A Russian action film with coded references to Russian politics became Netflix’s most-streamed film this week. ‘Major Grom: Plague Doctor’ is about an incorruptible cop facing off against a mass-murdering IT billionaire who bears an uncanny resemblance to Telegram messaging service founder Pavel Durov.
- Netflix released ‘Major Grom: Plague Doctor’ — their first film based on a Russian comic — on July 7. Within days it had become their most streamed film worldwide and was still topping the charts Thursday, according to data from streaming rating service Flix Patrol. The film was among the ten most popular Netflix offerings in 65 countries, including the U.S. and Russia. And it took the top spot in Belgium, Brazil, Hungary, the Dominican Republic, Spain, Italy, Qatar, Cyprus, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Oman, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
- ‘Major Grom: Plague Doctor’ is an adaptation of comic books with the same name published by Russian firm Bubble Comics. In them, detective Igor Grom (Grom is the Russian word for thunder) keeps order in his native St. Petersburg until things are upended by the so-called Plague Doctor, a masked villain who dispenses arbitrary justice and promises to ‘cleanse’ the city. Eventually, it turns out that the Plague Doctor is an alter-ego for internet entrepreneur Sergei Razumovsky, the creator of social network Vmeste that spreads murderous propaganda. It’s not hard to spot references to Pavel Durov in Razumovsky; Durov founded a social network called Vkontakte — a Russian equivalent of Facebook — before going on to create Telegram.
- The movie also reflects Durov’s conflict with the Russian security services: when Major Grom demands Razumovsky release the identity of the Plague Doctor — who broadcasts a murder on his social network — Razumovsky refuses, insisting that Vmeste respects anonymity. And when Razumovsky is unmasked, he tries to organize riots on the streets.
- Many have spotted an attempt at a subtle form of Russian propaganda in both the Major Grom movie and the comics on which it is based. There is even a human link: the founder of Bubble, which publishes Major Grom, is the son of media magnate Aram Gabrelyanov who founded the muck-racking, pro-Kremlin tabloid LifeNews.
Why the world should care: Films like ‘Major Grom: Plague Doctor’ can’t seriously be seen as Kremlin propaganda. It’s more a case of exploiting newsworthy topics to make money.