What would you do if someone promised to give you boundless wealth in return for a few small investments? “Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives” is a limited documentary series that revolves around the case of the popular raw vegan restaurateur, Sarma Melngailis, and her husband, Anthony Strangis. The couple disappeared after exhausting the restaurant fund, leaving the investors and employees in disarray, only to be caught after tracking down their credit card used to order a “Dominos Pizza”! With shows such as “Tiger King” and “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” under his belt, Chris Smith hopes to find the truth about this case that has a mystic ring to it. Was there a larger conspiracy behind the terrible financial condition of an established restaurant?
“Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives” brings forward a story of manipulation and gaslighting that Sarma had to endure for years. Can someone be punished for being gullible? The answer to that is left for the audience to decide.
Sarma believed that meeting Anthony was her destiny. Alec Baldwin and Sarma did, in some cosmic way, influence major decisions in each other’s lives, or that is what Sarma believed. She found her dog while having a conversation with Alec, and he found his wife at her restaurant. When Sarma noticed Alec and Anthony’s Twitter discussions, she felt that maybe Anthony was meant to be a part of her life as well. Anthony was always vague about his job; he never had straight answers. It was assumed that he worked for Black Ops and was part of several underground missions. After watching “The Tinder Swindler” and “Inventing Anna” in recent times, the vague idea of the profession is pretty much the cue for the victim to run, but sadly, that is never the case. In an article published by The Conversation, it was brought to light how researchers found that it is a basic human tendency to trust a person rather than to distrust them. Even when we spot loopholes in narratives, the tendency is to overlook them or justify them in some way or another. Sarma faced the camera directly and spoke about her toxic relationship with her husband, who promised her a world where her dog would be immortal, and there would never be a dearth of money.
This trust in the otherworld can be traced to Sarma’s teenage years, when she believed she was different from the rest. Therefore, she was not truly meant to be a part of his mundane world. Anthony fueled this desire of hers; he made her believe in a world beyond the one that we know of. This world consisted of a group of people who called themselves “family” and had a big brother who spied on their actions. By wiring him the money, she was proving her allegiance to the “family” and only after overcoming such tests could she be made a part of their world. He would often speak about how he had been searching for her for thousands of years, creating this illusion that he was from another time and space who came to his world exclusively for Sarma. After her failed relationships and a debt of $2 mil on her shoulder, Anthony provided her with the comfort and safety she was in search of. The journalist, Allen Sulkin, wrote an article for “Vanity Fair” where he discussed this story of fame and fraud, playing a crucial role in this documentary by providing his insight into the case. He tries to reason about the various steps taken by Sarma that were often rooted in severe manipulation and brainwashing. Sarma’s devastating condition could be felt when she was on the run with Anthony; the absence of a “happily ever after” became all the more palpable as the world around her crashed. Everyone was against her, and the person who she lived with was responsible for her situation. Yet he made her feel that after all that she had been through, he was the only one there for her.
“Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives” is able to bring forth the trauma and devastation of the downfall of a popular figure. But what the documentary lacks is any insight from Anthony. We only get to know what we know from Sarma, which is backed by testimonials and evidence, but the world of Anthony’s lies remains in the shadows. The test to prove one’s faith and belief is the only way to achieve a state of complete happiness is an idea that is widely preached in religions as well, and this idea of testing was used by Anthony to drain Sarma of all that she had earned throughout the years. There was a moment when Sarma confessed that even though she could understand that things were massively wrong, she chose to live in denial and see the end of the process. She was unable to accept that she was the victim of a major ploy. “Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitive” has the right amount of oddity, mystery, and mysticism, making it an engaging watch. The title will easily grab the attention of Netflix viewers. From analyzing the couple by the people around them to understanding the dynamics of the two from Sarma’s point of view, the docu-series will make you question how the human mind works and how often people tend to believe in a fantasy that acts as an escape from the real world.