Delhi Crime stars Shefali Shah, Rajesh Tailang on Netflix show's International Emmy, and reuniting for Season 2
'I couldn’t stop screaming when we won. I didn't hear my family congratulate me because I just couldn't stop screaming,' says Shefali Shah.
Delhi Crime has created history for Indian talent by winning an International Emmy for the Best Drama Series. While it cannot be strictly categorised as an Indian production, the series tells the story of a horrific Indian crime that captured global headlines.
Richie Mehta, its writer-director, brought together an ensemble cast of talented performers from the National School of Drama and similar non-starry backgrounds to create a gritty, realistic police procedural, loaded with human drama.
Shefali Shah, who plays the lead role of DCP Vartika Chaturvedi, was over the moon when the news broke. “I watched it live, and couldn’t stop screaming when we won. My younger son and husband Vipul (Shah) were watching with me. I didn’t even hear them congratulate me because I simply couldn’t speak screaming. I would have been very surprised if we weren’t nominated. For me, the show is a winner irrespective of what award it gets. We also won the IREEL awards where we won Best Series, Best Director, and Best Actress. Honestly, I can say it unabashedly that it deserved the win.”
Shah plays the female officer in charge of the heinous gang rape of Jyoti Singh in 2012 in New Delhi. Global outcry around the rape case became a call to action amongst citizens. In Delhi, students, youth, and a section of citizenry congregated at India Gate in peak winter, dealt with aggressive police tactics to protest growing crimes against women in the capital.
The series draws from police investigation files, and builds an emotionally charged story about a precise, speedy investigation. It also delicately tackles the challenges that police officers involved in this investigation handled at home. The central character is based on Delhi top cop Chhaya Sharma.
Shah recalls, “When Richie spoke to me for the first time, I just said yes within first five minutes. When we handed me the script of nine episodes, which was quite a lot to read, I actually finished reading in just one-and-a-half hours. I was blown away by it, and I wanted to be a part of it immediately.
As for prep, I have to give credit to Richie because he had a complete blueprint for her. When I came on board, he said that I want a collaborator, and not just an actor. He said that he wanted my voice on it.
Creatively, I built the character. I would message Chhaya ma'am (the cop that inspires Vartika), and she would share her point of view. As for her relationship with her daughter, I am a mom. I know what it feels like for a mother when something like this happens. It’s also the collective anger, pain, angst, and grief that so many felt, when this incident came to light, that I channelised. I don’t think we have still let go of it. I think that reflected in our performances.”
Stepping away from conventional practice of hiring established film actors to fill up a show, Delhi Crime invested in performers and the personal experience of its cast. Shah says, “I was in awe. They are such amazing actors! It was treat to be in front of them, interact with them, and to create these relationships. Teamwork, also (in) the show’s crew, reflects. Everyone was invested in it emotionally."
NSD graduate Rajesh Tailang plays the second in command to Shah’s dynamic and determined top cop. “While working on Delhi Crime, most of the actors were my colleagues from NSD. Adil Hussain is my classmate. Richie handles his actors very well by guiding the actors in a specific scene.”
Explaining the journey of making Delhi Crime, he says, “I have worked with Richie since his first project, Aman. Being a Delhiite, I was enraged and emotional about the Nirbhaya case. I also knew that Richie would handle this sensitive issue rightly. When we first made Delhi Crime, we didn’t make it for any OTT platform. Netflix acquired it when first two episodes were shown at Sundance Film Festival. Only when people have watched it, we found the feedback rewarding."
Delhi Crime and content on OTT has made actors like Shah relevant to a new generation of viewers. “I was at a restaurant when a group of young people came up to me, and said, 'We are so glad Delhi Crime got made!' Not just this show, Juice and Once Again have finally brought me roles that I have always wanted to play. These aren’t just about heroes and heroines, but about characters, and each one’s story.”
Tailang, who has become a familiar face with popular series like Bandish Bandits and Mirzapur, also finds OTT content suitable for an actor’s emergence. “OTT formats go beyond a single character and work with subplots in detail. That is their strength. As every character has a complete arc and people can relate to the content as most characters are human and flawed.”
The series had faced controversy when a senior police officer sued Netflix and the makers for wrongful portrayal. But the recognition it brought its actors has spanned more offbeat content. Shah now acts in Humans, a medical thriller directed by her husband Vipul. She has also directed two short films, a first for her. Tailang acts in an upcoming film, Paglait, and will be seen in more web series. As for Delhi Crime Season 2, while Tailang confirms it is complete, Shah diplomatically says on being asked when it will drop, "That’s a very good question for Netflix!"
Delhi Crime is streaming on Netflix India.
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