Delhi Crime review: Gut-wrenching, shocking; the best Indian Netflix show since Sacred Games
Creator - Richie Mehta
Cast - Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal, Rajesh Tailang, Adil Hussain
Rating - 4/5
In December, Delhi becomes a dystopia. We wheeze in the fumes of toxicity and rage. An ominous smog hangs in the air, limp like the hopes and dreams of its people. Tempers flare easily, viruses circulate like the plague. Lives are lost to the cold, among those who walk the streets are miscreants and monsters, but this great city, it endures.
Richie Mehta, creator, writer and director of the new Indian Netflix original, Delhi Crime, taps into this complex reputation that the capital has been cursed by, and opens his show with cold aerial shots of the city, straight out of Blade Runner.
It is a perspective that can normally only be observed from a distance, by outsiders less likely to be distracted by the city’s overwhelming intensity, and therefore better equipped to cut through the noise. But in the December of 2012, we were confronted firsthand by what Delhi is capable of - in good ways and bad.
Watch an interview with Delhi Crime’s Shefali Shah and Richie Mehta here
Delhi Crime is set in the aftermath of the heinous 2012 gang rape case that made headlines all over and cemented the city’s reputation as the ‘Rape Capital of the World’. But it is told from the unlikely perspective of the police - which is both refreshing and problematic.
The Delhi Police, like most law enforcement organisations around the world, is burdened by a reputation as complicated as that of the city it serves to protect. A lot was written about its handling of the case - it was praised for having nabbed the culprits in a matter of days and filing a detailed and bulletproof chargesheet that was instrumental in their sentencing, but it was also questioned about its ability to prevent such crimes, and criticised for letting red tape get in the way of the investigation.
Those looking for an insight into the systemic problems of the Delhi Police are likely to be disappointed by the show’s unabashed defensiveness in its portrayal of the force. There were times when I was convinced certain scenes were nothing but compromises, added in exchange of the force’s cooperation and transparency.
Some of the more controversial aspects of the investigation, particularly the reported unprovoked attack on peaceful protesters at India Gate, are explained; and other aspects that went unnoticed, like the minor suspect being charged as a minor (and not as an adult), are highlighted.
This is unfortunate, because it takes away from what is easily one of the best Indian shows Netflix has produced, and perhaps the most stunning true-crime drama I have seen in months. Delhi Crime is gut-wrenching, stylishly directed, passionately performed, and most important, not at all exploitative.
Mehta, the Indo-Canadian filmmaker behind movies such as Amal and Siddarth, makes the honourable decision to not show the incident at all. The show’s most violent moments, in fact, are all dependant on your memory of the time, and your ability to empathise with the victim, often through her own words.
Instead, the story unfolds at a breakneck pace under the leadership of Vartika Chaturvedi, DCP- South, who wastes no time in realising that this case requires special attention, and that she cannot afford to let it fall into the pit of police politics. So she assembles a crack team of her most trusted aides, led by the always wonderful Rajesh Tailang’s Bhupinder, and begins an exhausting manhunt for the four men (and one minor) who committed the crime.
Shefali Shah, as Vartika, is a force of nature. She delivers a simmering performance that treads the microscopic line between emotion and efficiency. Unlike her cousin, Kalpana, in the recent, similarly themed Netflix film Soni, Vartika refuses to allow her gender or designation get in the way of her job. There are distractions, obviously - public pressure is mounting, as is government meddling and the voices of her superiors in her head - but she perseveres.
The Delhi Police of Delhi Crime acts as a microcosm of the city, populated as it is by men and women of different backgrounds - economically and socially. While Vartika interacts with her family mostly in English - her daughter is enraged at the city for having let her down yet again, and has made the decision to leave - her juniors are a colourful bunch of Dilliwalas, and they all speak in convincing Delhi dialects. The always dependable Rasika Dugal is particularly strong as the rookie with a chip on her shoulder, who is drafted with the express purpose of being with the victim’s family at all hours. It is a delicate performance, defiant against a disgusting world.
As a lifelong Delhiite, as a member of the male species; I have complicated emotions about the city. I can relate to both Vartika and her daughter. There are days when you want nothing more than to turn your back on Delhi and run away, and others when you feel compelled to defend it with every ounce of passion in your body.
No one has the right to criticise Delhi but Delhiites. We have an understanding, a co-dependent relationship that outsiders simply cannot comprehend. We find beauty in the neon nastiness of Mahipalpur, and we find ugliness in the lush gardens of Lutyens - because we can. We forgive scammers and tolerate hours of traffic to eat at that famous Purani Dilli dhaba. We celebrate its hot pot of clashing cultures and classes, from the serene chaos of Majnu Ka Tila to the swanky showrooms of Emporio, but it is on only the rarest of occasions that we are united. This was one of them.
They can try, but nothing can bring Delhi to a halt; they can bomb us but they cannot crush our spirit. We will get up, dust ourselves off; like Bhupinder, we will distribute boxes of Haldirams and keep on carrying on. And this, largely, is the lasting emotion that Delhi Crime leaves behind.