If you ask what exactly the Docu-Series ‘How To Become A Tyrant’ is about, the answer is that in the weirdest of ‘how to’ ideas, it feels like an ‘instruction manual’ guaranteed to give all our idle leaders a new hobby. For the rest, it introduces us to some guest historians, psychologists and a narrator-

Peter Dinklage, with just the perfect blend of charisma and sarcasm. We not only get up close and personal with six ready-made ‘tyrants’, but also learn what exactly made these leaders so attractive for the masses. All of them were crazy, brutal, self- centred and narcissistic geniuses who disregarded the truth, controlled the press and demonized the minorities.

Naturally people hated them. Surprisingly, some actually loved them.

The series explores Adolf Hitler- the man genocidal maniac who used hate and fear to turn people against each other; Idi Amin-the Butcher of Uganda, the brutal despot with a despicable iron hand; Joseph Stalin-the master manipulator of truth; Saddam Hussain- the State terroriser, torturer, mass murderer and assassinator; Muamar Gaddafi- the controller and the crusher of civil liberties; and Kim Jong Un- the man who blocked out the world and created a forever dynasty.

Laced with dark humour, sketched with cute animations and narrated with an acerbity that might sometimes fool you, the series makes you revisit history in a novel way.

It allows you to have a peek at the lifestyles of these ‘tyrants’ and familiarises you with the ‘tools’ and the ‘tactics’ that they used to stay in power. It’s actually scary how much they all had in common with each other. At times it almost feels like each had a manual where they kept adding newer and even more depraved techniques.

What is appalling is that it also reveals patterns that are still prevalent today. But what is even more upsetting is that even as it is happening now, no one seems to recognize what’s going on.

However, regardless of what the ‘manual’ says, what we, the audience can learn from the ‘guidebook’, is NOT to become a tyrant but to recognize one, because to the untrained eye, a tyrant can look like a leader. What the handbook reveals is that all tyrants have magnetic, arrogant and an overbearing personality. Their grandiose promises fill us with a sense of safety. Their ability to appeal to our outrage and prejudice, makes the embittered and marginalised ones feel ‘heard’. They are masters at disguising their personal agendas as a light in dark times, thus creating the illusion of inspired leadership. Rather than encouraging people to analyse and fix internal problems, they tell them that nothing is wrong with ‘us’, and it is always the fault of an external ‘them’.

‘Freedom is not the norm. We love being ruled.’ The series starts with this satirical statement. By the time you reach the end of the sixth episode, you realise how very true it is. And by then you are also well versed with what it is that can never make a tyrant a leader.

Tyrants build walls, leaders build bridges.
Tyrants divide people, leaders unite them.
Tyrants use negative language, leaders give inspirational speeches.
Tyrants tell us what we want to hear, leaders tell us what we need to hear.

The subject matter of dictators and their actions is inherently dark. Ruling with an iron fist requires an aspiring autocrat to know the playbook for absolute power. This sardonic docuseries does two main things very craftily.

First, it detaches tyrants from the ideologies that got them to their positions, as if ideology has nothing to do with tyranny.

Secondly, the narrative seems to use irony to make it more appealing, but it actually trivializes atrocities committed in the name of ideologies.

‘Ultimately, a leader is someone we want to follow, whereas a tyrant is someone we feel coerced to follow, if not directly then by manipulative force of fear. If any authority figure’s core message leaves you feeling bullied, worried or threatened, you’re probably looking at a tyrant in the making.

And if you want to recognize one, then ‘How to Become a Tyrant’ on Netflix, is a must watch. Even though it is terrifying at times, it is also amazingly funny. And educative. This is a history lesson one needs to revise so that history NEVER repeats itself. But the biggest takeaway is that such leaders can ascend at any time, in any place.

P.S. Last year, the same team delivered two more docu-series. One was ‘How to Become a Cult Leader’- a tongue-in-cheek guidebook analogy, on how to take advantage of vulnerability and stage deadly plots to control your follower’s mind, body and soul. The second was ‘How to Become a Mob Boss’- another darkly satirical how-to-guide, exploring the rise and fall of history’s most notorious mob bosses. With the world abounding in many such ‘Tyrants’, ‘Cult leaders’ and ‘Mob Bosses’, if the decision to continue with the series is taken, I guarantee you, there won’t be any dearth of material.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own.