Delhi Crime’s International Emmy win paves the way for a much-needed rise in realistic storytelling
As far as cop stories go, Delhi Crime and Netflix original film, Soni, which dropped around the same time, broke the mould from what we’ve been used to seeing in this country.
It’s been less than 48 hours since the 48th International Emmy Awards, and the resounding echoes of praise from local quarters have yet to die down for Netflix’s original series Delhi Crime that picked up top honours in the drama category.
Based on the December 2012 Delhi gang rape that hogged the headlines for months after, the series is told from the perspective of the police team investigating the crime. That this comes at a time when the cloud of censorship looms large over streaming platforms in India is just the latest gift from the gods of irony to the public of India, at least for those of us who aren’t sheep and can think for ourselves rather than be told what we can and can’t watch.
Barely five years ago, we were a country starved for content that reflected realism, be it happy or stark. One’s choices ranged between the usual saas-bahu fare on prime time television and mainstream Bollywood’s masala flicks. Even the spate of biopics that were being vomited out at an alarming rate reeked more of creative license and self indulgence rather than being true to their subjects. The world, in the meantime, had moved on and content steeped in realism had made its way from an already existing and expanding niche in films and television to that infinite world of possibilities called streaming. Suddenly, the audience was lapping up real stories about real people from different corners of the world.
As far as cop stories go, Delhi Crime and Netflix original film, Soni, which dropped around the same time, broke the mould from what we’ve been used to seeing in this country. In Bollywood, it’s usually been an angry young (?) supercop a-la Singham or the multi-talented singing, dancing Chulbul Pandey who's also a super cop when he isn’t romancing his ladylove. The look into what a real cop’s life is like, and the shedding of the stereotypical testosterone driven storytelling of the genre, is what makes these shows ground-breaking. Well, for India, at least. And while Delhi Crime might have received some amount of criticism for not having delved deeper into the systemic gender biases within the police, Soni has an entire ambient world that’s hostile to women. This is a world where women remain stuck in traditional gender roles, and those who dare to step outside spend their entire existence trying to battle their insecurities. These are worlds that could exist a few miles away, but worlds that many of us would only have heard and read about. And then discarded and othered as ‘not my concern.’
The large Indian middle class has always loved living in a cocoon of fantasy, fuelled by hundreds of Bollywood films over the decades.
Prime time television content, in the meantime, decided that we should all live in joint families, and strut around looking like peacocks in designer jewellery. The men go to work while the women stay at home and connive against their in-laws. It’s like every regressive thought from society had been taken and stitched together into a homogenous picture of what the ideal Indian household should be.
It’s the universe of streaming that gave birth to a show like Paatal Lok, which at its core is a treatise on societal realities that surround us today. The series lays bare the privilege of being from a certain religion or caste in Indian society, but more importantly shines a light on what the marginalised go through on a daily basis. There’s an utter lack of consequences for crimes committed by those from the privileged classes against others. And it’s an ugly reality that most people would rather not acknowledge as they plod on with the blinkers that the ruling classes have handed down from generation to generation. We love to think of ourselves as a society that’s fair and morally upright, except when it involves people from another religion, caste or region.
Politics aside, it's streaming platforms that have allowed for the bringing of true stories to life, in a way where sensationalism isn't required. Scam 1992, for example, deals with a subject that most television executives would have called dry and boring. The show chronicles the rise and fall of stockbroker, Harshad Mehta, and gives us a backstage view of how the market operated in the 1980s and 1990s. What sets the show apart is the skill with which it builds its world, staying true at most times to every bit of jargon, explaining what needs to be explained and most importantly, not assuming that the audience is dumb.
The truth, after all, is something that should be brought to light in a modern democratic society and the choice to consume it should be a personal one. Making that reality more palatable and engaging as content is what the best filmmakers around the world excel at. Delhi Crime creator, Richie Mehta spent years doing painstaking research on the Delhi gangrape case, but chose not to make a documentary or fixate on the case itself. In an interview I did with him eighteen months back, he said, “I wanted to illustrate and bring these people to life in a way that made sense for me. A lot of characters are four or five people that I met, combined into one, because there are hundreds involved in something like this. But what it ultimately comes to represent is what I felt after understanding all of it, and is the best version of what I could have come up with.”
There are those that will play down the fact that the International Emmy isn’t the real thing and there are those who will say “Who needs validation from the west?” But for those of us that hoped some day we’d have the guts to tell these stories, streaming has provided that stage. And what Delhi Crime has achieved has set the bar for those who want to tell these stories.
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