IWMBuzz reviews Netflix’s latest release Delhi Crime based on the real-life Nirbhaya case

16 December, 2012. This day in our recent past is imprinted on the collective conscience of the country as a whole and Delhi in particular. It is an ugly scar on the psyche of every Indian – unfading, undiminishing, indelible.

It was the day when the human race plummeted to a new low in demonstrating the savagery it was capable of. It was the day when India lost the right to look the world in the eye. It was the day when New Delhi, seeking to establish its dominance in world politics, gained dominance as the ‘Rape Capital of the World’ instead.

16 December 2012 was the day when a 23-year-old budding physiotherapist was brutalised in the most barbaric way possible, in a moving bus in Delhi, at the hands of six monsters. It was a crime that made headlines across the world, and as detail after shocking detail of the case tumbled out, it left us stunned with the horror of it all.

The dust refuses to settle down on the reprehensible case. It didn’t, all those years back when the culprits were caught and sentenced to death by hanging; it hasn’t today, more than six years after its occurrence; it never will. Time and again, it will raise its ugly head in the form of references, docudramas, episodes in TV crime dramas, reminding and refreshing our memories of that utterly monstrous crime.

So it is with Delhi Crime, the new Netflix web series, based on that ignominious incident. But while the other shows/documentaries have focussed more on the incident and the social issues that drove the criminals to unleash the inhuman side of their characters, Delhi Crime lays bare the behind-the-scenes operations of the Delhi Police, the police-procedural, which helped them capture the villains before they could make good their getaway.

We all know that the perpetrators of the gory crime were nabbed within five days of the incident. What escaped public eye, incredibly judgemental as it is when it comes to the police force, was the meticulousness and hard-nosed precision with which the Delhi police went after the six criminals. The 7-episode series details the stellar efforts on the part of the Delhi police in nabbing the perpetrators within days of the crime. It is a retelling of the story, this time from the other side of the fence, from the point of view of the beleaguered, maligned Delhi police.

Written and directed by Canadian film-maker, Richie Mehta, under the aegis of production companies, Golden Karavan and Ivanhoe Pictures, Delhi Crime was picked up by Netflix for a world-wide release, after the series debuted and received considerable acclaim at the Sundance Festival.

The first episode begins at 10: 05 pm, 16 December, 2012, a Sunday night, in Munirka, Delhi. On-duty constable, Ram Pratap (Asif Ali Khan), discovers a couple in a naked, battered and bloodied state, lying by the side of the road. The girl, Deepika (Abhilasha Singh), and the boy, Akash (Sanjay Bishnoi) have been brutally attacked by six men in a moving bus. Ram Pratap quickly moves the two to Safdarjung Hospital, where doctors begin emergency treatment on the barely-alive girl.

The episode then goes into reverse mode; the day begins like any other normal day for the police force – dealing with petty criminals, ivory smugglers, and stoned-on-the-job check-post officers. We’re introduced to the ensemble cast of the series in quick succession. There’s DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah), a highly dedicated, upright officer, firebrand and revered by all; Vinod Tewari (Vinod Sharawat), SHO of Vasant Vihar Police Station; Bhupinder Singh (Rajesh Tailang), STF officer and DCP Vartika Chaturvedi’s trusted lieutenant; Vartika’s school-going daughter, Chandni (Yashaswini Dayama), who wants to move to Canada as she finds Delhi unsafe and unliveable; Vishal Chaturvedi (Denzel Smith), Delhi Police top brass and Vartika’s ever-supportive husband; and finally, Neeti Singh (Rasika Dugal), a young police recruit, fresh out of the academy.

As the otherwise average day wears into dusk, our hearts plummet, settling low into the pits of our stomach, as the episode sets the stage for the harrowing crime to take place. The young couple board the ill-fated bus to Dwarka, and an uneasy feeling descends on us, the viewers. For each of us, after all, every disturbing detail of the incident remains etched on our minds, and we know what will happen next. Thankfully, the makers desist from showing the actual rape and torture of Deepika, sparing us the pain and horror of watching the reprise of a crime we all want to forget, but none of us can.

That, however, doesn’t shield us from the viciousness of the act. Human imagination has the ability to envision in vivid, intense detail, what the senses perceive. At numerous times in the show, the victim’s rape and barbaric torture is described in hard-hitting detail. Deepika’s testimony before the magistrate, the prime criminal, Jai Singh’s chillingly remorseless recounting of his own heinous deeds, and the worse of them all, the attending doctor’s description of Deepika’s grievous injuries.

