The December 12 Delhi gangrape and murder was followed by unprecedented anger against the state administration for failing to ensure the safety of women. Amid that righteous rage, some credit ought to be given where it is due – to the Delhi police for their swift arrest of the culprits, posits the upcoming Netflix series Delhi Crime.
The seven-part series, directed by Canadian-Indian filmmaker Richie Mehta, follows a police team as it gets cracking on identifying the suspects with sparse leads and amid rising public anger. The series is a fictionalised account based on the case files of the Delhi police, who arrested all six culprits within a week. Of these, one allegedly committed suicide in police custody, four were sentenced to death and a juvenile was sent to a correctional facility for three years.
Delhi Crime stars Shefali Shah as Vartika Chaturvedi, the police officer who spearheads the investigation, and Rajesh Tailang as her subordinate, Bhupendra. Also featuring Rasika Dugal, Jaya Bhattacharya, Sanjay Bishnoi, Denzil Smith, Adil Hussain, Anurag Arora, Vinod Sharawat, Gopal Dutt and Yashaswini Dayama, among others, the series will be out on Netflix on March 22.
Delhi Crime seeks to draw attention to a facet of the Delhi gangrape case that isn’t talked about much, Shah and Tailang told Scroll.in. “This case affected all of us and we all saw it as a layperson,” Shah said. “That whole episode was of pain, anger, disappointment and deep loss. When I heard this story, it struck me that there was also another side. We were throwing blame, saying no one is doing anything about it. But there was a whole team that made it their mission [to bring the perpetrators to justice].”
For Tailang, it was his third association with Mehta after Amal (2007) and Siddharth (2013), in which he played the lead. He also co-wrote Siddharth with Mehta and wrote the Hindi dialogue for Amal. “Richie and I go a long away and he had been researching on this for several years and had shared a little bit about the project with me,” the actor said. “This was a subject that was very sensitive and needed to be delicately handled, which I was confident Richie would do.”
Shah’s character is modelled on Chhaya Sharma, the Deputy Commissioner of Police (South Delhi) at the time of the December 16, 2012, assault on a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a moving bus. The student succumbed to her injuries on December 29 that year. When Mehta shared the script with her, she could not put it down, Shah said. “When Richie starting telling me about the character, five minutes down the like I was like, I’m doing it.”
Shah met Sharma to prepare for her role. “It was so enriching for me to meet someone like her,” Shah said. “She was someone chose to fight for Nirbhaya and all the women. I had the honour of interacting with her, understanding how it works and what was going on in her mind. All of that went into creating Vartika. I then added my interpretation to it.”
Tailang’s character was an amalgamation of different investigating officers, but he spoke at length to one police officer and used him as a point of reference. To get into the skin of the character, he tried to find similarities between him and Bhupendra. “For me the biggest point of identification [with Bhupendra] was that when the tragic Nirbhaya incident happened, we all had a lot of anger but also felt very helpless,” he explained. “This character also finds himself at a similar point. Even I desired instant justice and so does he, at one point, but has to follow the law of the land. This struggle and conflict of a police officer is challenging for any actor to play.”
While the focus of Delhi Crime is the police investigation and near-daily arrests, the series offers a glimpse of the character’s personal lives. Shah’s Chaturvedi is particularly compelling, as a woman who approaches the case with passion and anger mixed with sensitivity, making it her personal mission to catch the culprits. Was it emotionally challenging to play such a character? “Any role I play is emotionally challenging because I don’t want to act like the character, I want to be the character,” Shah said. “In this character, yes she has anger and angst, but what she does it channelises all of it into a single focus of getting those guys. She doesn’t let her emotion cloud her investigation.”
Shah added that she doesn’t like describing Vartika Chaturvedi as a character. “It’s undermining to call it a role or character. This is a real person. It actually happened. And it’s commendable, how they handled [the case]. How inspiring is that. So if I could stand in those shoes, I find myself lucky.”
There is a risk involved in taking on a topic based on real events – especially one that elicited such anger and debate – but Shah and Tailang said they were not worried about how the series will be received. “When you create something based on a true story you need an immense amount of sensitivity, precision, respect for the people involved and a deep sense of responsibility,” Shah said. “Richie had that in him. But for me, the biggest part of this was creating it. That enriched me. Now what happens to it – who reacts and how – is not in my control.”
Tailang said he hopes the series will get people thinking. “When there is such an incident, there is a lot of anger in a person, which was necessary at the time,” he said. “But only anger will not bring solutions. For that, you need debate and reflection. I feel if this show can move people towards that even a little bit, then that will be a very good thing.”
Rajesh Tailang will next be seen in the second season of Netflix’s Selection Day, a coming-of-age drama based on Aravind Adiga’s book of the same name, which will be out on April 22. Tailang plays Mohan Kumar, a ruthless father who pushes his sons to the extreme to make them cricket champions. “As humans, we have all these shades in us, which we have to eke out. So for this character, I have to bring out the sadist buried in me,” Tailang said. “I can identify with him to the extent that every parent will want the best for his children. But unlike Mohan Kumar, I will also think of what my child will want, which he doesn’t. The challenge was how to make him likeable despite all his flaws. He should not look simply like a villain.”
Selection Day, the first season of which came out in December last year, capped an extremely eventful year for Tailang. Though he had been in the entertainment industry for more than two decades, starting with the 1994 Doordarshan series Shanti, 2018 brought him into the limelight with three movie appearances – in Aiyaary, Mukkabaaz and Omerta. Further recognition came with his roles in the Amazon Prime Video’s hit web series Mirzapur and Selection Day.
Shah too has found in the digital boom a platform for her ample skills, winning much acclaim for her performances in Neeraj Ghaywan’s short film Juice, which came out on YouTube in 2017, and the Netflix movie Once Again (2018). Once a television staple with such series as Aarohan, Sea Hawks, Banegi Apni Baat and Hasratein in the 1990s, Shah went on to appear infrequently on the big screen in films including Satya (1998), Monsoon Wedding (2001) and Dil Dhadakne Do (2015). The rising popularity of web content has been a boon, Shah said. “Not just for actors but for writers and filmmakers. Because they’re ready to take the chance, the risk, and create something incredible without having to worry about box office collections,” she said.
Tailang, meanwhile, wants a shot at showing his comic talent on the screen. A poet and theatre veteran, he has played comic roles in plays several times and was also a cartoonist in his college days. “I try to find some comic elements in all my characters or some lighter moments,” he said. “But I would like to do an out-and-out comedy. I don’t take myself so seriously, unlike my characters.”