The new season of Netflix’s true crime series Indian Predator begins with a song and carries on in the manner of a ballad sung by the oppressed. Murder in a Courtroom revisits the lynching of career criminal Akku Yadav at the district court in Nagpur on August 13, 2004. Reports at the time stated that Yadav – who had a police escort, was handcuffed to a fellow inmate and was on his way to the courtroom – was brutally attacked by a mob of around 50 people, most of them Dalit women.

Fifty became 200 (no more, no less) and then “hundreds” as the shocking incident evolved into urban legend. Although men too participated in the assault on 32-year-old Yadav, it was later reported that the deed was carried out only by women.

Television networks fanned the once-in-a-lifetime story. Reporters narrated the facts of the case in their most dramatic voices. An anchor of the otherwise circumspect NDTV 24x7 asked viewers to vote on whether the women were right (SMS yes!). In 2014, the same court acquitted 18 accused persons citing insufficient evidence.

Murder in a Courtroom goes back to the Kasturba Nagar slum in Nagpur where Yadav was born and which he terrorised for much of his adult life. There are interviews with Yadav’s friends, his family lawyer, journalists, and the man shackled to Yadav as he was being hacked to death.

The loudest voices are from women, many of whom Yadav harassed and allegedly raped. In what is surely documentary gold, the women of Kasturba Nagar are marvellously uninhibited and feisty.

Indian Predator: Murder in a Courtroom (2022). Courtesy Vice Studios/Netflix.

The previous two seasons of Indian Predator focused on the serial killers Chandrakant Jha and Raja Kolander. The question driving the latest season is a peculiar one: who is the real killer here? The women on whom Yadav preyed? Or rival gang members working under the guise of mob justice?

It isn’t every day that vigilantes line up in front of the camera to confess to their participation in a notorious crime. The day the swine died, we feasted on mutton, some of the women proudly say.

Murder in a Courtroom is more curious and rigorous than its predecessors in attempting to uncover an alternate narrative. But the very nature of the subject – grisly, sensational, unprecedented, with undercurrents of class, caste and the honour of women – nudges viewers in a single direction.

Respected Marathi filmmaker Umesh Kulkarni has written and directed the latest season. Some of the thoughtfulness with which Kulkarni directed such films as Valu, Vihir and Deool and his empathy towards the slum-dwellers give Murder in a Courtroom much-needed heft.

The words “It’s all true, it’s all false” act as both a disclaimer for the three episodes as well as a summation of the true crime documentary genre itself. Akku Yadav’s lynching was stranger than fiction, but also echoed plots of vigilante movies from the 1980s. The incident was the basis of the 2021 film 200 – Halla Ho, starring Rinku Rajguru and Amol Palekar.

Murder in a Courtroom too has its share of cinematic moments, most vividly seen in the recreations that reveal Yadav’s antecedents and his reign of terror. In a bizarre sequence, two women from the slum act out their unsuccessful plan to kill Yadav.

Happy Kalizpuria as Akku Yadav in Indian Predator: Murder in a Courtroom (2022). Courtesy Vice Studios/Netflix.

The dividing line between reality and fiction that is gleefully stamped upon by the true crime documentary is always precarious in Murder in a Courtroom. While the show is the meatiest entry in the Indian Predator series thus far, it is held back by the imperatives of its format.

Doubts about Yadav’s death are mainly raised by his associates and journalists, one of whom throws shade at the women who accused Yadav of serial predatory behaviour. This could be an interesting web series, the reporter Sanjay Tiwari remarks snarkily.

Tiwari also declares, “The complete Ambedkarite movement of Vidarbha has been hijacked by so-called Urban Naxalites.” Why is it that Yadav targeted only Dalit women, an activist asks. The question answers itself.

We don’t hear a peep from the police, who seemingly allowed Yadav to run amok for close to a decade. But we do get a picture of systemic neglect; the suggestion that Yadav swaggered about untrammelled because the police were either too fattened by corruption or didn’t care a toss for his victims.

Some of the recreations could have been sacrificed for a deeper exploration of the lynching’s fallout. The fear produced by Dalits taking the law into their hands could have been an episode unto itself, but is cursorily tackled.

In some ways, the story of Kasturba Nagar actually begins after the lynching. Instead, Murder in a Courtroom is more interested in crediting the women for their vigilantism. Perhaps its most unusual aspect is the suggestion that the crime was a righteous one and the perpetrators should be correctly identified.

Indian Predator: Murder in a Courtroom (2022).

Also read:

‘Indian Predator: The Butcher of Delhi’ review: A sensationalised recreation of a gruesome crime

‘Indian Predator: The Diary of a Serial Killer’ review – More keen on gore than insight