TV shows

Corruption, murder and intrigue by the truckloads in gripping South Korean TV show ‘Stranger’

In the Netflix acquisition ‘Stranger’, originally titled ‘Secret Forest, a public prosecutor goes deep inside the graft-ridden Korean police force.

South Korean filmmakers, from Joon Ho Bong to Chan-wook Park, are feted the world over for their gripping tales of crime and redemption. But the country’s television is not too far behind. A new series, which is ratcheting up the ratings, is both sophisticated and sassy, twin hallmarks of Korean crime dramas.

Secret Forest, which Netflix has picked up, goes deep inside the Korean police force to uncover a tale of corruption, malice and intrigue. Prosecutor Hwang Shi-Mok (Jo Seung-woo) is called upon to investigate the murder of businessman Park Moo-sung who had a history of providing favours to top members of the police in return for lax investigation into tax evasion, insider trading and other corporate malfeasance.

Shi-Mok is widely believed to be incorruptible, living alone as a bachelor and sharing a testy relationship with his parents. As he goes about the investigation, he seeks the help of Han Yeo-jin (the internationally known Bae Doo-na), a young and idealistic policewoman who shares his enthusiasm for cleaning up the service.

Both find themselves getting pulled into a thicket that grows darker at every turn. At the centre of the controversy is Kwon Min-ah (Park Yoo-na), an underage sex worker who is believed to have provided services to a battery of top officials, including Shi-mok’s and Yeo-jin’s bosses. She also has some connection to Seo Dong-Jae (Lee Jun-hyuk), Shi-Mok’s colleague and a man who, chameleon-like, has the ability of extricate himself out of any predicament.

At the other end of the spectrum is a former minister who is implicated in taking bribes from the dead Moo-sung and whose daughter now works as a prosecutor under Shi-Mok. A third pole is brought in by Deputy Chief Lee (Jae-Myung Yoo) who, apart from being Shi-Mok’s boss and a morally dubious character, is son-in-law to one of Korea’s most powerful industrialists.

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Stranger.

With so many overlapping strands, Secret Forest (it runs under the name Stranger on Netflix) was in danger of drowning. But the show maintains a taut grip on the events, mingling action and investigation to craft a satisfying narrative. Intentions are frequently questioned, and no one, not even the victim’s mother and son, are allowed the benefit of the doubt.

Procedural dramas tend to lag when the focus shift to the action at the expense of the whodunit. Secret Forest studiously avoids this trap. Especially interesting are the scenes in which Shi-Mok imagines himself at the scene of the crime which are thus shot by the director, giving his line of reasoning greater heft.

Jo Seung-woo and Bae Doo-na are excellent as the team that complements one another. He is instinctive but reserved while she is driven and cheery. At this stage, they are as much in danger of rubbing the higher-ups the wrong way as they are on the edge of a triumphant discovery. Since the original series is currently running in Korea, Netflix makes two episodes available every Friday. The wait is as delicious as the cliffhangers that end every episode.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.