Crime Patrol's special episode on Delhi gangrape is a new low for TV

Rajyasree Sen

Sep 23, 2013 15:15:12 IST

I understand television takes inspiration from real life. I even understand that to get high TRPs you have to sink a little low. But until this weekend, I didn’t realise just how low is ‘low’ for television. Sony Entertainment has a crime reality programme called Crime PatrolDastak. The programme takes real life incidents and shows re-enactments. Going by the episodes I saw, each ends with a homily about life and crime at the end of each episode.

But why was I watching Crime Patrol in the first place? Because since last Thursday, every time I flipped channels, I’d see what seemed like a crime show with mise-en-scenes of the Delhi gangrape protests – it was promotion for a Special Episode of Crime Patrol, based on the incident of the infamous gangrape in Delhi last year.

Let’s keep in mind that Sony Entertainment is not History Channel, or Discovery or National Geographic. It does not make educational, fact-based programmes. This is not Nat Geo, with its mandate of investigating real-life incidents and doing almost-forensic investigations. No siree. This is Sony Entertainment, a channel which stays true to its nomenclature.

Crime Patrols special episode on Delhi gangrape is a new low for TV

A poster of Crime Patrol.

To take an incident such as the Delhi gangrape and to make a reality programme of it is, simply put, in very bad taste. One, because of the gravitas of the crime and the way the case has played out over the past year, and two, because of the speed with which Sony decided to make this programme. The gangrape took place on December 16th, 2012. Sony was ready to air the episode on January 11th and 12th, 2013. Barely a month after the gangrape took place and hardly two weeks after the gangrape victim’s death.

So, while people were protesting at India Gate, the content and programming team at Sony Entertainment was having a brainstorming session on how to make a reality programme on one of the most gruesome rapes reported in urban India. The only reason it didn’t air in January was that the NGO Bhartiya Stree Shakti objected to the telecast, saying the matter was sub judice. Following the complaint, the Broadcast Content Complaints Council suggested the episodes be telecast after the court's verdict.

But it isn’t only Sony’s haste to cash in on the widespread reaction to the Delhi gangrape that makes this episode of Crime Patrol appalling.

Crime Patrol
’s idea of making television out of a gruesome crime involved using newspaper clippings of the incident, footage of people protesting at India Gate and, borrowing from the creativity of Aaj Tak, India TV and ABP News, the show had a re-enactment of the chain of events. There were close-ups of those playing the rapists, a budding romance between the two victims; no mention of the one accused who hanged himself (possibly because that happened after January and the channel couldn’t be bothered to update the content) and many replays of the two victims being thrown out of the bus.

This was voyeur television at its best. What is the point of rehashing an incident which was first utterly heinous and gruesome in the first place? An incident that has been followed by many gangrapes, almost as if it’s provided a new template for sex criminals. Do we have to publicise and sensationalise it any more?

I’m assuming that Sony Entertainment felt that if news channels were cashing in on TRPs by showing re-enactments of the incident, why should they be left behind? Why indeed.

According to the show’s host, Anup Soni, the programme actually had lofty ideals. As he said in an interview, “This episode is just another attempt to make people aware and raise questions that what all people can do now. This case happened, we protested and these culprits got punished, but what next? We should look for a solution. That is what we are trying to show.” But the only new piece of information I learnt from the show was that the bus, which was the scene of the crime, was owned by Sekhri Travels. Nothing more. Is that a solution? No. In his defence, Soni does keep saying in his piece-to-cameras that we should be better citizens, help people in distress, make sure our laws are tighter and that justice is done. But surely this is common knowledge, rather than a revelation.

Was a one-hour re-enactment of the gangrape and what followed - replete with scenes of the victim’s friend weeping, their romance, her parents crying and her death – necessary to make us better citizens? I think not. What I would like to know is whether Sony Entertainment has taken permission from the victim’s family to portray them and the victim? I could be wrong, but nowhere in all the press and PR promotion around the event have we seen or heard a mention of her family, so I suspect they haven’t.

This is the perk of making programmes in India. The legal system is so convoluted that you can make an episode on someone’s life, put it on air, make your moolah from it and not be worried about being sued for invasion of privacy.

Crime Patrol is supposedly one of the better programmes on Hindi “entertainment” television, but to pass this off as anything but sensationalism would be foolish. What’s worse is that the programme portrays itself as one with a conscience, trying to build awareness amongst people. Why pretend when all they’re doing is simply rehash an event to exploit it for all it’s worth?

This is our revolutionary Indian television programming. Where propriety be damned, all that matters are the TRPs.

Updated Date: Sep 23, 2013 15:15:12 IST