Shefali Shah holds her own in a scattered, clumsy police procedural-Entertainment News , Firstpost

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The second season of Delhi Crime fails to connect the dots between personal and political, reducing the series into a templated police and criminal chase.

The second season of Delhi Crime — the breakout International Emmy-nominated true crime procedural — suffers from what I like to call the extension problem. By which, I am referring to an instance where a season with a complete arc is continued into another season once it becomes popular — undermining in the process the efficiency of the premise in the first place.

When Delhi Crime debuted on Netflix in 2019, it was meant clearly to be a limited mini-series. Created and directed by Richie Mehta, the seven-episode series recreated the 2012 Delhi gangrape investigation with the Delhi Police as the hero and victim but never the villain. Even with its tendency to blindly side with the official version of events and neglect systemic loopholes, Delhi Crime made for a gripping season of television. A large part of it was due to the nature of the case it chronicled — the 2012 gang-rape and its investigation remains till date a point of contention. Lodged in public memory now as vividly as it was a decade ago, the case has transformed into an emblem of crime and punishment in the country.

It’s precisely what the second season of Delhi Crime — returning with a new director, writer, cinematographer, editor, and perpetrators — lacks and why the show might not have needed an extension in the first place. For one, the second season struggles to locate the subtext that underlined the storytelling of the first season. Based on “Moon Gazer,” a chapter in former Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar’s book Khaki Files: Inside Stories of Police Investigations, the season pits DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah) and her colleagues against a serial killer gang that violently murders and robs affluent elderly citizens in South Delhi.

In Kumar’s account, these heinous killings were carried out by members of the scheduled tribe in the 1990s and their victims included young women. The adaptation considerably departs from the source material, employing it only as a foundation and tempering it with politics and societal bias but not enough voice. But even then, the (refashioned) identity of the killers or the nature of the killings say little about the societal hierarchies and conditioning that produces criminals. The vendetta is so personal that it is never allowed the room to turn political.

Directed by Tanuj Chopra and set in 2013, the abrupt five-episode season chronicles Vartika and her team’s attempts to nab down the perpetrators responsible for a string of successive murders. Their brutal modus operandi — bludgeoning their victims to death, wearing a vest and boxers during the murders, and traces of oil left at the crime scene — resemble that of a serial killer group nicknamed “the kaccha-baniyan gang” who were last active in the 1990s. That the members of the group were made up of people from the denotified tribes — classified as “born criminals” in colonial India — makes the Delhi Police’s investigation all the more hostile.

The detours that the plot (Mayank Tewari, Shubhra Swarup, Vidit Tripathi, Ensia Mirza are credited for screenplay; dialogue is by Sanyuktha Chawla Shaikh and Virat Basoya) takes in the case of reimagining the identity of the killers is a smart touch. By framing the perpetrators as a copycat gang who disguise themselves by exploiting the systemic bias towards the denotified tribes, Delhi Crime equips itself to be a solid playground for social commentary. The show takes sufficient effort to underline the culpability of police forces in continuing the language of colonial violence inflicted against these tribes even today.

In fact, that’s as much as Delhi Crime goes in demanding to hold Delhi Police accountable for its excesses. The show’s stance on the thorny topic of custodial violence — practiced both openly and shrewdly in the season — is blurry at best. For instance, in one scene, Vartika tells a retired SHO to not leave a mark on suspects as a way of ordering him to beat them up; in another, she admonishes two officers in her team for beating up a suspect. What we are to make of police violence is left squarely on who we choose to remain sympathetic to — on its part, the show sides with the police forces, deeming custodial violence as a catalyst for justice.

Still, I’d argue that the biggest weakness of the season is that it reduces Delhi Crime to a templated version of a police and criminal chase. That is to say, that the five episodes seem disinterested in examining anything that lies between the cops nabbing the criminals so much so that it loses out on delving into criminal intent. The psyche of the perpetrators or even their relationship with crime are threads that remain woefully neglected in this season. Perhaps, it’s why they don’t come across as a credible threat to societal harmony — Garg and the writers struggle to connect the dots between class, power, and gender. It feels like a wasted opportunity simply because like its last season, Delhi Crime sticks up to its reputation of being sleek and stylish: David Bolen’s camera is excruciatingly attentive (an act of crime committed in the penultimate episode is terrifying to witness) and Ceiri Torjussen’s score complements its atmospheric quality.

Similarly, the show derives its strength from the memorable characters Mehta fleshed out for the show’s universe. The very existence of DCP Vartika Chaturvedi and her team (Rajesh Tailang, Anurag Rao, and Rasika Dugal) lend vantage points to the show that feels both distinct and effective. It helps that the ensemble of actors seemed to have perfected the art of minimalism — Shah headlines the show in fine form but it is Tahil and Dugal’s unassumed turns that offer the show its emotional resonance. If there is a case to be made for a talented ensemble of actors elevating a scattered season of television, the second season of Delhi Crime is an obvious frontrunner. But wish the makers rewarded Tilottoma Shome the same dignity — the actor’s cameo turn is underwritten and half-baked, a failing that distances the viewer from her character. In that sense, watching the show in that season feels a lot like eating a plate of food that looks beautiful but doesn’t exactly taste satisfying.

Delhi Crime season 2 is streaming on Netflix

Poulomi Das is a film and culture writer, critic, and programmer. Follow more of her writing on Twitter.

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