December 16, 2012, a normal day in Delhi where 11,000 heinous crimes are reported every year. Nothing is out of the ordinary till a couple is found naked and bleeding on the roadside by a police patrol van. They cover the couple in borrowed bedsheets and take them to the nearest hospital where the female victim describes in agonized whispers that she has been raped and violated with a rod. Words that began an investigation into a case that horrified a desensitised city and sent shock waves across the country.
Delhi Crime, a seven-part Netflix original now streaming on the platform, is a police procedural drama that follows the six days after the horrific rape of Nirbhaya in a moving bus. The show focuses on the investigation into the case by a team of hardworking and dedicated police officers led by DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah), ably assisted by her long-time lieutenant Bhupendar Singh (Rajesh Tailang), rookie cop Neeti Singh (Rasika Dugal) and a dedicated team of officers who apprehended all six suspects in record time.
Canadian writer-director Richie Mehta chooses to tell the story from the point of view of the Delhi police, making them the underdog who was never expected to succeed. Inspite of limited financial and human resources, a self-serving chief minister trying to use the event to gain political mileage and a hostile press which was more interested in the trending sentiments than the truth, the DCP and her team refuses to concede defeat.
They catch the first culprit Jai Singh by Day 2 and he cracks quickly confessing to the crime, revealing every gory detail with not an ounce of remorse or regret. Itâ€™s a scene that will make you sick to the stomach. The most chilling part of his confession is his conviction in the victimsâ€™ immorality. â€śHe was trying to kiss her, so we thought we could too. Itâ€™s because of men like him that the countryâ€™s values are going to the dogs,â€ť he yells passionately, his vacant psychotic eyes shining as he recounts his barbaric act. Two other culprits calmly say â€śWe just had sex with herâ€ť, quite sure that they have committed no crime. Itâ€™s an eyeopener in just how blurred the lines of consent are in our country, and how rape is not about lust or sex, but a manâ€™s brutal assertion of power over a woman.
The team investigating the case have seen gangrape cases before, perhaps far too many for one lifetime, but this is not a â€śstandard gangrape caseâ€ť as one of them comments. As they travel to Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and even Jharkhand in pursuit of the rapists they keep asking the questions we found ourselves asking in the aftermath of the incident. Why her? How can anyone be so brutal? Why didn't one of them try to stop the others?
Mehta shows great sensitivity by never showing or even using sound effects to recreate the actual rape. Yet he doesnâ€™t try to make the truth more palatable. The incident is described in complete detail thrice in the seven episodes, once by the accused, once the doctor and finally in one of the most heartbreaking moments, the victim herself. She shows almost superhuman strength is giving a lucid statement that will hold in court.
He also cleverly paints a larger picture of gender issues in our country. A cop in Rajasthan is talking to a couple who has come in to file a dowry harassment case, Neeti is mocked by a male superior as the future DCP, a couple of frustrated officers compare women cops in the West to their own colleagues who â€śmake aloo parathas before workâ€ť, and Bhupendar struggles to find a groom for his daughter, whom he describes as fair and a good cook. The biases, the discrimination and the assumed inferiority are so deep-seated that one canâ€™t help but wonder if equality is truly an impossible dream.
Yet, the woman at the helm of the investigation is anything but weak or unsure. Shefali Shah spearheads this fabulous ensemble with one of the best performances by any actor in recent times. Shahâ€™s character unlike the virile alpha males we see in mainstream films is real and nuanced. Whether itâ€™s slapping hardened criminals, cussing at lazy subordinates or asserting her authority, her gender is never highlighted to give her character brownie points. Yet as Indian viewers we canâ€™t help but be aware that almost an entire team of men are at command. Rajesh Tailang is equally good as the calm and experienced Bhupendar. Rasika Dugal, Adil Hussain as the Commissioner, Jaya Bhattacharya as officer Vimla Bharadwaj, and Yashaswini Dayama as Vartikaâ€™s daughter Chandni all put in impressive performances as do all the supporting actors cast perfectly by Mukesh Chhabra.
The script by Richie Mehta who spent over four years researching the case has all the details and the required authenticity, but his greatest triumph is to create characters who serve as human manifestations of what ails the police force. Frustrated, tired, bored, cynical, and with literal festering wounds, this motley group of unlikely heroes each brings their unique expertise and vast experience in the field to the case. Watch out for the philosophical Sudhir, the limping Subhash and the staunch vegetarian Jairaj. These could have easily become one-note characters, but Mehta creates them with empathy and coaxes us to root for their success. Shot for long stretches using a stedicam that takes us deeper into the story, and edited with great finesse to build and release tension with precision, Delhi Crime is not perhaps an easy binge watch, but itâ€™s a compelling and gut-wrenching story that needed to be told and more importantly be seen.
Saraswati Datar studied screenwriting and filmmaking and worked with mainstream TV channels in Mumbai as a writer and producer. She now freelances as a columnist and scriptwriter working with digital publications in India and Singapore.