The Delhi Police’s Deputy Commissioner of Police (South District) Vartika Chaturvedi and her avengers have re-assembled, though to what end isn’t quite clear.
In the second season of Netflix’s Delhi Crime, Vartika (Shefali Shah) and her posse investigate a quartet of robbery-murders in a posh Delhi neighbourhood. The brutal mode of dispatch (faces and heads bashed in), the type of dress (singlets-shorts) and traces of oil left at the crime scene point to a return of the kaccha-baniyan gang of the 1990s.
The older perpetrators are from the denotified tribes that have been stereotyped in colonial times as “born criminals”. The bias against these Indians continues into the present, as the early episodes reveal.
Following the dubious advice of a retired police officer, tribals from the poorest parts of Delhi are herded into the police station and roundly harassed. Meanwhile, the killings continue, suggesting that the police – not for the first time – has been misled by its presumptuousness.
Delhi Crime’s second season is based on the chapter Moon Gazer from former Delhi Police officer Neeraj Kumar’s book Khaki Files. Richie Mehta, who directed the acclaimed first season, has handed over the reins to Tanuj Chopra. While Mehta has a creator credit in the new season, the screenplay is by Mayank Tewari, Shubhra Swarup and Ensia Mirza.
Season two is season one in miniature, but without the fine detailing. Vartika hasn’t stopped arguing with her headstrong daughter Chandni (Yashaswini Dayama). Vartika’s boss (Adil Hussain) continues to place impossible demands on her. Vartika’s deputy Neeti (Rasika Dugal), whose work commitments strained her relationship with Devinder (Aakash Dahiya), finds her marriage at breaking point in season two.
Vartika’s team members – played by Rajesh Tailang, Anuraag Arora, Sidharth Bhardwaj and Gopal Datt – are still committed to fighting the good fight. The new season has excellent production values, a high-value cast, and every intention to at least match the first season’s superior version of a police procedural.
But the new crime simply doesn’t have the emotional resonance of the first season, which fictionalised the rape and murder of a woman in Delhi in 2012. The five-episode run feels too rushed to unpack a complex theme – the systemic bias in policing against minority communities – as well as too languorous for what turns out to be a routine mystery.
Vartika’s exertions don’t have the same conviction as before. She is now a professional meeting a deadline imposed by an impatient media and higher-ups, rather than a police officer challenged by the barbarity of men. Like the rest of the actors, Shefali Shah is fully invested in Vartika’s dilemmas, but the screenplay doesn’t have enough richness to yield a meaningful pay-off.
Although David Bolen’s atmospheric cinematography creates a sense of unremitting darkness that leaches even into daytime, it’s a case of all dressed up with nowhere to go. “Sometimes, we encounter criminals and criminal activities that are beyond our comprehension,” Vartika says – a remark that is barely backed up by the narrative. (For an unfathomable reason, the Hindi-language show has several portions of English dialogue.)
There are some poetic cinema-worthy moments scattered across the second season. In one of the most striking sequences, an under-construction building serves as a dream zone for a future that can only be built on blood-drenched pillaging. This moment says more about how Delhi’s extreme inequality leads to extreme acts of violence than any of Vartika’s pontifications.
Films such as Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye and Kanu Behl’s Titli expressed the aspirational aspect of crime in the capital far more cogently. Delhi Crime, by contrast, is too timid to contradict the notion that criminals are never born but made by circumstance.
A great deal has changed in the cop-verse beyond the scope of this show. Perhaps the biggest story concerning the Delhi police force in recent times has been its wilful mishandling of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in the capital. Delhi Crime’s first season was released on Netflix in March 2019, a few months before the police force valourised by the show revealed its brutal and partisan side.
Recent police excesses in America have cast a shadow over law-and-order shows that flatten complex questions about the role played by race and socioeconomic status in law enforcement. Back home, a spate of films from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, including Visaranai, Karnan, Jai Bhim, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum and Nayattu, has upended the conventional depiction of cops as unmitigated custodians of good behaviour.
Even in its first season, Delhi Crime was too much in awe of the police force to accommodate doubt about their methods. The new season turns out to be a bit like Pataal Lok on Netflix’s rival Amazon Prime Video.
The set-up is worthy. The ideas are lofty. India’s horrific poverty – a daily, debilitating crime – and markers of identity are laid out in full view. Then the same old cops-versus-criminals game kicks in, which makes a lot of noise but never quite rattles the cage.