“This crime is not just heinous, its insanity!” – That is how DCP South Delhi Vartika Chaturvedi expresses her shock and agony over one of the most gruesome and inhuman acts of violence of this decade, and one where she is now in charge to nab the criminals before they go untraceable. Delhi Crime is the retelling of the infamous Delhi gang rape case of 2012 that had scarred the nation permanently, this time through the lens of case files of the Delhi Police, and trying to fit itself in the broader genre of a police procedural. Scratch the surface, and it aspires to unearth a lot more.
Predominantly, it is interested to explore much deeper into the psyche of the socio-cultural ecosystem where such crimes thrive. And it wants to touch all angles while doing so to build up the character motivations. So when the first thing that the victim says even when she is almost bleeding to death is “Mere papa to kuchh mat batana” – you know that her agony of shame around the most heinous violation of her entity is far bigger than any of the physical pain and mental trauma that she is going though. At the same time, you feel terribly angry at the mental make-up of her partner when he is far more interested to get a heroic footage and sympathy of the nation than really being worried about any of his partner’s chances of survival and healing.
You realize how various levels within the police force would react so differently to the same incident primarily driven from where they come from, what is going on in their personal lives, or how much of the system has somewhat muted their reactions to make them think only in boolean terms of success and defeat linked to the capturing of the accused. So you have DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (the tremendous Shefali Shah in possibly her career best performance) stunned in horrific silence by the hideous act, and going all out to almost make it her personal fight to get justice for the victim, because she has her own battle to prove that Delhi is a safe city getting better to her own teenage daughter Chandni (A track that I felt as stretched out personally, and also somehow weakening the moral professional compass of such an upright officer). And at every instance she is fighting hard with her own self to force a more humanitarian, procedure driven approach to fight the insanity because she knows that is what education and values should do to a person even in the most inhuman surroundings. She loses it out at times, immediately recovers, bursts out swearing cuss words that the system has so silently forced on to her, and struggles to fight back tears in the most moving situations to maintain her stern professional facade at all times.
In parallel, you see the young IPS trainee Neeti Singh (brilliantly sensitive Rasika Dugal) who is on her first high profile case, and ideally should have rejoiced the most when all the six accused are eventually nabbed, but she can only get startled at the behavior of her seniors and their celebrations for something so obvious when the victim still struggles for survival. After all, she still doesn’t have the baggage of several such frustrating possible failures of her peers. But she has had the most personal and human interface with the victim, and hence finds it repulsive enough to touch the prime accused even if it is for physically torturing him to take out the anger. And there is Vimla Bhardwaj (Jaya Bhattacharya in a naturally restrained act) who has incidentally spent two decades with the force (though never wanting to join it as a plan), still struggles with the basics like filing the report in proper English, is beyond sincere in the duties assigned to her, and is also clear in her humanitarian conscience that a minor convict cannot be deprived of juvenile welfare options, however terrible his crime might be.
In contrast to them are the male officers in the team with widely different approaches to the same case. There is the extremely capable Special Task Force head Bhupendra Singh (a terrific Rajesh Tailang) who should have been much higher in the ranks had he with him the stamp of education to qualify his merit, and is rightfully the right-hand man for Vartika on the case because of his experience, grass root contacts, and level-headedness to crack the case much faster than his officer rank higher-ups. There is a Vinod Tiwari (an effective Vinod Sharawat) who is more interested to take the maximum credit with the minimum effort on the case, makes sure he shadows Vartika in the press briefings to remain in the limelight, and in all possibility is the one ensuring the regular news byte leaks to the media. And then they have other colleagues who cannot be questioned on sincerity, but do expose their moral fragility when they crib about food amidst a critical mission, or prefer to call the passion of their DCP ‘sanki‘ over anything else. There is the Commissioner of Police Vijay Kumar (Adil Hussain always on point) who is eerily hands-off from the ground (well other than using his position to approve expenses for the investigation, a jibe well taken on often the only contribution of Chiefs across professional setups), and is more interested to get regular status updates from Vartika on the proceedings because he has to manage upwards – especially dodge the opportunist political forces with the sole intent to put the complete blame on the ineffectiveness of the police forces, as well as address the most irresponsible media trials who, for the most cases in our country, should hold accountability for some of the worst damaging aftermath of any incident.
