heinous crimes, or whether it was the sole actions of his manservant Surinder Koli.

Many children had gone missing from the nearby slums of Nithari over the past two years and their parents alleged that police had ignored their complaints, interviews with the families and the police paint a harsh reality that missing/runaway children are a common thing in these slum areas, and that the police are stretched beyond their capability.

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After the first corpses were discovered, it was reported in the media that several children from the slums had been lured to their deaths by Koli, who had invited them into the house, offering them sweets and chocolates. The documentary reveals that Koli has a family back home in rural India, with children the same ages as the ones he murdered. In one of the film’s most heart-breaking scenes Koli’s wife helps her daughter pen a letter to her father asking why he committed these crimes. Interviews with the police officers who interrogated the man reveal that he apparently snapped, and being alone in Pandher’s house (whilst his boss was away on business) meant he had the freedom to indulge his sick fantasies.

The film doesn’t gloss over the facts, they are presented to us in all of their shocking detail, not only did Koli kills these poor innocent children, he raped them and disembodied their bodies, tossing them away in the garbage heap at the bottom of Pandher’s garden. However it’s revealed that Koli was tortured during his questioning, and as a result he may have exaggerated certain aspects to shock the police. It was also during these “questioning sessions” that he informed police that his employer was also guilty of rape and murder.

Mr Pandher denied all the charges against him from day one, but was vilified and portrayed as a monster by the press. And this is what Indian-American filmmaker Ram Devineni is most interested in as the documentary unfolds. As Devineni states during an interview with the BBC, “With his beard and moustache, he [Pandher] looked like the perfect Bollywood villain. Then there were stories of his drinking, call girls coming to his house, his depression. Mr Pandher was a rich man, he was this privileged person and everyone wanted to bring him down.” But of course, the biggest question remains unanswered. How did Mr Pandher not know that his servant was committing these murders in his own house?

Ram Devineni spent more than three years investigating the Nithari crimes, after he became fixated on the case whilst visiting relatives in India in December 2006 as the murders played out on news TV channels. “I was reading the stories in the papers and magazines and watching it on TV, thinking this is too unbelievable. Every day, new revelations were being reported and each one stranger than the next.” He spends a considerable amount of time with Pandher’s son who is fighting to prove his father’s innocence, showing us hotel receipts and flight details that prove that Pandher was out of the country while many of these murders took place. This story is very much the Indian version of Making a Murderer or In Cold Blood, but also reveals the flaws of the media and how they sensualise news stories and exploit the grief of others for ratings.

There’s so much material here, that I felt the documentary would have been better suited for a mini series to explore more background to Koli and Pandher. The documentary is impactful, and the story will haunt you for a long time. It asks a lot of questions, but I’m afraid there are very little answers. This is certainly a tough watch, and I would recommend people approaching it with caution. But, it’s an important watch, we need to be asking these questions, and we need to be challenging the media, most of all there’s needs to be justice for the families and the children who tragically lost their lives.

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