We may be coming out of a long lockdown break for Eid but since the pandemic is still around, it’s best to spend as much time at home as possible. And what better way to while away the time than to stream some interesting, entertaining and informative content.

Life is stranger than fiction and our picks for this week show exactly that. There is The Serpent, based on a living serial killer; there is Crime and Covid in Little India, showing how difficult it is to get healthcare and help in the South Asian community of Southall. And finally, stepping away from the macabre and depressing to find beauty in life again, is Sir David Attenborough’s Life in Colour. The latter is especially a good series to watch with the family, young and old alike.

The Serpent (2021, Netflix)

I’m a huge fan of true crime films or of detective series based on real people and real cases. And Netflix does a lot of those — sometimes, it feels, entirely too much, as most of those series of late have become tediously repetitive and predictable in their format.

The Serpent, thankfully, is not one of those. Both a fan and a critic favourite, The Serpent is based on the life of serial killer Charles Sohbraj. Based on real-life interviews with Sohbraj — who is alive, ‘retired’, in France and always trying to monetise the story of his life — The Serpent is set in Bangkok in the 1970s and follows Sobhraj’s murders through the investigations of Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg.

Stuck at home and don’t know how to while away the time? Here are our picks of the content to watch

Kippenberg is investigating the death of a pair of Dutch backpackers and soon warms up to how the case is so much bigger than about just two people — there are targeted attacks by Sobhraj and his accomplices, who have been drugging, robbing and murdering tourists on the Hippie Trail.

Since the trail ran through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal, The Serpent features these countries as well as one of the places Sobhraj returned to again and again — Thailand. Sobhraj’s own story is so out-of-this-world and bizarre that, according to the filmmakers, the series depicts only around 80 percent of the factual historical material. The remaining 20 percent is details mostly omitted to make the episodes flow more smoothly. Fact is certainly stranger than fiction in this case. Clips from Sobhraj’s older interviews are also used as voice-overs in the series.

The Serpent is an incredibly well-made series of eight episodes that’s both informative and entertaining to watch. Do see it if you like true crime, period dramas and are fascinated by those that engage in the darker side of life.

Crime and Covid in London’s Little India (2021, YouTube)

The South Asian community was disproportionately affected in the United Kingdom when Covid-19 broke out last year. By focusing on the hardest-hit desi neighbourhood in London, Southall, this Vice News documentary film of just under 19 minutes shows why that was the case and why any future interventions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 may not be successful.

A major hub for the Punjabi community, Southall is also home to a lot of illegal immigrants constantly in fear of being discovered. This results in their exploitation — accommodation offered is often unsafe and substandard, their passports are usually taken away and they are forced to work long hours with minimal pay and don’t have access to any benefits or even healthcare. Southall is also a hub for drug trafficking, owing to its proximity to Heathrow Airport, among its many other problems.

From interviews with doctors, members of the police, reformed convicts and those out on the streets and most vulnerable, we hear about how the pandemic, and subsequent lockdowns, resulted in a loss of livelihood for immigrant labour and drug addicts alike, which pushed them to take desperate actions. For example, the fear of getting discovered by the authorities forced ill people into the hands of quacks operating secret, illegal “clinics.”

If you want to take a break from the overly-dramatised, cookie-cutter format that Netflix true crime documentary series have started to follow, this dose of stark reality may be worth your watch.

Life in Colour (2021, Netflix)

Life in Colour is what you watch when you want to remind yourself that indescribable beauty, the type that leaves you utterly and completely enthralled, still exists in the world. Watch it to see how the best camera technology is used to capture absolutely stunning events in nature, while they are still taking place.

We live in a world where we’re constantly being fed information and the news — and most of it comes with a generous helping of doom and gloom. Add to that regular lockdowns due to the spread of Covid-19, and we could all use something that will keep our anxieties at bay, at least momentarily.

Even at 94 years old, Sir David Attenborough is seemingly unstoppable. His latest Netflix three-part series has him travelling around the world — from the cold, snowy Scottish Highlands to the enchanting forests of Costa Rica — to investigate how animals use colour to their advantage.

We have the very regional example of how peacocks use their dazzling plumage to attract mates, we see how some fish fight by changing colour and, most importantly, Sir David makes us realise how there is still so much we do not know — since many creatures also use colours not visible to the human eye.

It’s also heartening to see that Life in Colour has the highest audience feedback and support in this whole list. This is a stunning series that works very hard to help the audience truly understand the complex relationship the world has with colour.

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 16th, 2021

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