A conversation with Richie Mehta is as precise and concise as his watertight storytelling. He's currently basking in the glory of winning an Emmy award for his first web series, Delhi Crime. Mehta has achieved a higher level of excellence in storytelling for Indian content.
Not an 'Indian' filmmaker, Mehta works and lives in Canada but focuses his work on stories from India. For him, writing and researching Delhi Crime was a four-year-long labour of love and research of the blood curdling 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder investigation.
Shefali Shah as DCP Vartika Chaturvedi
He explains, "I didn't convince Neeraj Kumar (top cop, in charge of this investigation), he convinced me. He had seen my work and therefore, selected me to make something on this (investigation by Delhi Police). I was skeptical initially. Very kindly and graciously, he gave me the room to research and discover my way through this and introduced me to the team of cops working with him. He was very proud of this investigation and I could see why. One is the clinical aspect of an investigation and the other side is their personal take on it. It took 4 years because I would meet with the cops, and go back (to Canada) to put together my research, and then keep coming back to them for months and months; I would sometimes wait for 10 hours to just speak with them for 5 minutes. They realised that this guy is serious. There's no glory in this, sitting in PCR vans for days sometimes just to speak with a constable that was part of this investigation. It took the time and effort to build trust and get their stories".
That Mehta doesn't work within set norms and standards of Hindi film or TV content is evident from his total dedication for over 4 years to writing Delhi Crime. His focus on working with actors from a theatre background, without being influenced by the need to have recognised Bollywood faces, has worked wonders. The show's powerful ensemble cast top lined by Shefali Shah, Rajesh Tailang, Adil Hussain, and Rasika Dugal brings authenticity to its hard-hitting storytelling.
Mehta with Rajesh Tailang
Having worked with some of them since his first film in 2007, Mehta recognises the game-changing role that streaming has played for actors, and finds them, world-class performers. "Mukesh Chabbra did the casting. When I spoke with him, we had very little time to complete the process. The only question he asked me was, if I needed stars. I said we don't. And that unleashed his imagination. That's the change that streaming platforms have brought about. 15 years ago, we would have had peanuts to pay them and they would be doing films for a few lakhs and they would go to a few film festivals and that's it. Now streaming platforms are giving voice to some of the best acting talent in the world that comes from India. People who aren't necessarily movie stars that we would come to know and certainly if you put them opposite any Academy Award winner and they can hold their own; even run circles around them.. And I take pride in this and we now have the Emmy win to show for it," he says.
Rasika Dugal as Neeti Singh
Delhi Crime also served an uncommon purpose in Indian entertainment. Police in popular culture have either been comic caricatures or super cops. This series goes beyond common perception to present the humane side and challenging reality of being a cop in India. It took research and personal interactions with officers involved in this particular investigation for Mehta to develop a different understanding.
"I had the same notion going in of Indian cops being lazy and corrupt that we see in Indian media. Then I got to know this set of cops and it was completely the opposite. They had integrity and worked sincerely. Other cops would make fun of them, saying that they didn't know of anyone who had such integrity. I had met these select officers that they are the cream of the police cadre. On the one hand, there's this impression of Indian police in popular media, which is justified and also unjustified, depending on the circumstances. And then there were these exceptional officers that I had met who had integrity of the kind that I had never ever seen in my life. Interacting with them convinced me that this story merits my time and effort," Mehta explains.
A police procedural without the spunk and sleekness of Western police dramas or thrillers, Delhi Crime keeps it very real. It doesn't exploit the heinous gang rape that brought an awakening in India against sexual violence. While Mehta is executive producer for its second season, he hasn't written or directed it. Quipping that one will have to wait and watch for the show's release date on Netflix, Mehta has spent the lockdown working 12 to 13 hours on research and development of another India based story. Tight-lipped about what is his focus this time around, he only gives you this, "Perhaps a couple of years down the line, you might be asking me similar questions about this current project too!"
(All images from Twitter)