The horrific 2012 Delhi gang rape incident shook the conscience of an entire country and made us self-reflect about the society we are and where we are headed. It evoked a mixed bag of emotions in everyone. I was in college at the time, and I remember feeling a gamut of things all at once — a dark, inexplicable miasma of rage and helplessness.
So almost seven years later, in 2019, when streaming giant Netflix announced a series named Delhi Crime, one couldn’t help but wonder about the impossibility of putting such a tragic and violent incident on screen. ‘How are they even going to do it, without unintentionally making a mockery out of the whole thing?’ But after watching the show, you had to give it to the team, who not only sensitively dealt with such a difficult subject, but also in the process managed to create something superlative, in terms of direction, performances and some excellent cinematography by Johan Heurlin Aidt.
While there are multiple scenes in Delhi Crime that say a lot about the intention and the effort of its artistes, one cannot help but look away from the rape confession sequence. Not only because it was stupendously performed by actor Mridul Sharma, who played one of the primary culprits of the crime, Jai Singh, but because it created a sense of great discomfort and honesty in the viewer.
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Speaking about it, actor Rasika Dugal, who played the young and idealistic IPS trainee Neeti Singh in the show, shared her first reaction upon reading the bit in the script. She told indianexpress.com, “When I first read the scene, I hoped that we could pull it off with the sensitivity it required. I felt like that about many scenes in Delhi crime because of the nature of the subject, but this one in particular needed to be treated with care. I have to say when I watched it, much after we shot it, I was stunned by how delicately Richie (Mehta, creator and director) had treated this moment, how Johan (the cinematographer) had lensed it and how Beverly (the editor) had edited it.”
Meanwhile, Rajesh Tailang, who played the well-meaning Inspector Bhupendra Singh, said his was more of a gut reaction to the entire sequence — “I felt immediate disgust on the kind of mentality such people can even possess. Of course there had been deep-rooted hatred for the heinous crime, but here I felt ‘ghinn.’ ”
If you look at the harrowing scene once again, you would see that most of the show’s primary actors, like Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal and Rajesh Tailang, had very little to do in it. The moment was largely driven by Mridul Sharma, who made you flinch with his interpretation of the remorseless Jai Singh. For the most part, the triumvirate of Shefali, Rasika and Rajesh were stunned into silence, much like the audience.
“I felt isme jaake kya hi acting kar lunga, I thought I would just go there and listen to Mridul’s character, listen to what he’s saying. Being present in the moment, in this case merely listening, is also acting,” Rajesh told us.
Rasika praised filmmaker Richie Mehta for trusting his actors, stating, “He let us discover things before instructing us. I knew for this scene I had to only listen. I didn’t feel the need to ‘perform the moment’ in any way.”
When asked about the mood of the set on the day this pivotal scene was filmed, Rasika said, “Film sets are, by definition, chaotic. Delhi Crime was one of the most peaceful ones I have been on.” But Rasika, who had a line to deliver after the confession, said that despite it being only a single piece of statement, the actor just could not muster the strength at the time to say out loud the whole sentence — “I remember after many takes of listening to Jai Singh (played by Mridul who is such an incredible performer) describe the horrors of that night in the way he did…when it was Neeti’s turn to speak, I found it hard to say even the words ‘With all respect Madam, I don’t want to touch him’. Take after take, it felt like those words might just get stuck in my throat. I thought the line was very powerful. But it almost felt like I wouldn’t be able to make it to the end of the sentence.”
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Rajesh, on the other hand, felt set’s atmosphere was chaotic per usual, but things took a sombre turn when the camera finally began rolling. He also lauded Mridul’s act and said the scene helped everyone see a different side of what had befallen the woman and the nation’s consciousness, adding, “Clearly, what had happened was more than just a single, isolated event of crime.”
“But kudos to the filmmaker, instead of showing the actual crime and how it happened, they thought that a confession scene like this would create more impact. And it did, it did create a deeper sense of empathy. This manner of approaching the incident really forces the audience to think, and that’s the whole point. See, even you, from all those scenes from Delhi Crime, you picked this one only, right?” concluded Rajesh.
Delhi Crime is available to stream on Netflix.