Even a cursory analysis of stories covered by the media organisations would reflect that moral dilemmas notwithstanding, the temptation of true crime stories is hard to resist. Catering to this unabashed curiosity, the Netflix docu-series follows the Bengaluru police as they attempt to solve four violent crimes. Three are related to murder and one involves the kidnapping of a child.
Unlike the crime shows on general entertainment channels, here, craft gets as much importance as the cause. On a fundamental level, the four-episode series seeks to understand the anatomy of a crime, finding a beating heart inside the uniform; a human story in the First Information Report.
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Obviously, the makers are embedded with the police force and there is a definite attempt to present the ‘men at work’ at their best behaviour, but the fact that suspects also get to say their side of the story makes it a more palatable exercise, even if a questionable one. However, showing the faces of suspects and family members leaves a bad taste and the absence of advocates irks.
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of the investigation, we get a sense that without the CCTV footage, the modern-day police are as clueless as today’s physicians are without lab reports.
At the same time, frank admissions like an officer saying, “There is no black and white method of investigation,” and that sometimes innocent people have to face harsh interrogation, give a sense that you are not watching a completely-cosmetic operation unravel.
When another official tells a suspect that if he doesn’t tell the truth, he will send the camera crew out, then... it gives you enough to imagine the complete picture.
Or for that matter, when an officer asks the beggar father of a kidnapped child when he bathed last, it sounds as if he is trying to show off his social empathy.
However, the insight into the life of police personnel after duty hours does open a hitherto-closed window. A deputy commissioner of police dancing away with junior staff and an inspector going back to his differently-abled child after a blood-soaked day, conjures up a neat image of a force that is often questioned on its emotional quotient.
Through the testimony of a female officer, the series also underlines the social taboos that years of training could not wash off. In the episode tracing the murder of a sex worker, she admits that she nursed a prejudice towards the victim's choice of work, but as the case unfolds, she realises the social and economic compulsions that force women to enter the flesh trade.
Though there are moments when it appears that the segment has been dressed up to suit a particular narrative, it works in striking home an important point about society and the workforce. For, even in the absence of a sob story, the police are expected to protect a sex worker from a killer.
Similarly, the grey area in the episode about the kidnapping of the child of a family living under a flyover raises multiple dilemmas, and when the investigating officer casually shoots the one-liner, “Even the truth needs to be tested,” it strikes home the point.
For a crime series, the tone — verbal and non-verbal — is subtle. Shots of eagles flying in the expansive Bengaluru skies, hawks waiting to swoop on the prey, and dogs barking in the amber shades of the streetlight have been seamlessly inserted to add emotion to the investigation. When facts and commentary gets dreary, aerial shots perk up the mood. Even the flickering lights of the police van add to the atmosphere.
In short, a quiet compliment to the men in khaki before the raucous Suryavanshi takes over.
Crime Stories: India Detectives is currently streaming on Netflix