Delhi Crime: Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal, Rajesh Tailang discuss their Netflix series about 2012 gang-rape case
Excerpts from interviews with Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal and Rajesh Tailang on the first season of Delhi Crime, which premieres on Netflix on 22 March
Delhi Crime, the seven-part thriller written and directed by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta, is a deeply research-based retelling of the ghastly gang rape of a woman in Delhi in December 2012. Mehta’s focus is diligently on the police investigation that unfolded in the next few days after the crime during which the Delhi police arrested all six suspects.
In the ensemble cast, Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal and Rajesh Tailang play police officers in the team that was instrumental to the proceedings. Shah plays DCP Vartika Chaturvedi, the woman in charge of the case. Tailang plays Bhupender Singh, an experienced and dependable officer, and Dugal plays Neeti Singh, a rookie in the Delhi force.
Excerpts from interviews with Shah, Dugal and Tailang on the first season of the show, which premieres on Netflix on 22 March:
What were some of the challenges of playing your parts in Delhi Crime?
Shefali Shah: If the script wasn’t multi-layered, it would not have been as interesting. And the women in the show are also multi-dimensional. In reality too, we run a house, we have our jobs. I am an actor and a mom and a wife and that doesn't stop when I am working, and vice versa. That is how most women function. This is just the surface. Vartika is a mother dealing with a crime this big, but what is more complex is what is going on in her mind.
What kind of additional research did you undertake to get into the skin of the character?
Shefali: Richie’s script was based on so much research. It was all there right in front of us. Richie also introduced me to DCP Chhaya Sharma, on whom Vartika is based. Meeting her made a lot of difference to creating Vartika. Beyond this comes the interpretation and instinct of an actor. What I understood, or got to know post this, was the angle of the investigation, which I was completely unaware of. And that's a very important part of what happened then.
Rasika and Rajesh, did you also have access to the officers on whom your characters were based?
Rasika: Even if it is in the script, you have to do your research to make what’s in the script your own. I will just own it better if I have done the study myself. My character is based on a couple of interviews Richie had done and an article he had read so Neeti is an amalgamation. He got quite a bit from this one girl who was assigned to do Neeti’s job at the hospital. I didn’t have direct access to her but I read the interview transcripts and I did hang out with some IPS officers who were in training at that time. One girl I was following was in Delhi for her field training and everyday she would do something different like going to a check naka or PCR van duty. So I got to do that too. Another girl I met joined the police because she wanted to see the change her work was bringing. But her idealism was getting tinged with a little disappointment that we do so much but get such little appreciation for our work. That is the kind of journey Neeti is on, in a sense.
Rajesh: Bhupender is largely based on one officer, but he’s also an amalgamation of a lot of cops. As an actor I have to latch on to Bhupender’s humanity, because the kind of cop he is will depend on the kind of human being he is. Bhupender is pragmatic, idealistic, dedicated but it's not romanticised anymore. He might deviate from the rulebook a little, but he will get the job done.
Rasika: Everybody needs a Bhupender in life: someone who is dependable and will get the job done.
Did you feel the weight of the retelling of this story, and that it should be told responsibly?
Shefali: I trusted Richie implicitly and had no doubt about his sensitivity. So, as far as responsibility was concerned, I think we were on the same page from the start. In 2012, there were a lot of questions and we thought no one was doing anything. There was a lot of anger and a lot of blame being assigned. Perhaps the cops couldn't prevent the crime, but they worked hard at catching those guys. The show does give you a certain sense of security that while bad people might be out there, so are good people.
Rasika: Yes, the script was already very responsible and I could trust Richie totally in terms of the sensitivity he would bring to it. I was also very intrigued to see the police point of view for the first time. I was not aware of that life either, so as an actor it was a very new world to explore. It definitely shows the police point of view, which many don’t know. After doing this show, I felt they were very invested and they are concerned about doing their jobs well. The show also examines the lives of the men and women investigating the case and how the women are negotiating patriarchy. That was very moving.
Did you feel discomfort and heaviness while working on this show? Was it possible to talk about anything else after pack-up?
Rasika: It definitely brought back memories of 2012, and I wanted to remember. I felt guilty that I had moved on to the complacency of my life after the outrage, anger and news had happened. Doing this show was cathartic in a way because I felt I was assuaging my guilt of having forgotten.
Rajesh: This is a director and writer’s medium, and the anxiety about the importance of responsibility was taken care of when I read the script. Yes, the country and the world were very affected by this incident. There was rage and there were changes as well – whether in the law or in people’s thought process. As Rasika said, it was cathartic but I didn’t want it to be a complete catharsis because I want to live with that anger. Finding some expression does alleviate some of the rage, but I don’t want to be so completely rid of it that as an actor, citizen, person, I stop standing up against these issues.
Rasika: The events were not a point of discussion after pack-up, but there was a feeling throughout that was making me very sick. As actors, I think you want to be affected like that because then you feel you are bringing something to the work and not just doing it as a job and going away.
Rajesh: As an actor, you always try to be in the mental framework of that character. One time, during research in a police station, they showed us a replica of the iron rod that was used by the perpetrators. Even now, when I think of it, I feel uncomfortable.
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