The doctor describes in painstaking detail how, apart from suffering a horrifying gang-rape, Deepika’s devastating injuries seem to have been caused by the insertion of an iron rod with a hook at its end, not once but multiple times, causing her innards to spill out of her body, and her intestines, rectum and genitals to suffer massive damage. And the scene plays out in our mind’s eye, in agonizing detail, as it imagines what our ears perceive. Perhaps the makers decided to forego the showing of the actual incident, relying on this wretched human ability to recreate the incident in the most disconcerting way possible.

To return to the storyline, DCP Vartika Chaurvedi arrives at the hospital, and very soon realizes that the crime she’s dealing with is unlike any other she’s ever come across in her life. Just that morning she had tried convincing her daughter Chandni that Delhi was getting safer. Faced with a crime of such monstrous proportions, against a woman who was simply out for a movie at the relatively safe hour of 9 pm, Vartika Chaturvedi is stunned by the enormity of the situation. That, coupled with the already fragile state of Chandni’s mind, moves Chaturvedi at a primal level, prompting her to take the case in a very personal way.

She vows to not rest until all the six men are caught and put behind bars. She puts together a crack team of dedicated police officers, cherry-picking and calling upon trusted officers from various police stations across Delhi. Narayan (Chandan Kumar), Vimla Bharadwaj (Jaya Bhattacharya), Sudhir Kumar (Gopal Datt Tiwari), Subhash Gupta (Sidharth Bhardwaj), Jairaj (Anurag Arora), are some of the officers she recruits to hunt down the culprits. Neeti Singh is enlisted to stay with Deepika and her parents at all times, looking after their needs, both physical and emotional.

The episodes, though overtly lengthy, move at scorching speed, traversing the length and breadth of North India, from Delhi neighbourhoods like Mehrauli and Gurgaon, to distant Rajasthan and Jharkhand, to dusty Naxalite strangleholds, as the crack team goes all out to nab the six men.

The men use every trick in the book to crack the case in an impossibly limited time. Past favours are called upon, favours are solicited – to be repaid with a round of the finest whiskey or a hearty home-cooked meal – and no lead is left unexplored, in their fanatical hunt for the six. The end comes when the last of the six is nabbed and put behind bars. Only then does the team go home – after an utterly demanding, distressing five days.

The series unfolds like a taut, racy thriller, the kind we’re used to watching in international productions. On its surface, it is a realistic, gripping portrayal of the chase and capture of a bunch of monstrous criminals. But scratch beneath the surface and a thousand hidden nuances of the case and more, come to the fore. Prime among them is the manner in which the Delhi police go about creating a water-tight case with no scope for leaks. Everything is done by the book, with razor-sharp precision, and within the official framework, to eliminate the chance of any loopholes that could be exploited by the defence counsel. Any hint of wrong-doing on the part of the police could lead to the six criminals walking scot-free.

Delhi Crime thus unravels as a glowing eulogy to the dedication, diligence, intelligence and sensitivity of the much-maligned Delhi police force. It is an eye-opener for civilians like us, who have no idea of the massive effort that goes into the solving of complex and sensitive cases.

The series also exposes the sinister politics that goes on in the corridors of power, hidden from the public eye. The Chief Minister of Delhi (Sanjiv Chopra) looks upon this heinous crime as the most opportune time to embarrass the Central Government in parliament, (the Central government controls the Delhi Police Force), and pressurise it into relinquishing control over the police force.

He bays for the blood of Kumar Vijay (Adil Hussain), the beleaguered Commissioner of Police and DCP Vartika Chaturvedi’s immediate boss, bulldozing him into being the fall guy and resigning. The entire sequence is a reference to the recent tussle between the Delhi Chief Minister, Lieutenant General of Delhi and the Central Government for wresting control over the daily affairs of Delhi, including the police force.

That notwithstanding, Delhi Crime showcases how the police force balances the precarious situation it is in, with political honchos breathing down its neck on the one hand, and protestors holding demonstrations at the Police HQ, outside parliament and at India Gate, both laying the blame for the ghastly crime squarely at the door of the apparently inefficient and corrupt police force. To top it all, the Delhi High Court has, of its own accord, initiated a PIL and an enquiry into the crime. Despite the pressure-cooker situation it finds itself in, the Delhi police rises to the occasion in a tremendously admirable way, without ever losing sight of its main aim – catching the culprits.

