Heart Of Darkness:
The first season of Delhi Crime (2019) hit the right buttons, coming out when the horror of the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case had not yet slid out of the minds of people. The International Emmy award-winning Netflix series, created by Richie Mehta, depicted with solemn accuracy the police investigation and arrest of the perpetrators.
Unlike so many police procedurals, the series made no attempt to be entertaining, it was all about the sweat and grime of crime detection, so much so that it raised by a few notches the audience’s respect for Delhi police, otherwise notorious for brutality.
Shefali Shah reprises her role as DCP Vartika Chaturvedi in Season 2, this time leading her team into solving a case not as emotionally lacerating perhaps, but just as gruesome. Wealthy senior citizens are murdered in their homes by bandits who use the modus operandi of the kachha-baniyan gang, that ran riot in several parts of the country till the Nineties—they covered their faces, stripped down to their underwear, smeared their bodies with oil to avoid being caught, used hammers, axes and knives to kill with shocking savagery. Belonging to what the British labelled criminal tribes, they were feared for their boldness and cruelty. After Independence, they were “denotified” and even if they gave up their nomadic and criminal lifestyle, they still found it difficult to integrate into regular society.
When more similar murder-dacoities follow, and the efficiency of Delhi police is questioned by the media and political higher ups, the lives of Vartika and her loyal team almost come to a halt in their pursuit of leads. Vartika has an understanding husband (Denzil Smith), but her hard-working assistant Neeti (Rasika Dugal) has ugly spats with her cranky husband (Aakash Dahiya). Without underlining it too much, the series does portray the additional difficulties faced by female police officers; their dedication to duty may lead to a recalcitrant child or sullen husband, while male officers get home food delivered when they are caught up at work.
Vartika is forced to seek the help of a former police officer, Viren Chaddha (Kuldeep Sareen), who had dealt with the denotified tribes (DNTs) in the past. He is arrogant and condescending towards Vartika, and simply orders the rounding up of a whole colony of them, even roughing up the relatives of those who had left their clan. The series, directed by Tanuj Chopra and written by a large scripting team, is on the side of Vartika’s beleaguered crew—Rajesh Tailang and Gopal Datt also return from the last season—but does not shy away from showing the cops’ questionable means of extracting confessions—even Vartika is not averse to a bit of custodial violence provided no marks are left on the body.
Solving crimes is not all excitement and adventure, it is tedious work, following up flimsy leads, going through hours of CCTV footage (though in this case the getaway car of the killers is not chased up), checking reams of telephone records, and tapping informers. Quite often it is a lucky break that offers a crucial clue. In the midst of all the tension and sleepless fatigue, is pressure from higher-ups and abuse from criminals; the scene with the profane old woman offers a little gleam of humour in the unrelenting gloom of the frenzied killer hunt.
The class differences of the city are seen in the contrast between the palatial mansions of the rich, and the squalid jhuggis of the poor. A voiceover by Vartika states in the beginning the difficulties of policing the “lifestyles of the wealthy” and the “aspirations of the less privileged.” The jaded cops know that crime cannot be controlled, but even they are jolted by the sight of battered and mutilated bodies. (The gory sight of blood-soaked corpses could have been avoided).
With all its architectural grandeur, Delhi looks eerie by night, and David Bolen’s camera captures the city with all its seediness and glamour. The production is meticulously detailed, and the performances excellent. Shefali Shah is the lead actor who hardly ever hits a false note, and she is supported by a brilliant cast, from her group of cops who look like they might have stepped out of the nearest police chowky, down to the actors who have one-scene parts.
The power of the series is that it is rooted in reality, and as long as there are serious crimes, there will be grist for the mill, not just in Delhi, but also in Mumbai and other places in the country. While it is true that Savdhaan India, Crime Patrol and other true crime series cover this field, Delhi Crime is superior mainly due to its finesse and lack of lurid sensationalism.
(This piece first appeared on rediff.com)