During Delhi Crime's roughly 7 hours of running time, the rape is never depicted. But it is described in detail thrice.
During Delhi Crime's roughly 7 hours of running time, the rape is never depicted. But it is described in detail thrice.

Delhi Crime, a Netflix India original 7-part series, is inspired by the 2012 Delhi gang rape case.

Fortunately, it’s not an exploration of the rape incident, but an examination of the following six-day police investigation. In the roughly seven hours of the show, the rape is never depicted, but it is described in detail three times. Each description will make you deeply uncomfortable.

If you’ve ever wondered how South Asian police officers track suspects and gather evidence, the series answers you succinctly; in Delhi Crime, the police rely heavily on their own instincts, informers, and have almost no technology at hand.

The most frequently used ‘technology’ is finding a suspect’s cell phone to retrieve a ‘call log’ that geolocates their previous movements. In one scene, an officer stun-silences the room when he reveals that his phone camera can make blurry images clearer. If it weren’t so sad, it would be hilarious.

Focusing on the investigation reveals a side of the police force we've not seen before

Shefali Shah (right) and Rasika Dugal keep the audience hooked
Shefali Shah (right) and Rasika Dugal keep the audience hooked

DSP South Delhi Vartika Chaturvedi, played by Shefali Shah, is the centre holding the show and the investigation together; without her both would unravel. Through the show, it’s her success we root for, sometimes so much that we forget Deepika, the character of Jyoti Malhotra, who is battling for her life at the hospital. Luckily for us, Deepika is the reason the DSP won’t rest.

While it is difficult to imagine a DSP prioritising a victim over her own superiors, the majority of the DSP’s characterisation is flawless. Shah’s character is not modelled after alpha male police officers; she is in a league of her own. DSP Vartika is amazing at her job, she excels at motivating tired and lazy officers to find needles in haystacks; at one point she even succumbs to massaging the ego of worthless SHO Vinod, who then, inspired by Hollywood crime movies manages to pull his weight around. Vinod’s deftly designed character arc also helps to characterise the Delhi police force.

If DSP Vartika is the ethos of the show, the reason we believe that Delhi Police, which is shown to be rotting from all corners, can do this, then IPS trainee, colossal baller, Neeti (Rasika Dugal) is the pathos. She depicts how officers balance their feelings about crimes while maintaining their professional fronts.

If you’ve ever wondered how South Asian police officers track suspects and gather evidence, the series answers you succinctly; in Delhi Crime, the police rely heavily on their own instincts, informers, and have almost no technology at hand.

To complete the trinity, we have the ever-reliable Inspector Bhupender (Rajesh Tailang). He is an almost tangible manifestation of logos. Apart from his one blunder of victim-blaming the male victim, Bhupender fails no one, he never complains about the constant pain in his lower back, and when Vartika tries to speak to him from a place of privilege about his daughter’s arranged marriage, he politely but firmly reminds her “Madam Sir, we come from different worlds.”

It’s true. DSP Vartika is passionate, tireless, and a true leader, but her English accent is far thicker than Bhupender’s.

One of the many delicious details in the show is that as you climb the police hierarchy, the officers’ English accents get thicker. Officer Vimla, whose been in service for over two decades, is scolded for her poor English, while the police commissioner sounds like a relic of the colonial era. The show is a great primer into the classism of the Delhi Police and the rigid hierarchies of power.

In the search for more villains, the wrong targets take the heat

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the show is also what makes it fresh; the fact that we are shown everything from the POV of the Delhi Police. The police force are underdogs; no one believes they can do this. They are underpaid, overworked, high on drugs, low on medicines, and have symbolic and literal festering wounds. To achieve this humanisation, each cop is given a backstory, a personality and several believable quirks.

But viewers should remain vigilant and critical, the force is humanised so much as to make you forget about police brutality, corruption, abuse of power and lethargy.

All you feel for these men and women serving their country is sympathy. When will they get to sleep? Why aren’t they eating dinner? In fact, there comes a point when you almost encourage a sliver of police brutality, until DSP Vartika enters the scene and shakes everyone, including viewers, to their senses.

The one thing the police, and the show, can’t perhaps be forgiven for, is the lazy understanding and depiction of the civil society and the media. The public outrage and media coverage are regarded as unethical and unnecessary. “Yeh placards itni jaldi kaisay bana ley tay hain?” quips Bhupender on his first sighting of the civil society protest. Even the otherwise hyper aware DSP Vartika is blind to the fact that while the civil society is bothering her, it is mounting necessary pressure on politicians and her government.

The show exposes gender imbalances across the country. In Delhi, a near-death Deepika breathlessly pleads: “Don’t tell my father anything [about the gang rape].” Is it shame?

Delhi Crime’s rapists are criminals, spineless animals, but they aren’t masterminds. The show needed a dynamic, vibrant villain. It couldn’t be the cops, they have foot infections and no transportation allowance, and so it was the politicians, the media, the government and the civil society.

The problem was that these were too many villains, and the best the show could do was apply wide brushstrokes to each of these; leaving the audience confused about the wheeling and dealing between these parties.

Then there is the problematic demand for the death sentence. It’s the same prayer on every set of lips: Hang them. Hang them. Hang them. The show leaves no space for any other form of justice, erasing the voices of the many feminist groups across India that rejected the death penalty for rape.

The show exposes gender imbalances across the country. In Delhi, a near-death Deepika breathlessly pleads: “Don’t tell my father anything [about the gang rape].” Is it shame? In Rajasthan, a cop is too busy filing out routine dowry harassment cases to bother with official protocol. In Jharkand, a man is furious because the police disrespected him in front of his daughter-in-law. And our very own Neeti is harassed by SHO Vinod, the same man who cowers in front of DSP Vartika.

Pakistani drama writers and directors should be shaken to the core with India producing cinematically and thematically stellar web series one after another (Made in Heaven, Lust Stories, Sacred Games, Mirzapur) in collaboration with Netflix and Amazon Prime.

A surprising and strong element of the show is its humour. You wouldn’t expect to find laugh-out-loud moments in a show about a police investigation about a horrific gang rape/murder, but the jokes never trivialise what’s at stake. They are directed at the police, its lethargy and its inefficiency. The humour is well-timed and necessary; no one should expect the show to be cheery, but the banter keeps the police officers’ and the audiences’ spirits up.

While Delhi Crime will not create societal change in India, Pakistani drama writers and directors should be shaken to the core with India producing cinematically and thematically stellar web series one after another (Made in Heaven, Lust Stories, Sacred Games, Mirzapur) in collaboration with Netflix and Amazon Prime. Meanwhile Pakistani dramas have been following the same, stale recipes for decades.

Like many other Netflix shows, Delhi Crime was made to be binge watched.

If everyone in Delhi is – metaphorically and literally – kept awake by the heinousness of the crime, then why should you sleep?

Everyone has to stay awake to keep the pressure on each other, and you, as the audience, must partake.

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