*SPOILER AND TRIGGER WARNINGS (graphic details of sexual violence)*
If this review is difficult to write, that is only because the series was near impossible to watch – and all the more excellent for it. It fully deserves its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as Delhi Crime tackles the issue of gang rape and the shockingly negligent attitude towards abuse in India with as near as much ruthlessness and furor as the crime itself. The Netflix series is based on the true story of the 2012 gang rape that took place in Munirka, New Delhi, the barbarity of which incited not only the wrath of the community but the unwavering tenacity of Deputy Commissioner of Police, Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah). To say this is not a series recommended for the light-hearted is a severe understatement; the effect of each additional detail of the violence committed upon the victim Deepika being akin to feeling the pain under our skin itself. When she says everything hurts, we feel it. When they remind us of the rod and the hook used to torture her, we feel it. And when her attackers bite out what they did and feel no remorse whatsoever, we feel it. The story is told in a way that we suddenly become so aware of our organs, our flesh, our sex – and nevermore will you have wanted to rip yourself out of it.
What is immediately noticeable from the first episode is how inadequate the general awareness and regard to rape is in New Delhi society, which aptly fuels the incensed feeling that Vartika herself, has to be the one to wake and tackle the system. When Deepika is first being transferred to the hospital and rumours start flying between texts and telecoms about a major attack having occured in New Delhi, none of the officers – none of the men – wants to call it ‘rape’. It’s an ‘attack,’ an ‘assault,’ an ‘I don’t know,’ as if they either don’t want to be contaminated by the mere mention of rape or, even worse, they fail to appreciate the full gravity of it. This disturbing reality permeates throughout the series from the ignorance of the police to the infuriating protests of the rapists themselves. Jai Singh may be the barbaric leader of the gang, completely unapologetic in how he mutilated a young girl and ultimately cost her her life because she ‘pissed him off,’ but it is the unbelievable naivety of his followers that incite such rage in the viewer. They are just like children, evident from Brijesh crying in his cell and wanting to talk to his mother, coupled with how he and Vikas believe that they didn’t rape Deepika – ‘We just had sex with her.’ And no, it didn’t occur to them to stop Jai from going too far, because he’s older and they cannot disobey an elder ‘brother.’ Take that as you will.
The force itself is an unfortunately mixed batch, with the lessers not really seeming to understand what’s at stake (‘we’ve dealt with hundreds of rape cases – what makes this one so special?’). The superiors are able to, at least, give the case more of the necessary attention. Indeed, it is quite heartening to see that it is sub-inspector Sudhir Kumar (Gopal Dutt) that acutely acknowledges that such unacceptable behaviour is caused by the double-standard of the country’s stigma towards proper sex education, yet there is still a stream of easily accessible pornography to brainwash men across the nation. The team, consisting of sub-inspectors Vimla Bhardwaj (Jaya Bhattacharya), SHO Subhash Gupta (Siddarth Bhardwaj), inspectors Bhupendra Singh (Rajesh Tailang) and Neeti Singh (Rasika Dugal), all prove to be inspiringly competent officers with stand-out performances, but it seems that it is only when the emotivity of their leader comes to the forefront that they become more responsive to the rallying cry.
Shah’s depiction of Vartika is nothing short of exceptional. Instructing orders and backhanding her lazy ass officers, the first episode was particularly impressive in detailing her meticulous planning to her team in their pursuit of the criminals and leaving no detail unchecked. In this instruction she is relentless, but in that same beat she turns privately to Neeti and her compassion is almost unexpected. Instead she instructs her newest officer to act to Deepika as a sister; provide her family with whatever they need and protect them from the media. It is this moment that resounds with Vartika’s position as a mother, and how just three hours ago she was promising her daughter Yashaswini Dayama) that Delhi was a safe enough place to stay, rather than globetrotting off to university in Toronto. It is this that partly drives the DCP, her rigorous hounding of the rapists buttressed by the hope that, somewhere in her home city, there can still be found a shred of sincerity and humanity.
Unfortunately, we, as well as she, know that this case would have been lost to the wind should it have been left in the hands of men. Vartika’s husband (Denzil Smith) even asks her (rightly) at one point whether she, if she were not directly investigating herself, would trust the system to properly take care of it. After all, we repeatedly see officers that are sluggish, irresponsible, whinging and complacent at best, whilst their refusal, their cowardice, in succinctly even naming the crime is dangerous at worst. The significance of the ‘years in service’ that is presented on screen with each character introduction then suddenly makes sense: all these years in service, yet this is the best they can do. However, the performance of the force does improve (all six culprits being caught in five days after even journeying to dangerous Marxist territory), especially in light of the additional adversaries of media and public outrage. The questions and accusations of police incompetence are not unfounded, but grilling the Delhi police alone is unfair. The rape is a result of worldwide patriarchal injustice. If women are turned away by authorities and rape charges and are brushed off, this is a barratry which authorities are guilty of across the globe.
What magnifies the impact of this is an unbearable detail that acts as if the writers wanted to rub salt in viewer’s wounds. Whilst there was this rape at the back of the bus, there was an idol of Lord Shiva sitting at the front. As god of destruction and transformation, this perhaps resonates with how the laws of India in regards to rape were revised drastically in the wake of this case. It is still a rather sore point for religious resonance however. Regardless, it relates back to what Vartika says in response to Bhupendra’s infuriating question of ‘what makes this case so special?’ It is ‘demonic’ she says; this series showing a field where God does not really come into play. Indeed, what proves so courageous about Delhi Crime is that it could be seen as a response to the dangerous fetishism of Bollywood, for it has not been until recent years that the silver screens could depict sex or even a kiss on the lips. Despite this absence however there would still be brass musical numbers of thrusting pelvises around a single pair of swinging hips.
The show then proves a reality check. It is not a drama with underhanded and unnecessary twists and turns, but addresses the issue of rape with the sole focus it deserves. It slaps those that believe the negligent delusion that culture, tradition and cinematic idolatry can suffice for proper awareness and sex education, rather illuminating the reality that this is what leads to common people living in an Underworld of monstrosity and violation.