'Delhi Crime' Producers on Telling the Story Behind the Headlines

Co-founders of Film Karavan speak about the show offering a fresh perspective on the Delhi gang-rape case.

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Delhi Crime producers Pooja Kohli Taneja and Sanjay Bachani.
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Netflix’s Delhi Crime, produced by Golden Karavan, SK Global Entertainment and Film Karavan, recently bagged the Best Drama Series award at the 48th International Emmy Awards 2020.

Co-founders and managing directors of Film Karavan, Pooja Kohli Taneja and Sanjay Bachani, speak to The Quint as to how the series offered a fresh perspective to the 2012 Delhi gang rape case, how director Richie Mehta came on board, and the choice to cast Shefali Shah in the role of Inspector Vartika Chaturvedi.

Excerpts from the interview:

Congratulations on 'Delhi Crime' winning an International Emmy. What was your reaction when the show was announced as the winner? Did you expect 'Delhi Crime' to bag the award?

Sanjay Bachani: Thank you! We are very excited as this is a big win for the entire nation. While creating this show, we believed that it would lend itself to an international audience, as the incident had not only shocked India but had also shaken the world. It was a fight that the parents took up as a call for justice.

'Delhi Crime' deals with the horrific gang rape of a woman in Delhi. Given that a tragic incident such as this was chosen to make a show on, how did you progress keeping in mind the sensitivity of the incident?

Pooja Kohli Taneja: We were all aware that the gang rape of the girl in Delhi was an incident that nobody would want to revisit, and right from the beginning we knew that Delhi Crime would not be about anything that we already knew. Nobody wanted to see or know that again. Instead, the show is about something that, in spite of everyone thinking they knew everything about this incident, people had no idea about.

The show is about a very strong DCP, Chaya Sharma, who has probably seen these kind of gruesome incidents on a daily basis in a city like Delhi. Yet when she heard about this particular crime, she was also affected the same way that anybody outside the police force was. This incident stood out as something that made all of us question not just our society but the kind of humans that we have become. Throughout the retelling of the incident, the focus was always on the hunt for the perpetrators. It was never about the details of the crime. We decided not to show what happened on that bus, we had week-long conversations with the director to decide whether we were even going to show the girl's face or capture her statement that she gave to the police officers.

In the end we decided that she too was a very strong human being who fought till the very end. There are many unfortunate girls who are victims of such attacks, but their lives are lost without even bringing about a mention, let alone a movement. But Nirbhaya was the beacon of that change. Thus, we wanted to recount those exact six days of hunt for the accused that was conducted by DCP Chaya Sharma and show the police force's point of view rather than the incident itself.

How did director Richie Mehta come on board?

Pooja Kohli Taneja: Richie Mehta had been in touch with Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, who told him about this case and asked him to review and research it. So Richie is the one who did a thorough research on the case with the police officers. Initially he wanted to do a film on it, and later on, we decided to do the episodic series because there was just so much material and so much conversation that we wanted to have, and that lent itself to more of an episodic format rather than a film. That's how this project came together.

Was Shefali Shah always the first choice for 'Delhi Crime' or was there a more commercially known face in mind to shoulder the series?

Sanjay Bachani: The story had to be told authentically and the actor playing the lead female cop had to not only show compassion and emotion but also present herself as powerful enough to fight the system. Shefali Shah was the most prepared and best suited to play this role.

Does the immense success and appreciation for the show break the notion that stars are always needed to helm a project?

Sanjay Bachani: For certain kinds of work, mainly theatrical films, where you need to draw people in that face value of a star goes a long way. For us, talent and the ability to not just replicate and transform yourself into the characters that you are playing from real life but to convincingly be able to give controlled and nuanced performances was always a priority.

'Delhi Crime' follows Inspector Vartika Chaturvedi as she tries to navigate a male-dominated profession to solve the case. Most films and shows have male cops as the protagonist. Do you think films and shows like 'Soni' and 'Delhi Crime' are attempts to break the mould and create new narratives?

Pooja Kohli Taneja: Following Inspector Vartika Chaturvedi and having a female lead for the show was not fictionalised or a liberty that we took. This was reality. There are many women who are in positions of power and in positions of bringing about change. It's just that our society doesn't really take them as seriously as their male counterparts. For us, to know that this woman had solved a heinous crime against another woman was something on the lines of poetic justice and we had to show that. So I can't take any credits for coming up with this to break the mould and create a new narrative. This is the narrative of life. Unfortunately, we just shy away from highlighting it and we're just so happy that we were able to highlight this for the audiences and bring forth the true nature of what life is and have art sort of replicate that.

Filming of the second season of 'Delhi Crime' had begun before the lockdown. Can you tell us what kind of case season 2 will be based on? How much of the shoot is still left?

Sanjay Bachani: I can't really comment anything on season 2 right now. It is still in the works. We are all excited about it.

IAS officer Abhishek Singh has joined the cast for season 2. Do you think bringing a real-life officer on board gives a more realistic approach to the show?

Sanjay Bachani: If I get to answering this, I will have to give you certain perspectives and perhaps spill too much in the process. Let’s get to a better time for season 2.

What are some of the other projects in the pipeline for Film Karavan?

Pooja Kohli Taneja: We've been working on various other shows. The coronavirus lockdown has given a lot of people around the world the ability to focus on things that they have been wanting to develop and it goes the same for us. We're working on a youth drama and a period piece. We're also working on a bunch of other true crime shows that have come to us and we're looking at how to bring them out effectively for our audiences.

What does content creation in a post-COVID world look like?

Sanjay Bachani: These are definitely unprecedented times and while it is a tricky situation, it has taught me and my team cost-saving and a more focused way of working.

Pooja Kohli Taneja: I think overall there is going to be just a lot of gratitude for being able to do what you're doing and maybe not being excessive about the kind of things that you were before. It's going to be simple. It's going to be grounded. It's going to be effective and I think we have COVID-19 to look back to and be grateful for giving us that new realisation.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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