Ever watched American movies and television shows about serial killers and wondered why we don’t make our own? Exhibit A: Posham Pa.
Suman Mukhopadhyay’s film for the streaming platform Zee5 might be based on gruesome facts, but it resorts to feeble fiction to deliver its thrills. Posham Pa (the title refers to a children’s rhyme) has characters inspired by the real-life convicted serial killers Seema Gavit and Renuka Shinde. The half-sisters from Maharashtra are on death row for murdering at least five children.
The women were allegedly persuaded by their mother Anjana Gavit to kidnap scores of children and force them to beg and steal. When the children outlived their purpose, they were reportedly killed by the three women. The murders stretched over several years, and the women were arrested in 1996. Among the victims was the daughter of Anjana Gavit’s former husband and his second wife. Anjana Gavit died in 1997 in prison.
The death sentence for Seema Gavit and Renuka Shinde was upheld in 2006. In 2014, President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy petition. The siblings have consistently claimed that they were falsely implicated by Shinde’s husband Kiran, who turned police approver and was acquitted.
Among the sources for the story are media reports about the police investigations, court filings and carefully monitored interviews with the convicts. In the absence of independent investigations, a profiling system such as the one initiated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States, unfettered access to the convicts or reliable information about the women’s motives, whatever we know about the crimes remains hearsay.
Were the sisters framed by Kiran Shinde, who walked free in exchange for his testimony? Were they victims of their mother’s brainwashing? Or are they criminal masterminds of the kind seen in the acclaimed web series Mindhunter, whose second season is being streamed on Netflix?
Mindhunter explores the FBI’s psychological profiling of convicted serial killers after extensive interviews and research. Conversations with such convicts as Edmund Kemper and Jerry Brudos helped FBI agents draw up likely profiles of murderous psychopaths for current and future investigations. The series is based on the non-fiction book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by former FBI agent John E Douglas and Mark Olshaker.
Among the Mindhunter references in Posham Pa is the declaration by a character that serial killers are either “organised or disorganised”, which tells us something about their personalities (Douglas and Olshaker write about these criteria in their book). The cloud of Mindhunter hangs over Posham Pa in less flattering ways – in the attempts to craft a thriller based on sensational and grisly material, find psychological motivations for the crimes and use the interview as a device to uncover the truth.
Instead of the highly prepared FBI agents in Mindhunter, we have a pair of well-meaning but inept filmmakers. Nikhat (Shivani Raghuvanshi) and Gundeep (Imaad Shah) are making a documentary on the child killers, and their first meeting is with the emotionally disturbed Regha (Sayani Gupta). Her sister Shikha (Ragini Khanna) is in another jail. Their mother Prajakta (Mahie Gill) has recently died.
Nikhat and Gundeep start haranguing Regha within seconds of meeting her, and they unsurprisingly get little out of her. Apart from the suggestion that Regha is misremembering and misreporting her relationship with her mother, the sequence pinpoints Nikhat and Gundeep as the persons least suited for a complex exercise of this nature. As the 76-minute film progresses, it is clear that they are not the only ones who have under-researched and over-reached.
We need an angle for the documentary, the not-too-bright Gundeep says. They find one when Shikha tells them more about Prajakta. She is the archetypal monstrous mother, who smashes in the heads of grown men and children without a thought and drags her daughters through hell. Prajakta’s hold over Regha, in particular, is so powerful that her ghost hangs around in Regha’s prison cell and warns that family secrets should never be shared with outsiders.
The true nature of these secrets, however, remain elusive throughout Nimisha Misra’s screenplay. Flashbacks reveal the “how” but rarely the “why”. Prajakta is the only character who gets some shading, but it is barely enough to explain her bloodthirstiness. In the absence of a deeper exploration of the Maharashtrian setting of the characters and their crimes, we get a generic thriller about women in a small town who hunted and murdered at will.
American series such as Mindhunter and True Detective have raised the bar for serial killer fare. Posham Pa, like the movies Sigappu Rojakkal and Raman Raghav 2.0 before it, holds out the promise of delving into the minds of psychopaths, but the rigour and the curiosity are missing. Without a solid foundation of research to build upon, and without the will to come to an independent understanding of the case, Posham Pa ends up being little more than a watchable but unfulfilling true-crime drama with strong turns by Mahie Gill and Sayani Gupta.