And then there is Sudhir Kumar (Gopal Dutt Tiwari shines in a small role) who is unusually perceptive for his position to dissect the entire crime from the socio-economic lens of growing divide between the rich and poor, lack of sex education, easy availability of porn, and the deeply ingrained patriarchal upbringing of the large part of our society. It is one of the most impactful scenes of the show, and his words of wisdom immediately transported me to the world of another heartfelt conversation between two other cops by the sea-side on their analysis of the world of unending crime and linking it to the everyday garbage of the sea. They were trying to seek happiness in the daily cleansing they could achieve, and live life in those moments. Possibly its the same mantra that keeps motivating the world of all Sudhirs, Bimlas, Bhupenders, Vartikas, Vinods, Vijays and all their colleagues after so many years of mundane and unrewarding service, and will possibly also tune in Neeti and all other future officers to the same template in years to come.
A big shout out to the show for silently highlighting their families as well, who stand rock solid behind them even when they are not able to get back homes for days, and compromise on the basic necessities of food and sleep in all possible ways without thinking twice. It is the family’s unconditional support that keeps them going with their basic human goodness alive and aspiring even when the rest of the world is conspiring to prove them completely worthless. Yes at times, the writing might feel like a skewed, one-dimensional, over protective take on the department, but that is expected when the entire narrative is based on police files. And when it still nonchalantly exposes the most horrific fabric of our socio cultural morality, you are okay to go with the flow not holding the tone too much against the intent of the show.
But where do you escape from the most excruciating tone as well as intent of the predators? In possibly the most brutal scene of the show (well other than the occasional but grueling close-ups of the victim), we are terribly shaken up by the ruthless, icy-cold confession of the prime accused Jai Singh (a nauseatingly brilliant Mridul Sharma) who almost takes pride in the justice he has handed down to the victim. The nothingness of his eyes is haunting and provides no comfort of guilt to the interrogating officers who want to kill him at that very instance, but are bound by the procedures and a sense of accountability. They know very well that the system gives them no assurance of a death penalty for such repulsive criminals, but they also know that all their jobs are on the line if they default on anything prescribed or expected in terms of course of action or timelines. Hence they will have to force humanize themselves at every step, and lend their backs to each other when emotions get the better of any of them in the most grotesque situations. It is a race against time for them in a pressure cooker environment, so every time they succeed in pinning down one accused, it is a breakthrough for them. They get one step closer to finally go back to their families and one step better shielded to protect their jobs, leave aside the deeply internalized moral win to be the means of some form of justice to the grossly inhuman act.
Writer director Richie Mehta along with his co-writers Laurence Bowen and Toby Bruce display and lot of perceptiveness and sensitivity to unearth so many aspects of human and systemic behavior in the backdrop of an outrageous crime we possibly wanted to invoke no memories of. The tragedy was beyond comprehension and it takes all the courage of Mehta to morph that into a riveting investigative series that breathes sensitivity in every frame (to the extent possible) and invokes an empathetic gaze on the entire proceedings. So even when the writing falters in a few places with some of the chases and arrests appearing too easily resolved (the arrest of Amar Singh in Rajasthan who waits to be arrested even after he escapes, or unearthing of clues by Bimla in one of the accused’s house), or some others appearing over dramatic and drawn out (the last arrest of Alok Kumar in Jharkhand), while some other sub-plots or scenes appearing over written and tad too dramatic for the tone of the show (the fragile mother daughter bond between Vartika and Chandni, or the slightly caricaturish meeting of the CP with the CM and the other NGO leads, or the casual promises committed by the DCP way too frequently) or some other continuity issues in general, the overall experience of the show does not become majorly compromised.
That Richie Mehta finds a highly proficient team working with him seamlessly only helps making the show such a wholesome experience. Johan Aidt excels in capturing the various moods and classes in Delhi literally in the lowest light, while Beverly Mills ensures that in spite of being a slow burner, the proceedings are paced right enough to remain sensitive and engaging at all times. While Andrew Lockington‘s musical score is aptly sparse, the narrative is thematically sprinkled by occasional lines of old hindi film songs playing out of car or street side radios at various points, adding a welcome old world charm as an antidote to the continued grim atmospherics. Along with a fairly impressive production design effort, they all come together as a winning team lending a lot of feisty character and a gut wrenching sensation to a monstrous episode of Delhi Crime.
Delhi Crime does take a emotional toll on you for obvious reasons. Watching it at one stretch can get overwhelming, and it may naturally induce occasional breaks to psychologically recuperate and take the next plunge. But it is an important and often ignored perspective of the most unrecognized human faces of our administrative ecosystem who are grappling with their own demons in an attempt to fight insanity with humanity, and possibly getting brutally violated in their own sub-conscience in the process. The crime after all annihilates the entire ecosystem in its own merciless ferociousness.
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