Richie Mehta’s seven-part thriller opens at 10.30 pm on a winter’s night in Delhi. The preceding voiceover provides statistics that the odds are weighed heavily against law-keepers. In a city where 11,000 heinous crimes are reported annually, how much can a cash-strapped, overworked and underpaid police force do to prevent crimes when most of their resources are allocated to traffic duty and VIP protection?
The first episode establishes the mood: intense, hard-hitting and heavy. What else can a series about the police investigation into the heinous gang rape of a young woman on a moving Delhi bus in a cold December night in 2012 be?
The show begins with the discovery of the beaten boy and grievously damaged girl discarded on the side of road. Based on the case files, Mehta’s police procedural is mostly factual with some dramatic and cinematic license to take us behind the scenes on the investigation that followed.
As the young boy retraces events of the night, all you can do is scream ‘don’t get into that bus!’ The most compelling element of this series is that we already know so much, and yet we are desperate for every detail, in order to understand the criminal mind. And yet, when the chief suspect coldly, defiantly, gives his version of the story, your stomach tightens and your eyes well up.
The media frenzy, public outrage, political interference and even opportunism that surrounded the case are shown, but that is not Delhi Crime’s intent. The violence is pervasive and palpable but not illustrated. The focus remains on the police and the officers.
The police parts are the best cast and their characters bring humour and display rigour, even when they are sleep deprived and hungry. There are some nice insights such as a vegetarian cop fending off a zealous colleague’s offer of a chicken dish and how old school Hindi film songs provide some much-needed relief.
Lead investigator DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah) handpicks a team to assist in the search and apprehension process. Shah is the show’s anchor. She assuredly balances Chaturvedi’s professionalism with her concern for her teenage daughter (Yashaswini Dayama).
As a woman in power in a patriarchal world, Shah reveals Chaturvedi’s frustrations and anger in small and impactful ways.
In contrast is rookie Neeti Singh (Rasika Dugal). Unlike her seasoned commanding officer, she struggles to remain dispassionate and unaffected. Dugal perceptively and gently conveys this dichotomy. Rajesh Tailang inhabits the character of officer Bhupendra Singh, a solid second in command to Chaturvedi, with sincerity and effortlessness. Adil Hussain plays the Commissioner of Police trying to balance police work with political power-games. Denzil Smith plays Vartika’s husband and Vinod Sharawat, Jaya Bhattacharya, Gaurav Rana, Gopal Datt and Anurag Arora play the other key police officers.
For every cop working round-the-clock, there’s a little segue into her or his personal life. These attempts at humanising them and painting in some personal details, sometimes slackens the pace of the time-sensitive search.
Another niggle is that the English dialogues often feel contrived and the performances of several of the supporting actors – in particular those playing civilians -- are rather amateur and destabilize the force of the drama.
To Mehta’s complete credit, he handles the material responsibly, steering clear of sensationalism and manipulation. The cinematography, music, locations and dialect make the series immersive, detailed, acutely affecting and tinged with hopelessness.
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