Like so many of the true crime docuseries on Netflix, The Indrani Mukerjea Story: Buried Truth has the statement “I have never encountered a case like this before.” For once, the facts match the hyperbole.

No crime in recent memory has the sordidness, absurdity and shock value that characterised Mumbai resident Sheena Bora’s disappearance in 2012. Her vanishing was discovered three whole years later, after the Mumbai police received an anonymous tip-off.

Bora’s mother, INX Media channel founder Indrani Mukerjea, claimed that Bora had taken off for the United States, apparently to escape her possessive boyfriend Rahul – who happened to be Indrani Mukerjea’s step-son from her third marriage to media executive Peter Mukerjea. Indrani Mukerjea’s second marriage was to businessman Sanjeev Khanna.

In 2015, a burnt body found near Mumbai was determined through DNA testing to be that of Bora. The murder was allegedly carried out by Indrani Mukerjea, Khanna and the Mukerjea family driver Shyamvar Rai. The Central Bureau of Investigation took over the case after allegations that the Mumbai Police were going soft on Peter Mukerjea’s possible involvement. He was later named a co-accused.

Classic Greek melodrama and American hard-boiled fiction collided during the police investigation, which was carried out in full media glare. Public perception of the Mukerjeas drastically changed after the revelation that Sheena Bora was Indrani Mukerjea’s daughter. Mukerjea had been passing off Sheena and her brother Mekhail as her own siblings.

How much the high-powered Mukerjeas knew and concealed, and the dynamics of their blended family, are among the questions driving The Indrani Mukerjea Story: Buried Truth. (A Telegraph newspaper headline from the time: “The Shamily”.)

A file photo of Indrani Mukerjea. Credit: PTI.

The riveting series is vastly superior to other Netflix series based on headline-grabbing crimes. The partnership between India Today Originals – which has made some of these shows, and badly – and the American studio MakeMake has resulted in slick production values, welcome scepticism and a cogent assembly of often bewildering details.

The showstopper is Indrani Mukerjea herself. A text card informs us that all the four accused were approached to participate in the series. Only Indrani Mukerjea agreed.

Dressed in a crimson-heavy silk sari and looking into the camera with an unnerving stare, Mukerjea unspools – or unravels – before directors Uraaz Bahl and Shaana Levy. (The production credits include a sari draper). Mukerjea rolls out self-incriminating statements that are destined to be circulated as Insta Reels for eternity.

In an attempt to destroy the foundation of the charges against her, Mukerjea insists that Sheena Bora is still alive. Here is Indrani Mukerjea in her own words, which an over-caffeinated scriptwriter would find hard to match:

About her self-rehabilitation mission, which includes the memoir Unbroken: “I think people were expecting a woman who was really shattered. How the hell am I supposed to feel remorse for something I have not done?”

About her first husband Siddhartha Das, the legal father of Sheena and Mekhail Bora: “He is just a very, very ordinary guy.”

About Peter Mukerjea, whom she divorced in 2019: “Peter was, after all, not all that bright.”

About Mekhail Bora, who also accused her of trying to kill him: “He is a whinger, a lazy bum, a liar.”

About the Whatsapp group she has formed called Justice For Sheena: “I need to change it to Justice for Indrani.”

Balancing Indrani Mukerjea’s claims are Mekhail Bora, social acquaintances, journalists who followed the story, and legal experts. Mukerjea’s daughter with Sanjeev Khanna, Vidhie, who has picked her side in the mess, gets wide play.

Rahul Mukerjea appears only as a voice in recordings he made of phone conversations with Peter and Indrani, as he desperately tried to locate Sheena. Rahul to Peter: “Where the hell is she!” Peter: “Where the hell is she? You tell me, man!” (The recordings have been featured in media reports).

The show’s makers deftly navigate a thicket of self-serving declarations, half-truths and outright lies. This is certainly helpful for viewers who lost the narrative thread a while ago.

Statements are balanced with counter-statements, a device that is sometimes unkind towards Mekhail Bora and Rahul Mukerjea, given that the show’s stated aim is to see justice for Sheena Bora. There isn’t enough about Peter Mukerjea, the former Star India head. A few interviews have a polished, scripted quality.

But there are also raw admissions, such as when Mekhail Bora speaks of the first time Sheena and he met their mother after years of separation. The children were brought up by their grandparents through much of their childhood and adolescence.

Indrani’s lawyer Ranjeet Sangle, who declares that he has never lost a murder trial (“This is a jigsaw puzzle I have solved!”) is also the source of telling off-the-cuff remarks, from “Chill, Indrani” to “What role does money and property play?”

What indeed. Buried Truth is sloshing with irony, mostly supplied inadvertently by Indrani Mukerjea, and legally permissible innuendo, hinted at by everybody else. There is enough raw material here for viewers to play judge, jury and executioner. There is ample sensationalism too, delivered with a swish and a wink.

The Indrani Mukerjea Story: Buried Truth (2024).