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-[Television Reviews]-, South Asian Cinema

‘Delhi Crime 2’ (2022): The City Where Conflict Never Sleeps

Created by: Richie Mehta || Written by: Mayank Tewari, Shubhra Swarup, Ensia Mirza, Vidit Tripathi

Directed by: Tanuj Chopra || Starring: Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal, Adil Hussain, Rajesh Tailang, Denzil Smith, Yashaswini Dayama, Tillotama Shome

No. of Episodes: 5 (~240 minutes total)

The debut standalone season of Delhi Crime (2019), created and directed by Richie Mehta, is one of my favorite Netflix Original Series on the streaming platform. A dramatization of the criminal investigation into the 2012 Delhi bus gang rape, Mehta’s police procedural handled its scripted adaptation of a real-life tragedy about as well as any film or television series could, delving into everything from the psychology behind the crime, the public reaction to the event, to the inner workings of urban law enforcement in a major South Asian city. Delhi Crime’s first season analyzed all these interrelated topics with enough time to also develop a realistic, memorable ensemble cast to put a human face on the series, as well as to make the story easy to follow for general audiences. Top to bottom, Delhi Crime represents the best of modern streaming video on demand (SVOD) limited series filmmaking and is one of the main reasons I subscribe to Netflix.

Shefali Shah (left) remains the face of Delhi Crime, but costar Rasika Dugal (right) also returns, and with a much bigger role than in Season 1.

Notice how I described Delhi Crime as a “limited” or mini-series, not a long-form show whose narrative stretches across multiple seasons. Because the series was renewed for a second season not long after the first launched, I struggled over whether to review the excellent 2019 narrative, centered entirely around the 2012 sexual assault, because frankly I didn’t understand how a follow-up would work in relation to Season 1’s true-crime content. As much as I liked the characters and style of Season 1, the series’ transition to an anthology format made little sense to me.

It turns out that much of my initial apprehension about Delhi Crime’s post hoc continuation was justified, assuming its five-episode format (two episodes shorter than Season 1) and multiple reshoots ordered by Netflix are indicative of production troubles. Delhi Crime 2 (DC2) gives us more of what worked from the first season, namely its great cast (e.g. Shefali Shah, Rajesh Tailang, Rasika Dugal, Adil Hussain, Anurag Arora, etc.) and engrossing sociopolitical study of Indian crime and punishment, but its central crime and inciting incident (see below) are nowhere near as interesting as the political firestorm wrought by Season 1’s true story. As exploitative or insensitive as those comments may sound, DC2 struggles with its transition to a completely fictionalized crime story that begs comparisons to Season 1 at every turn.

Let’s start with that still works: The aforementioned ensemble cast are fun to watch and their environment, believable no matter the context, whether characters are talking shit to each other, going about everyday police business, interrogating murder suspects, arguing with their family members, or driving through Delhi traffic. One of the greatest strengths of Delhi Crime, 2019 or 2022, is how real everything and everyone within the show’s diegesis feels despite the nonstop storytelling tension; much of that strength may be related to the fluid yet not flashy cinematography, as well as the on-location photography in the titular city, which breathes life into the communities on which the show focuses. In an indirect way, Delhi Crime’s human figures and physical backdrop remind me of how Michael Mann incorporates Los Angeles into his crime thrillers (e.g. Heat [1995], Collateral [2004]), how Chad Stahelski enhances a neo-noir, neon-infused version of New York into John Wick (2014, 2017, 2019), as well as how much characterization Breaking Bad (2008-2013) utilizes from the landscapes of Albuquerque. DC2’s cast and title city feel alive without ever feeling whitewashed or sanitized.

Once DC2 stretches beyond its major characterizations and the cinematic personality of Delhi itself, though, this standalone season can’t compare to the 2019 narrative and loses steam the longer it lasts. DC2 covers a fictionalized series of murders of wealthy senior citizens executed in the style of the Chaddi Baniyan Gangs, the latter a network of disconnected criminal groups with loose ties to various tribal-ethnic communities once blacklisted by the British Raj. This narrative is interesting on paper and remains so to a certain degree in the show, but in this abbreviated five-episode arc, it doesn’t have much room to shine and its central antagonists aren’t that interesting.

Skimming fan reviews on aggregate sites, I noted that many viewers had issues with the first three episodes for their alleged slow pace, but to be honest, those episodes that cover the first murder and how prejudiced law enforcement personnel use public outrage as cover to harass underprivileged communities were my favorite parts of this season. Both of Delhi Crime’s seasons somehow convey intelligent social commentary that neither preaches nor talks down to its audience (it’s not perfect, but it’s effective), and yet DC2 is unable to connect these sociopolitical themes to its criminal suspects. Primary antagonist Tillotama Shome and her criminal associates give fine performances, but their characters are one-note and become less interesting the more we learn about them.

Tillotama Shome portrays a believable, almost sympathetic monster in DC2, but her character isn’t given much room to develop in this season’s short runtime.

Delhi Crime (2019) remains one of my favorite international (re: non-English language) productions on SVOD services anywhere, and for good reason. In hindsight, I’m not sure how much of a chance a second season of the show had to even rival that original seven-episode story arc, but I acknowledge Season 2 director Tanuj Chopra likely gave it his damnedest. Either way, though, lackluster fictionalized antagonists and an overall disconnect between Season 2’s first three and last two episodes undercut the emotional impact of its conclusion; maybe if this follow-up story arc had seven episodes like Season 1, it could have developed its criminal elements better, but as it stands, this “sequel” of sorts is a letdown.

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SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Delhi Crime’s second season maintains the strong acting chemistry, multi-layered law enforcement characterizations, and diegetic realism of its 2019 predecessor. Its titular metropolis remains as vital an element to its narrative style as its true crime-inspirations.

However… Season 2’s criminal elements underwhelm once they’re held under a magnifying glass, and their character development is limited by the show’s abbreviated length and rushed pace in its latter half.

—> ON THE FENCE; Season 2 is worth a watch, but perhaps only for those passionate about Season 1.

? You’re promoted, but it’ll be somewhere remote. Does that mean the show is over or that the next season will shift away from Delhi?

About The Celtic Predator

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