New Delhi: “Delhi Crime”, based on Nirbhaya case files, explores the 2012 heinous gangrape and murder from the viewpoint of the Delhi Police team that probed the incident, but Netflix‘s new web series was shot with a non-judgemental eye, says director Richie Mehta.
The seven-part series, which starts streaming Friday, directed by the Indian-Canadian filmmaker follows the investigation to nab the six males who raped the 23-year-old physiotherapy intern on a cold December night in a moving bus in the national capital. She died of her grievous injuries 13 days later in a Singapore hospital.
Mehta said it was a family friend serving in Delhi Police who suggested him to make a film on the subject. He started the research in 2013 after a trial court convicted and gave death sentence to the four adult defendants.
After four years of research and writing, the director said he came up with a 170-page bible followed by 430-page script, wherein he has explored the perspective of “the people who were in the front lines”.
“I realised they have a point of view on these things that we don’t talk about. We had a very visceral reaction to this particular case and these are the people who are doing it every day. So why aren’t we talking to them and getting their points of view?” Mehta told PTI in an interview here.
The director, known for films like “Amal” and “Siddharth”, has not depicted the act of gangrape in the series – neither in visuals nor audio. “I was very clear from the beginning that I didn’t want to showcase the rape scene because I wanted the series to be about the procedure, not the crime,” he said.
Mehta said the team filmed the series as if they were a “bystander”, sneaking up to see and listen in to what was happening. “We would take point of view shots, bystander shots. Sometimes we took long shots, people are walking down the hallway and we’re behind them or we are just a person listening in. This was part of the non-judgmentalness of it. The whole show was shot in that particular style.” He said the only time he changed tack was when DCP (south district) Vartika Chaturvedi, played by Shefali Shah, gets Jai Singh, the main rapist, to confess.
“In rest of the scenes, you’re just sitting in the corner. The only time I broke that rule was when I needed to see both the people’s eyes, it was that moment – behind Vartika’s and Jai Singh’s shoulders. This was not a bystander thing anymore,” he said.
In a time when producers have become prompt in registering movie titles after an event of national importance occurs, Mehta said he did not go for the project soon after verdict was out as the wound was still fresh in the country’s consciousness.
“I sensed it wasn’t right to make a project on this then. Subjects like this are sensitive, especially when you have to tackle it from different points of view. It was going to take me a lot of time to understand all of that before I could dramatise it.
“I said to myself every day in those first four years that ‘if somebody else does it, fine’. It will alleviate the pain I was going through. I would have been happy if somebody did the exact same show.” After Leslie Udwin’s 2015 documentary “India’s Daughter” and Deepa Mehta-directed drama “Anatomy of Violence” in 2016, “Delhi Crime” is the latest project to bring the highly publicised case, which led to a change in India’s rape laws, on screen.
The filmmaker, who divides his time between New Delhi and London, said as he was researching, he kept his eyes and ears open. “There was a presentation of similar viewpoints through TV or media. By the time I made the decision to go shoot this two years ago, it was after knowing that I had come upon a point of view which has not been expressed.” The show dramatises the incident and includes back stories of the cops, the condition of the police force, their power struggle with the bureaucracy and managing the scoop-hungry media.
Asked about the portrayal of the then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit (though there is a gender swap) and the press, Mehta said, “What I’m saying is exactly what is presented there. So, I don’t believe I’m presenting anything that people don’t know.” The director said his vision was about presenting the police personnel in an empathetic manner while also identifying what they are tasked to do.
“We demand that they catch these people and so I thought let’s actually look at what that means. There are cops who don’t go home for months at a time or a sub-inspector may not have a vehicle to go to the crime scene. There are power cuts at the police station every day. These back stories are inspired by many people who are all real.” The series also gives a hat-tip to Bollywood songs from the 1960s-80s era and Mehta said the officers he met were so busy for the last 20 years they had no time to engage with pop culture.
“Whenever they turn the radio on, it’s the old classics. It was evocative of something,” he added. “Delhi Crime” season two is afoot and the director said the series will be back with same characters in “more or less the same rank” and a different crime.