Patrick Graham says Dancing On The Grave is different because it tries to understand Shakereh Namazi, what motivated her

Apr 20, 2023 12:31 PM IST

Director Patrick Graham spoke about how Dancing On The Grave takes on the case of Shakereh Namazi with a shift on perspective that hasn't been shown before.

The upcoming docuseries Dancing On The Grave, which arrives on Prime Video on April 21, documents the sudden disappearance and the subsequent investigation of the gruesome murder of a high-profile and wealthy heiress named Shakereh Khaleeli (maiden name Namazie), who belonged to an illustrious family in Bangalore. (Also read: Radhika Apte says 'working abroad is tough', talks about her projects in the West)

Director Patrick Graham talked about the process of making Dancing on the Grave.
Director Patrick Graham talked about the process of making Dancing on the Grave.

In an interview with Hindustan Times, Patrick Graham talked about the research that went into the project, while also revealing about the interesting shift in perspective that occurs halfway through the docuseries, that hasn't been covered before.

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When did you first hear about the story and what made you want to pick it up?

So, I was approached by the producer of the show Chandni (Ahlawat Dabas) and she was looking for a director, who could bring a kind of… cinematic aesthetic to the project. She watched some of my work before, and she was interested in talking to me. She sent me the detailed story of this case and when I read it I was like Oh my God! This is an amazing story... I was taken aback by it. There were so many kind of twists and turns in it, so tragic and sad, and so many interesting characters. I felt like this was something I wanted to be involved in. We basically went from there and I became involved in the research and we put it together as a team.

Was it easy to trace back to the roots of this case and get the family members together to open up about the case?

I think getting people to talk is very challenging. It requires a lot of work and negotiation and I think we managed to put together an array of interesting perspectives for the telling of the story. At first we had a list... we literally had into sort of about 57 people so we ended up kind of wilting it down to a little about 20 for the shoot. So we had lots of really diverse perspectives, really interesting colourful characters to speak towards. And of course yeah, for any documentary the hardest thing to do is to open up for the camera. I think for the most part we have achieved what we needed to tell the story.

What were your reference points for handling the series? Did you have any specific structure in mind?

Well I am a big true crime documentary series fan. I always binge-watch new series, when they come on the platforms so I am a big fan of them. But I have to say that going into this story, I kind of purposefully put aside my documentary preferences to kind of really think of just as a story just as any other story and how we told it. I didn't necessarily want to refer to any other things that I have seen to kind of like, to construct it instinctively. I hope that what we have managed to achieve is kind of... to move away from structures that have been kind of become maybe slightly formulaic now. I think what we have for our final series is a really interesting kind of shift in perspective halfway through the series. Yeah, I hope it feels a bit different... the norm. Let's see.

The conclusion to this case is in public domain for everyone. How do you think the docuseries positions itself now and takes that story forward?

Well, I think that we've got a few things that have perhaps haven't been explored much in previous reportage of the story. There's been some really good iterations of the story over the years, so I am not dissing anyone else. But basically I think what we have is we were really motivated to find out more about Shakereh herself and what motivated her. For us she was kind of an enigma, and somebody who felt like we had to really try and understand. Because I feel like she is someone who has made some controversial choices, she has made some decisions which perhaps on the surface of it looked like silly decisions… so we wanted to kind of understand what motivated her; why a person in her position might veer off into the path that she took. I think that was already the motivating factor when we were telling the story which felt like there is something that is slightly different.

The other thing of course is that in the other tellings of the story we haven't heard in detail from the perpetrator himself, Murali Manohar Mishra aka Swami Shradhananda. I think that including his perspective in this show, it kind of is the first time that we have heard him speak in detail about his experience of what happened.

You've been part of the mini-series Ghoul and also the series Betaal, and now that you have ventured into non-fiction what were some of the aspects that you were particular about while going ahead?

I think of it as a story and stories have to function in an universal level. Probably, the main difference was how the story is constructed because when you are writing fiction you have a blank page in front of you and you could pretty much write whatever you want. But if you are doing a documentary then you are constructing your story out of the ingredients that are already existing- archival stuff, news reports, documents, photographs and also of course your narrative is built from the interviews. So, the actual writing of a script is in the last half of the project. So a lot of the story is built on the editing table. Of course that is very different to how it would be with fiction.

Have the present members of the family seen the series? If yes, what was their reaction?

That remains to be seen. I am not aware at the moment if they have. We will see about that.

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