True-crime podcast Trial By Error re-examines the Aarushi Talwar case
Everything you need to know about India's version of Serial
Sarah Koenig’s Serial took podcasts out of the confined nerd-culture domain and into the mainstream. But if you’ve been disappointed by the second season, based on the story of ex-Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl, you might want to trust Trial By Error with your commutes. The true-crime podcast, the first in a series of audio stories on infotainment portal Arré, is based on the chilling Noida double murders that took place in 2008. Narrated by journalist Nishita Jha and produced by Delhi-based collective Jamun, the 20-minute weekly episodes are based on Avirook Sen’s 2015 book Aarushi, which exposed glaring loopholes in the investigation. Not sure if you want to deep-dive into another crime narrative? This should help:
Give me a quick breakdown of the first episode.
In ‘Rumours’, Jha rewinds to the most sensational bits of the case. Fourteen-year-old Aarushi Talwar is found murdered in her bedroom, the police launch a manhunt for Hemraj Banjade, the family’s domestic help, but the case turns against the Talwars when his body is discovered on the terrace the following day. As accusations of wife-swapping and loose morals are used to seal the guilt of the parents, Jha traces back to the source.
“I was in college [when the story broke], and my first reaction, selfishly, was that I was worried sick for my sister, who was extremely close to Aarushi. This is the sort of thing that can affect you very deeply,” says Jha, who also interviews her sister Fiza in the episode, lending a new understanding of the Talwars. “At it’s very core, this case is not about evidence, but perception. People believe that the Talwars are guilty because of things like Nupur’s decision to speak to an English language channel and not a Hindi one, or the the fact that she didn’t cry on air with Sonia Singh, or the idea that it was a ‘closed door mystery’, when it wasn’t, or the somewhat naive supposition that the police/judiciary or the CBI never screw up. The biggest challenge now is to sift through all these rumours that were put in circulation at the very beginning, and get people to re-examine their own perceptions.”
I’ve read Avirook Sen’s book already. Should I still be listening?
If you’ve followed the voices speaking for the Talwars’ innocence, most significantly Sen’s book and Meghna Gulzar’s feature Talwar, Trial By Error still merits a listen. First-hand accounts from those closely involved in the case, gripping audio clips and a slick production build a whole new intimacy to the widely probed case. Plus, additional maps, charts and timelines, available on the Arré website, promise to keep you hooked. Jha hints at more. “Avirook’s book and Avirook himself are valuable resources for us, and in a way none of this would have happened if he hadn’t spent all that time painstakingly covering the trial. But we are trying to take the conversation beyond the book, and examine the systems that make Kafkaesque nightmares like this so common in our country,” she says.
Is this really another Serial?
Don’t go looking for the next Sarah Koenig. Jha and the Jamun team don’t fully employ the conversational tone on Serial, neither do they collectively ruminate over evidence in a way that that instantly draws you into the investigation. The podcast’s sober storytelling demands some patience, but promises to pay off. “For me, the major challenges have been to get people who have been involved in this to talk openly and honestly about the case. The other is also to keep people interested in a story that has been told over and over. This isn’t a traditional whodunit so lets see if we can make it happen,” says director Ayesha Sood.
I’ve made up my mind about this case. Should I still care?
Jha believes so. “I think there’s very little closure when it comes to this particular case. We live in an age when the need to know things with certitude is so important to us, and yet all conversation about the Talwars appears to end with confusion. If you want to believe they are guilty, how do you deal with the irrefutable DNA evidence that says that they aren’t? If you think they’re innocent – what does it say about our systems that Aarushi and Hemraj’s killer is out there, watching this spectacle unfold?”