Producer Pooja Kohli Taneja has a tough task ahead of her: she has to raise the bar for a show that is already highly rated.
The first season of Delhi Crime, produced by Ivanhoe Productions and Golden Karavan, where Kohli Taneja is one of six partners, won the International Emmy Award for Best Drama Series in November. A second and third season are on their way. The challenge is to match the first edition’s production quality and the high-voltage buzz that followed its exploration of the investigation into the 2012 Delhi gang rape case.
“There is no way one can compete with the 2012 case,” Kohli Taneja told Scroll.in. “We looked at some of the most heinous crimes committed in and around the capital, like the Nithari case, but in the end, we picked a crime that doesn’t affect your heart as much as the 2012 case. A lot of people told me that they couldn’t watch season one because of its violent subject. Delhi Crime is about social commentary in the garb of a crime show. So in season two we have dialled down the crime to two from 10, while retaining the procedural and commentary elements. Then we change the dynamics again in season three.”
Richie Mehta, season one’s creator-director, is the executive producer for the second season, while Tanuj Chopra is the showrunner. Shefali Shah returns as Vartika Chaturvedi, inspired by former Deputy Commissioner of Police Chhaya Sharma, as do the other actors who played members of her team. Ten days of shooting were completed in Delhi in September.
Delhi Crime was one of the first productions to be rolled out by Golden Karavan, which was set up in 2017. The first two episodes were premiered at Sundance International Film Festival in 2019. Soon after, the series was acquired by Netflix.
“When we were making it, we didn’t know if it would find a home,” Kohli Taneja said. “This was like an indie film.”
Kohli Taneja has been making, producing and distributing Indian and India-set films and series for over two decades. At the age of 22, the Delhi-born Kohli Taneja directed a 13-part documentary series on Shia Muslims, which was picked up by BBC for international distribution.
She subsequently moved to the United States. Between 2002 and 2006, she was the managing director of the Independent Feature Project Market, which connected filmmakers, producers, and distributors with one another. She was director of the New York-based Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival until 2008.
Over the past 10 years, Kohli Taneja and Sanjay Bachani, along with partner Apoorva Bakshi, acquired and distributed India-themed titles across digital platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes through the company FilmKaravan.
“At the festival, I thought why see 30 films in five days in a rush when one should be able to find this online all year for just two dollars,” Kohli Taneja reasoned. Among the films distributed by FilmKaravan are Nina Paley’s animated musical Sita Sings The Blues and Faiza Ahmad Khan’s documentary Supermen of Malegaon.
Kohli Taneja’s next move was turning producer. “During my journey as a film festival director and distributor, I met good-hearted and skilled filmmakers whose concepts were not getting made, and then I felt compelled,” she said. “I could not wait for nobody to make it, while I stay a distributor. That’s how Delhi Crime got made. We decided to fund it, even if nobody buys it or sees it”.
Megha Ramaswamy’s coming-of-age film What Are The Odds?, which is being streamed on Netflix, was another punt. “This was an English-language whimsical Wes Anderson-like film with newcomers and a dash of Abhay Deol,” Kohli Taneja noted. “There was no scope of recovery on theatrical, digital, or satellite rights on this. Abhay asked if I wasn’t making it, since no one else would. That changed my mind.”
Golden Karavan has eight projects in various stages of production. These include: “definitely more crime, a true coming-of-age underdog story, a dance drama, a youth relationship show like [the Chinese series] Nevergone, something political, a detective show about a popular cultural icon, and a pre-Independence show that’s The Crown-meets-Downton Abbey set in Hyderabad”.
Delhi Crime happened when Richie Mehta brought the project to Florence Sloane, one of Golden Karavan’s partners. Mehta had previously made the films Amal (2007) and Siddharth (2013). A chance conversation with Delhi’s former Commissioner of Police Neeraj Kumar led to an interest in the Delhi gang rape case.
“Once he went through the case files and met the cops, including Chhaya Sharma who cracked the case, he realised that the world had gotten one angle of the story from the media, and this was a chance to show a point of view nobody knew,” Kohli Taneja said.
What interested Kohli Taneja was the attempt to understand the individuals at the centre of the investigation, rather than be a sensationalist “aaj ki sansani khabar” show.
“When the victim is found, she says do not tell my dad, and then when one of the perpetrators is captured, he is just as ashamed of being found by his mother,” Kohli Taneja pointed out. “They are all humans. I’m not justifying the crime. But they are not hardened criminals. The question was, who are these people who will treat a woman like this? Can we understand them? Can we make such a crime not happen again?”
A major criticism of the series is that it glorifies the Delhi Police. “I have seen the truth and I will say that the police are not represented correctly,” Kohli Taneja argued. “I grew up in Delhi and I behaved with and reacted to the police the same way anybody in my position has, thinking they are corrupt, they don’t care about me, but I never considered how overworked they are, where are they lacking in resources, that they cannot home and take care of their family. Right now with the farmer protests, you will immediately consider people in uniform as hateful. But who are these people? What happens in their lives?”
As an example, Kohli Taneja cited the example of the two trainee policewomen who inspired Rasika Dugal’s character Neetu in Delhi Crime. “One of them was burned alive for dowry a year after her marriage,” Kohli Taneja said. “We could go down that road of reality in season two, but Rasika is an excellent actor and we did not want to end that character.”
Will subsequent seasons critique the powers that keep the police understaffed and under their control?
“Absolutely,” Kolhi Taneja said. “Based on what we got to know, we did get to touch upon some of these things in season one, for instance, the tussle over controlling the Delhi police force between the Centre and the state government.”
With streamers like Netflix being brought under the purview of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, efforts to broach politically sensitive topics are bound to become difficult for producers.
Kohli Taneja walks a careful line in addressing the looming threat of censorship, maintaining that “black-and-white rules are needed to ensure that stuff like child pornography or violence against children do not make their way into content in the name of free speech”.