Biweekly Binge: Delhi Times
A fortnightly column on what’s good – old and new – in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you
Delhi has enjoyed all the attention in the recent spate of popular web shows, mainly Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti's Made in Heaven on Amazon Prime and Richie Mehta's Delhi Crime on Netflix. Apart from the city they are based in, they have very little in common. One is about two friends running a wedding planning company with clients only ranging in the top 0.01 per cent and the other is a true crime saga, a police procedural based on the December 2012 Delhi gang rape. But look closer and vague patterns emerge - both deal with conscious and subconscious class struggles, economic inequities, and what it means to live in modern Delhi, amidst old and new money, and the poor for whom living only gets worse. Both the shows try to be honest in their attempts with varying degree of success.
In Delhi Crime, a police station in an affluent Delhi neighbourhood has bills to pay and budget gets redistributed between fuel and power supply. As a result, bills missed, and the station loses power in the middle of a high-profile case with an array of police officers working days on end without a wink of sleep. The police officers - the principal characters - are introduced with their designations and their years of service is underlined. It is apparent that a lot of them, barring a few, have stagnated in their professional lives, years have gone by without advancement or promotions. In Made in Heaven, individuals occasionally have bills to pay but they are often in a privileged position by way of various modes - family, friends, caste and class. Their careers have received investments from families and friends. Their challenges exist in keeping the company afloat by tackling everyday issues, familial or otherwise, during weddings. In Delhi Crime, police officers get by with favours owed to each other. It's clear that nothing is about a sense of duty and everything is about recalling who owes what to whom. Even the forensics department.
One of the telling moments in Delhi Crime occurs when one of the police officers says, "Thank god they are not kids of rich fathers," in reference to the men who attacked, molested and raped a young woman in a moving bus. If it was a rich kid or three, they know that matters would have been swept under the carpet and a heinous crime would have disappeared off the face of the country. In Made in Heaven, Karan (Arjun Mathur) who is gay, gets caught by the police when making out with a man in his car. He pays the officer off and back at home, his friend who isn't Indian considers the possibilities, the worst-case scenarios. What if Karan didn't have the money? Or he simply couldn't afford to pay the officer? Karan brushes it off saying that's how it is, laying bare his privilege, something both Made in Heaven and Delhi Crime don't fail to highlight in several instances. DCP Vartika Chaturvedi's (Shefali Shah) daughter doesn't care for Delhi, and is miffed with her mother, and angry at the police force and the city, but her immediate reply to call for protests is "What? Now?"
On a long journey to Rajasthan to nab one of the suspects, a police officer - Sudhir Kumar (Gopal Dutt) - tries to explain why this incident occurred. He talks about economics. About the gap between the rich and the poor, and the inequities and the frustration it creates. It sounds simplistic but has watertight logic behind it. When asked by a junior where he obtained this intelligence, the officer replies that he didn’t. He just has the luxury of time to think because it takes a few hours to reach his home, a journey he undertakes every couple of weeks. One wonders if the characters that travel in BMWs and Mercedes of Made in Heaven ever spend that much travel time or realize that they do. Or even look outside their cars. In the show, a patriarch of a royal family tries to molest a mehendi designer and for the sake of the wedding, the designer is paid off, for a sum she names. The woke Karan cannot reconcile with it while Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala) refuses to judge the woman for, she inherently understands the victim in a way Karan never can.
Sudhir reaches the village in Rajasthan and the station officer, asleep on his desk, isn't too enthused by the case they've brought from Delhi. Just then, in the middle of the night, the officer is visited by two men, a dowry case. The officer sighs and looks at Sudhir to ask, do you get cases like these in Delhi? Sudhir deadpans his immediate reply, "Yes, of course we get cases like these." He is only half-lying. Made in Heaven has an episode where a perfectly affluent, high class family holds the baraat the last minute to demand dowry from the bride's family. These won't be reported of course, but the fact is that there might be physical and economical gap between South Delhi and a village in Rajasthan as elaborated by Sudhir, but it doesn't explain every action. Someone in Delhi Crime announces that their respective worlds are vastly different, but they are all united in one mission - to protect their daughters. Both the Delhi-based shows are solid, and take turns in depicting issues and characters with all their complexities and when inconvenient, resort to simplification. It is like DCP Vartika Chaturvedi's last few words - she tells rookie Neeti Singh (Rasika Dugal) about another brutal rape that missed the media radar and tells her that if she is looking to ascribe meaning to any of this, she might as well give up.