Richie Mehta’s Delhi Crime made history after becoming the first Indian series to win an International Emmy Award, taking home Best Drama Series. The seven-part series, directed by Canadian-Indian filmmaker Richie Mehta, stars Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal and Rajesh Tailang, among others. It follows the painstaking investigation into the 2012 brutal Delhi gang-rape case and tracks the efforts of the Delhi police to capture the perpetrators. The series is a fictionalised account based on the case files of Delhi police, who arrested all six culprits within a week. Of them, one allegedly committed suicide in police custody, four were sentenced to death and a juvenile was sent to a correctional facility for three years.
In an exclusive conversation with Outlook’s Eshita Bhargava, Richie Mehta and Shefali Shah share their experiences working on the series, how they researched for years, the future of OTT platforms, and much more.
Shefali tells us that the series has been “All-consuming, all fulfilling, and surreal” for her. Richie believes that his journey has been “incredible”. From his first movie “Amal” to “Delhi Crime”, he feels the challenges have been both draining and rewarding. “The journey has been incredible, however, the industry challengers were killer. Each time you set out to do a film, you have to spend years to get it out – like a salesman travelling from house to house. Same happened with ‘Delhi Crime’, however, Netflix gave me a platform to take it out to the world.”
“It took a long time to research and get things right. I met several people, police officers in Delhi, spent hours waiting for them in between their busy schedules. I used to write it down, record and then go back, disseminate the information, come back again to Delhi with follow up questions – I did this for four years until I had all the information needed,” Richie tells us while talking about how he managed to get the information and details for the series.
However, for Shefali, it became easier to understand the character Vartika Chaturvedi, the police officer who spearheads the investigation, with the help of Richie. “In the first five minutes of meeting Richie, I said yes. It was a story that had to be told. Richie had done years of research, his blueprint was strong and ready, when he met me he said he wants a collaborator on the show and not just an actor. I had great help from Chhaya ma’am (DCP who investigated the case) but Vartika had to be her own person. With her own voice and that’s what I did.”
She adds, “I have worked harder than ever on the script. On each day, each moment (being a story of 5 days each moment was connected, accounted for and that wasn’t easy) – ‘Delhi Crime’ is my learning curve.”
Playing the character was not an easy task for Shefali as she had to relive the pain of the victim. “It was reliving a pain, scratching a wound that will never heal. It was a bubble that encapsulated all of us. The story, the case, and the other side of the story a lot of us were unaware of. And the passion and single-minded focus that drove Vartika is what drove me through the making.”
Not many of us know, but Shefali was the first and the only choice for Richie for the role of DCP. He tells us, “My casting director Mukesh Chhabra suggested her name and I’ve been a huge fan of her work and I was aware how talented she was. I thought she would be perfect for the role.”
“‘Delhi Crime’ has been a turning point for us,” both Richie and Shefali agree to it.
Winning an International Emmy Award for the Best Drama series, Richie tells us, “It was a surprise – I had totally forgotten about it as I was focusing on my research work and on keeping my family safe from the ongoing pandemic. It was a nice pleasant surprise for us and I was out of the world after winning the award. I believe in delivering the best and keeping things simple. I never anticipated.”
However, soon after ‘Delhi Crime’ was released on Netflix – there was a section who believed that it is tarnishing the reputation of India. Commenting on the same, Shefali says, “It’s not fair to say that. And it’s not the right perception of ‘Delhi Crime’, not the one we went out to show nor what the audience across the globe took away from it. It was a story of efficiency, hard work, single-minded focus and strength of individuals who fought tooth and nail to get justice. It’s a story of compassion and positive and justice.”
Both Richie and Shefali believe that OTT platforms are a game-changer. “Consumption of content has changed over time – it’s all about choice – if they want to watch it half, want to watch something with subtitles, watch Korean drama, or whatever. Availability of good content is just a click away. I have the liberty to make 20 hours film with substance.”
Shefali adds, “The other day, I was just watching ‘The Crown’ and thought what a wide array of women protagonists we have and most of them are 40 and above. Such incredible amazing parts are opening up for women. What power they hold –OTT has a huge part to play in this. It’s broadened the horizon for all creative talent - actors, directors, sound designers, DOPs, etc. you name it.”
“I am working on many other projects. I am researching on different topics,” he gives us a hint while talking about the second part of ‘Delhi Crime’.
There’s a lot in store for Shefali. She tells us, “I’m doing a couple of very interesting films and a show (It’s on OTT) with Vipul. (He’s producing it and it’s directed by Vipul Shah (himself) and Mozez Singh. It’s called HUMANS. And it's about the underbelly of the medical world and human drug testing. And the character I play is something I haven’t ever done before and I can’t wait for it.”
She adds, “And I directed 2 short films one ’SOMEDAY’ - it is going to do the festival circuit and the second is 'Happy Birthday Mummyji’ which should release in the first half of next year.”
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