Apart from the simmering undertones of ominous politics at play, Delhi Crime sparkles with numerous sensitive, poignant nuances. It depicts the dedication of the police men and women, who despite all their constraints, want to do right by the citizens that look to them for protection. Juvenile affairs officer, Vimla Bharadwaj, despite being aware of the heinousness of the crime, will not allow the sixth culprit, Sonu, who appears to be a minor, to be tried as an adult. She digs in her heels and books Sonu as a minor (in the actual case too, the minor culprit was tried as a juvenile and walked free after serving the maximum sentence for juveniles, that is, a mere 3 years).

The series shows how the police force works relentlessly at its job, even going hungry at times in its chase of criminals. Theirs is a thankless, unforgiving job, exacerbated by the terrible constraints under which they operate. In one such instance, lack of adequate funds leads to frequent power cuts at the Vasant Vihar police station due to non-payment of bills. SHO Vinod Tewari tells his subordinate to divert the fuel fund to pay the power bills, but eventually, even that runs out of money. Many more such instances in the series depict the hardships and limitations endured by the police.

Neeti Singh (Rasika Dugal) lends the humane touch to the proceedings, forging a close emotional bond with Deepika and her family. As she tells Vartika in the end, “Fuck the investigation. I only want Deepika to live”. Hers is a gently poignant role, brought to the fore in nuanced instances, such as when she leans on her patriarchal fiance’s shoulder in an unspoken plea for the kind of support she expects from him; or when, overwhelmed by the despicability of the crime and the bone-breaking tiredness of doing relentless double duty – at the hospital and at the protests as part of the female frontline officers – she sheds silent tears in the privacy of the washroom.

Sudhir Kumar’s (Gopal Datt Tiwari) is another interesting character in the stunning ensemble of fascinating characters. He spouts gyaan with the air of an enlightened, knowledgeable being, hitting the nail on the head each time he opens his mouth. In one such thought-provoking sequence, he educates his subordinate on the reason why such ghastly crimes take place – it’s all a matter of economy. While the rich are getting richer, the poor are isolated from the glut of prosperity. There’s lack of sex education, yet, porn is freely available on their mobile phones. Lured by the sheen of the glitz and glamour, the poor snatch with force, what they know they can’t get as a matter of right – it’s a lesson in irreconcilable social differences that even the best economy professors would find hard to explain in such simple terms.

The show also delves into the back stories of the cops, laying bare the dichotomy of the police force. While the top brass belongs to the educated upper middle class strata of society, the lower rungs are beset by poverty, poor education and abysmal living conditions. They are overworked and underpaid, doing double, even triple shifts at work, without a single day’s leave.

The acting is terrific, with all the actors becoming the character they play. Shefali Shah is simply outstanding in her role of DCP Vartika Charturvedi, as is Rajesh Tailang, Rasika Dugal and Adil Hussain. All the other actors too display remarkable prowess in their craft. The entire cast has put in its heart and soul into the show, and it shows. The fantastic performances pay ample tribute to the brilliant characterization of the show – each character is meticulously crafted; each is nuanced and layered, revealing astonishing facets to each, as the layers unravel.

Richie Mehta helms the moving story with a sensitive, measured hand, and wields his craft with remarkable dexterity. The storyline proceeds surrealistically, and you feel as if you are a part of the drama as it takes place. As each suspect is apprehended, you feel a sense of euphoric triumph, like it is your own personal victory.

Andrew Lockington’s edgy, unsettling background score lends atmospheric heft and a compelling urgency to the hard-hitting spectacle as it unfolds on our screens. Likewise with the crisp, sharp editing of Beverly Mills, which elevates the retelling of this account to masterpiece excellence.

Delhi Crime sparkles with numerous hidden nuances, many of which may be missed in the first watch. It deserves a second, maybe a third watch, to discover all the latent issues that fester just below the surface. It is a gripping, fascinating narrative that grabs your heart, twists and wrenches it effortlessly, refusing to let go till the very end.

Delhi Crime is a must-watch for every connoisseur of stellar storytelling, and we, at IWMBuzz, give it a rating of 4/5.

(Written By Rashmi Paharia)

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