Cop-aganda is a form of entertainment that does exist in the lexicon of pop culture, perhaps because procedural entertainment always hearkens back to either cop shows, shows about doctors, or shows about lawyers. One of the most serious criticisms leveled at “Delhi Crime” Season 1 when it was first released in 2019 was that it appeared to be a concerted effort to rehabilitate the image of the Delhi Police force. And, in the three years between the two seasons (2019–2022), the animosity toward the Delhi Police (the real one) has only managed to maintain its stability.
This is important to state because the show itself is aware of this dichotomy. The first season by Richie Mehta was, without exaggeration, one of the finest pieces of storytelling crafted and put forth on the screen. It was also an intensely personal story for the creator, Richie Mehta, but most importantly, it never really felt like it needed a continuation. Scratch that; it wasn’t designed to be an ongoing show. But the version put forth in 2019 was a show very much rooted in reality, and thus, a show managing to reflect the current reality of the world felt like a necessary thread for the show to handle. Thus, within its darkened hues, its blue and greenish heavy color palette, sometimes transitioning it to a washed-out color sensibility, the voice-over by DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah) sounds like a prepared statement being given to the viewer – “Policing this city is a complex task, and for an understaffed force at that. After all, we cannot police the lifestyles of the wealthy or the aspirations of the privileged. Sometimes amidst this conflict, we encounter criminals and criminal conflict beyond our comprehension. “
The ethos of this sentiment is carried over by new showrunner Tanuj Chopra, who is determined to ensure that the existence of this second season is justified. From a cynical perspective, the show, which had been the recipient of an International Emmy, was prime real estate for renewal to grab a couple of new eyeballs for the streaming service. And honestly, the over-usage of the English language as the communication tool between most of the characters started to feel particularly irksome, especially for a show supposed to be so grounded in its reality. However, like the ethos of the second season, it manages to highlight its flaws, like its protagonists and chooses to address them.
This time, the city is rocked by the murders of senior citizens by the Kaccha Baniyan Gang, a violent group of murderers who were active in the city 20 years ago. True to form, the higher-ups convince Vartika to bring a retired SHO who is “an expert” in dealing with DNTs (De-notified tribes), a section of the population the Kaccha Baniyan Gang is very much suspected to be a part of. His first order of the day is to round up all of the DNTs staying in the slum areas and bring them in for questioning because they are “born criminals” – a stigma that has been perpetrated ever since the time of the British rule and as it appears has managed to continue in the modern day. SHO Chaddha is also “an expert” because his familiarity with the local language at the DNT enables him to extort money from the hapless victims. At least in the first three episodes, “Delhi Crime” Season 2 manages to both overtly and covertly bring forth the inadequacies as well as call out the inherent systemic rot in the police force and the administration, along with the discrimination towards a tribe, which would lead an entire tribe to be labeled as criminals for the actions of a select few. For added and necessary impact, it also manages to highlight Vartika’s privilege when she loses her temper at one of the suspects who had managed to sneak into her office and plead her case, unfairly being brought in with her family, and how her in-laws would be unable to take the corporal punishment. Shefali Shah’s portrayal of Vartika losing her temper and accusing the nebulous “them” of covering for each other instead of helping the police solve this case is instantly hard-hitting. Not because we know Vartika as a self-sufficient and fair investigator, but because the outburst and then the consequent action of calling the suspect to the waiting room, apologizing to her, and listening to her, showcases her inherent humanity and her major foibles.
It could be retrofitted that Vartika’s over-usage of English, which slowly lessens and becomes a part of the normal vernacular as the show returns to its groove, is a sign of the South Delhi neighborhood where she and her family reside. Rasika Duggal’s character’s similar usage, but only while conversing with Vartika, dispels the notion that the writing of this show is entirely at the service of new international viewers who tuned into the show after the International Emmy. Again, “Delhi Crime” Season 2 feels like a show that is painstakingly changing itself, reflecting reality, course-correcting itself, and then finally telling a new story.
By the end of the third episode, which also brings Tillotoma Shome’s antagonist into the picture, we are pushed squarely into the investigation, attracted by the compelling and haunting performance of Shome as a woman almost psychopathically trying to escape her fate and live the life she dreams of. It is larger than the one she has found herself boxed in, and she would do anything, even murder, to live her life as an independent woman running her beauty parlor. These nuanced takes of showing the criminals’ psyches, how the origin of criminality comes forth due to circumstances instead of being labeled as “born,” as well as showing the inherent tiredness of the Delhi Police force led by DSP Vartika and her crack team, are what bring you back to the show and wrap you in its uncomfortable familiarity. For the rest of the officers, the lack of their discernible family life, or the lack of control in balancing such familial alternatives, doesn’t feel ancillary or a distracting subplot. Like the show showcasing reality, these all feel part of a larger tapestry in the narrative, of a city and its inhabitants just trying to live by the grind of an 18-hour or 25-hour duty roster and then returning home and either being accused of ignoring their family or being understood by the family. There are no sides taken here, just facts shown, with as much honesty or emotional brutality as one could muster.
The show’s having only 5 episodes, each constituting a runtime of either 38 or 44 minutes, highlights how “Delhi Crime” is not remotely interested in being slotted into a pre-configured episodic runtime but only exists at the service of the story it sets out to portray. Director Tanuj Chopra, the writing team of Mayank Tewari, Shubhra Swarup, and Ensia Mirza, cinematographer Brian Bollen, and music director Ceiri Torjussen should also be credited for attempting and succeeding in maintaining the unsettling tone and moral quandary that were a staple of the first season. Finally, though, it’s the characters and their chemistry with each other, especially between Shefali Shah and Rajesh Tailang, or the supporting cast led by veteran actors Anurag Arora, Siddharth Bharadwaj, and Gopal Dutt, who do not break character even while present at the fringes of the frame, which maintains the show’s authenticity. The raw rootedness is replaced by didactic and simplified storytelling in the beginning, but “Delhi Crime” soon manages to find its groove and execute its story, hearkening back to its predecessor while also definitely being its own thing.