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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Flexible with the facts, Delhi Crime offers good fiction

True to the tradition of police procedural shows, Delhi Crime tells us a story of good cops

mumbai Updated: Mar 30, 2019 23:46 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
A scene from Delhi Crime
A scene from Delhi Crime(HT Photo)

In its first season, Delhi Crime – created, written and directed by director Richie Mehta – presents a fictionalised take on the police investigation of the capital-city gang rape of December 16, 2012. It’s one of the most binge-worthy shows to have come out of India. The cast is brilliant, the edits are tight and the extraordinary production design ensures every costume, prop and location radiates authenticity. It’s so good that you forget a tiny detail: Delhi Crime is fiction, not a documentary.

True to the tradition of police procedural shows, Delhi Crime tells us a story of good cops in a world that keeps throwing curveballs at them – civilians who obstruct police work, politicians pursuing their agenda, suspects who keep evading cops, non-vegetarian commanders of armed forces... there’s just no end to the poor Delhi policeman’s woes. Oh, and there’s a woman assistant commissioner of police heading up the investigation who also happens to be a ball-breaker. For every act of police callousness, there’s a balancing detail that shows a softer, humane side of the cop. As fiction, it’s fantastic.

As non-fiction, however, it’s painfully one-sided in favour of the police, effectively airbrushing their prejudices and flaws. For instance, in Delhi Crime, everyone is seen through the binary of either victim or suspect. The woman who was gang-raped is seen only as a catalogue of horrific injuries. Her male friend is viewed as a culprit because he has only minor injuries while hers are life-threatening. The show goes so far as to have one of the most trustworthy cops repeatedly say the male friend caused the gang rape because his behaviour provoked the rapists. There is little attempt made to either question or reject the sexism, toxic machismo and elitism that infects the police’s behaviour and judgements. On the contrary, these are the traits that get things done.

Mehta has done his bit to play up the factual basis for his show. We’re told six years of research went into the script, including spending time with the police officers who investigated the case. However, solid as Mehta’s research may be, in terms of narrative, Delhi Crime cherry-picks facts.

The reality is that the Delhi Police identified and arrested suspects within 24 hours of the gang rape. The reality is also that this horrific crime could have been prevented had Delhi Police done its job earlier that same day. Had the Hauz Khas police station investigated the first complaint of robbery and assault that came in on December 16 against the six who would later gang rape a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus, the accused could have been off the streets. However, the police dismissed the complainant, no report was filed and the bus made its way to Munirka, where it picked up a physiotherapy student and a software engineer. The rest is tragedy.

The reality is also that India has never seen public outrage like what erupted after the gang rape made the news. These protests and the media coverage – particularly the attention that international media lavished upon the case – put pressure on Delhi Police to act swiftly and responsibly. Delhi Crime would have you believe the protests were attended by confused adolescents, jobless adults, and political campaigners, and were a hindrance to the police investigation, which is a gross generalisation. More importantly, would the Delhi Police have felt as much urgency to arrest the accused if it didn’t have on its back protesters who refused to be lathi-charged or water-cannoned away? Delhi Crime would say yes, but then Delhi Crime is written by a Canadian who is a family friend of a former commissioner of Delhi Police.

The point is, Delhi Crime just wants to entertain you with a good story. And that’s fine because this is a case that has seen some brilliant reportage. When the facts are not on record, the danger of manipulation becomes a major concern. However, considering the wealth of good journalism on the December 16 gang rape, if you look to Delhi Crime for facts, that’s laziness on your part as an audience.