“In 2013, when all of it was very recent, I thought it wasn’t appropriate to make a film on the Nirbhaya case. The verdict had just come out, and I happened to be in India when the incident took place in December 2012,” says Richie Mehta, 40, director of the recent web show Delhi Crime. The seven-episode series, which started streaming on Netflix over the weekend, is a fictionalised dramatisation of the 2012 Delhi gangrape case. The story unfolds through the investigation initiated by Delhi Police to nab the perpetrators.
Mehta, who divides time between India and Canada, and is not related to fellow Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta (as his Wikipedia page states). He grew up watching David Lean films, and always wished to be a storyteller. Delhi Crime is his first venture in the digital space. His earlier works include feature films Amal, Siddharth and I’ll Follow You Down. Excerpts from an interview:
Why did you choose a subject like the 2012 gangrape case?
Six years ago, I was on another project here in Delhi, and met with the former Commissioner of Delhi Police (Neeraj Kumar), who happens to be a family friend. He had seen my work and suggested I make a film on the case. It didn’t feel right at that point. He then said, ‘Just read the verdict so you get a sense of the whole story. And later, I can introduce you to the officers involved.’ I read the verdict and was shocked with the details. I talked to other Delhi Police officers, and those from the Special Task Force (STF), and asked them things like, if they talked to the suspect when they brought him back from Rajasthan. Those nuggets just caught on to me, and the way Delhi Police functions, not just as cops, but as human beings.
You have earlier made films for the big screen. Why the switch to a web series, the long-form narrative?
We could have attempted a film, but with the sheer volume of characters and detailing, we needed more time for the narrative to unfold. It was not a documentary, but a fictionalised dramatisation of these real events. This was like doing four films at the same time.
How much of the real story did you fictionalise and tweak?
Three characters in the real story become one in the show. And tiny details like how information on the scene of the crime — the bus — was gathered. Otherwise, the basis of the story, the verdict, is all in the public domain.
The case marked a shift in the way women’s safety was discussed in India.
We tend to become jaded when we hear of such incidents often. But Nirbhaya case shattered all precedents. As a man, I couldn’t perhaps relate to it, but thought if a loved one is subjected to this, what would you do? And if you witness it as a stranger, do you intervene, and at what cost? That became my internal conflict, until I met these people who solved this crime. And I really believe the crime was solved only because of DCP South’s response to it as a woman, as a person.
You have taken extra effort and care to humanise the Delhi Police.
To me, they are like psychologists. They gather vast data and information on a daily basis. They are talking to criminals and suspects, are stuck in traffic with them. The lives they lead, that narrative was important to me. Like the lady cop on whom we based Vimla’s character, she was very concerned about her daughter going abroad and not coming back, which I then used for Vartika’s story. She is a sub-inspector, super tough, but the Nirbhaya incident worried her. Rajesh Tailang’s character was based on this officer of the STF. I asked him what was he doing earlier that day, and he said, ‘Trying to find a match for my daughter, but when they found out I was Delhi Police, they called it off, as I was not an IPS.’ I had to incorporate all these details.
We hear several old Bollywood songs in an otherwise serious story.
Most of the officers I met had been in service for about 20 years, and have not had the time to update themselves on the contemporary pop culture. Old Bollywood songs are the only musical references they have.
While the country was outraged at the incident, what was the mood like of the cops like? The police force was severely criticised when the incident happened.
There is a certain aspect of chivalry to these cops, and I am not glorifying it. But in the context of this particular case, it’s important that in the darkness of the moment, there were more people who were trying to do the right thing. It was this drive that led to a breakthrough in the case.
What’s next for you?
The second season of Delhi Crime — a different crime, but same characters.