Netflix is a streaming giant known for star-studded original shows and a vast library of classic films and TV. However, don’t let any of that blur your vision of the array of docuseries and documentaries it has to offer.
There are plenty of options to pick from to get your South Asian fix, from riveting projects exploring India’s natural beauty to Pakistan’s LGBT rights.
Here are the best docuseries to stream on Netflix:
1. “Wild Wild Country”
Very appropriately titled, this six-episode documentary tells the true tale of Bhagwan Shree Ganesh, better known as Osho, an Indian spiritual community leader and his one-time secretary Ma Anand Sheela. In the early 80’s, they moved their base from Pune, India to Antelope, Oregon and created an incorporated town called Rajneeshpuram. “Wild Wild Country” details how their commune often clashed with the original residents of the county, leading to violent behavior on both sides. The things that went on here are fairly crazy and unbelievable, yet all true.
2. “Daughters of Destiny”
This provoking and emotional four-part docuseries chronicles the exemplary Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project in India, a school for Dalit children who belong to the lower caste and oppressed community. It was founded by Indian-American Abraham George in 1997 to provide education for these children up to 12th grade, giving them the tools they need to succeed in the world. “Daughters of Destiny” primarily follows five girls who attend the school, each going through their own journeys.
3. “Classic Legends with Javed Akhtar”
Popular lyricist Javed Akhtar hosts this docuseries, taking us down the nostalgic path of Bollywood legends like Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and more, who lit up the screens with their acting or musical talent. Its a good way to learn more about yesteryear favorites or to take a deep dive into Bollywood’s early hits.
4. “Raja Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniya”
A docuseries about Indian food is a genius idea. This 11-part docuseries is going to tickle your appetite in the best possible way. Each episode explores different cuisine of the homeland, going beyond your usual favorites like tikka masala and vindaloo. For example, one episode is based in the holy land of Varanasi and how religion impacts the food people eat there. Another is set in the state of Gujarat, home to the famous Amul butter factory.
5. “How Gay is Pakistan?”
BBC‘s 2015 documentary takes a hard look at the difficult lives of homosexuals in Pakistan, where the laws are explicitly against them. The host, Mawaan Rizwan, meets with the gay and transgender folks to discover their secret lives and the limited rights for LGBT communities. The documentary is eye-opening in many ways.
6. “India’s Lost World”
In what they refer to as ‘Earth’s most richly diverse biological regions,’ National Geographic reveals the hidden creatures, untouched lands, lush forests, and myriads of modern paradise in this series. Explore the Western Ghats, the wilderness, and get a real-life look at what inspired Rudyard Kipling to write “The Jungle Book.”
7. “Mumbai Railway”
As an expert traveler of my hometown’s complex railway system, I would assume four episodes isn’t enough to sufficiently explore the mechanisms of how Mumbai’s railways function, but this documentary lives up to expectations. Focusing on the mammoth Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, “Mumbai Railway” discusses its stunning architecture and design, the large control rooms, and how it handles the millions of people who commute through it on a daily basis.
8. “Scam City”
Travel + Escape’s 2012 series is about host Conor Woodman’s journey’s to popular cities like Amsterdam, Las Vegas, Bangkok, Rome and more. He purposely meets with questionable people and falls for their scams as a way to reveal the many ways city locals try to trick tourists. Its an interesting concept. In its two seasons, Woodman visits India’s capital New Delhi as well as Mumbai. In the former, he uncovers how quasi-doctors misdiagnose tourists with digestive problems and in the latter, how taxi drivers scam visitor right at the airport.
9. “Planet Earth II”
In this absolutely breathtaking documentary, (part 1 of which is also available on Netflix), you will take a deep dive into the remarkable mysteries of nature. Divided into six episodes, including “Mountains,” “Islands,” and “Grasslands,” its a stunning journey of knowledge and wonder. The final episode, titled “Cities,” opens in the Indian state of Rajasthan and how animals and humans have learned to co-exist in manmade regions.
10. “India: Nature’s Wonderland”
PBS took wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin, actress Freida Pinto, and mountaineer Jon Gupta on a 2-episode wild ride across the country to marvel at its natural and scenic offerings. The first part focuses on them taking a trip to the home of Asiatic lions and hoolock gibbons, the Gir forests, while part two is about the relationship the residents have with nature and wildlife and the country’s efforts to conserve it all.