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Biweekly Binge: On the visual language of Delhi Crime- Cinema express

Biweekly Binge: On the visual language of Delhi Crime

A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you

Published: 20th September 2022

In terms of diverse storytelling and independence in exploring subjects and characters, the proliferation of over-the-top or OTT platforms—what we call streaming in India—and web series has done more good than harm. But it also meant that anyone and everyone justly want a piece of the pie leading to poorly written and hastily produced series. What suffers here is not just the quality in writing but especially the look of a visual medium. With budget, time and writing, quality television improved around the world in the last two decades. But it also looked like cinema. At some level, with the movement kicking off big time in India with several small to big players the look and feel of a story has taken a hit. Among those, some of the best looking shows that really feel like cinema have been Made in Heaven, Pataal Lok and Delhi Crime among few others. They’ve strived for a certain quality in filmmaking and the makers have put thought into it to complement the writing. This was evident more than ever in the recently released season two of Delhi Crime on Netflix.

Delhi Crime set the standard in season one and raised the form even further with season two under the direction of Tanuj Chopra. Its use of aerial shots is particularly noteworthy to how it shows a sprawling city against congested, smaller spaces and interiors. The city expands like a galaxy out wide at great speed while the characters are always boxed in mentally and physically in claustrophobic homes and offices. Or detainment rooms and garages. Barely visible safe houses. This juxtaposition establishes the size of the city against the available physical capacity it possesses to house its inhabitants. It is never shown to big, but it is. It also tells how impossibly difficult it is to police such a state. In season two, the crimes are against wealthy elite of south Delhi and only those houses are shot in rooms that seem larger than those that contain the rest of the five episodes. The people belonging to denotified tribes as prime suspects in the early stages of the series gives way for a great plot element where a bigoted former officer brings each one of them living in slums and alleyways into the police station. They put them in closed off rooms and even the camera wants of space, where they are beaten and humiliated.

Those aerial shots in Delhi Crime are always of the night in keeping with the dark tone of the series. Almost whole of the series is darkly lit, even Vartika’s (Shefali Shah) daughter in Canada lives in room with no light. The phone calls between them are always in late hours of Toronto but that doesn’t mean Vartika sees any daylight. Chopra also knows when to build up tension and raise the stakes. The handheld tracking shots when the suspects escape custody or when the camera takes a tour of the suspect’s sister’s tiny apartment, we feel the pain in the bones. On the former it is the pain of Rasika Dugal’s Neeti, an IPS officer and the latter is that of an unassuming family suddenly thrown into a cauldron of prejudice, discrimination and mistreatment. The rare time that we see a daytime aerial shot is after the police have had a breakthrough in the series. Delhi Crime is that visually consistent and conscious of its choices for how it tells the story.

But sometimes a director must choose to go against the grain. When they have an actor of great calibre, there is simply nothing that needs to be done to shore up the palette. That’s what Tanuj Chopra gets with Tillotama Shome. Shome can hold a close-up and so Chopra gives her a lot of them. A look in the mirror. Or a look into existential dread with her face lit in red. Once when she’s disappointed that her peers don’t listen to her, another time when they’ve had a major failure and both times, we see Chopra zeroing in on Shome’s face looking outside the backseat window of the car. We see anger, relentlessness, rage and the instincts of a beast. It’s one of the best choices Chopra makes in the series—to do nothing to the image because a great actor can say everything with their face. No embellishments required.

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