Death and Other Details: Is SS Varuna a Real Cruise Ship?

Image Credit: Michael Desmond/Hulu

Hulu’s murder mystery series, ‘Death and Other Details’ follows the story of Imogene Scott, who becomes the only suspect in the murder of a wealthy man on a cruise ship. While she had been in the vicinity of the victim within a few minutes of his death, she didn’t kill him. To prove her innocence, she has to join forces with Rufus Cotesworth, a detective she hates because of his past transgressions. The ship provides an excellent setting for their investigation because it confines all suspects to one place where Cotesworth and Imogene can keep an eye on them. What makes the setting more interesting is that the ship in the show has the same name as a couple of real-life ships. SPOILERS AHEAD

SS Varuna Shares Its Name With Real Ships

In ‘Death and Other Details,’ everything is fictional. The show was created by Mike Weiss and Heidi Cole McAdams and plays along lines similar to Agatha Christie’s mystery. The writers poured their love for murder mysteries and whodunits into this story and have concocted a maze that keeps the audience guessing at every turn. The ship is an important part of the plot as opposed to simply being reduced to a setting.

There were at least two ships named Varuna in the United States Navy. One was a screw gunboat that sank to the bottom of the ocean in 1862. The other was a Portunus-class motor torpedo boat tender that was decommissioned in 1946 and sold for scraps. In the Hulu series, Sunil Bhandari, the owner of the cruise ship, reveals that the ocean liner was originally a ship from the 1940s. He took it as a personal project to rebuild and refurbish it and turn it into a luxury ship. It was the only way he could pull himself away from the heartbreak of a bad breakup. The 1940s detail puts the show’s ship in the same timeline as the real USS Varuna, which was decommissioned by the US Navy, but it could just be a coincidence.

There are several reasons that the writers chose “Varuna” as the ship’s name, the most obvious of which is that the owner is of Indian descent. In Hindu mythology, Varuna is a god associated with the ocean. Consider him an equivalent of Poseidon from Greek mythology or Neptune from Roman mythology. It isn’t a surprise that Sunil would derive the name of his ship from a God. It not only sets it apart because “Varuna” is not a common name (outside of India, at least), but it also adds a personal touch that references his culture.

Another interesting thing about God Varuna is that he is associated with justice and truth, which is what Imogene and Cotesworth are after on the ship. Thus, the name of the ship is kind of an indication that the hidden truths will be revealed, justice will be found when the murders are solved, and Imogene and Cotesworth get the answers they’d been looking for all this time.

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