Richie Mehta’s Netflix Original series, Delhi Crime is based on the sexual assault of a physiotherapy student that occurred on December 16, 2012, in the capital. The show is about the lead investigator DCP Vartika Chaturvedi and the team of police officers that capture the accused. While Delhi Crime is an engrossing show, it focused on the police and how they caught the perpetrators rather than what the victim went through and how it could have been avoided. A few critics have called the series, a public relations exercise for the Delhi police even while appreciating the show.
It’s no news that a typical Bollywood crime thriller will have a criminal and an honest police officer that brings justice to the victimised – like Delhi Crime or or a mainstream Bollywood hit like Simmba – regardless of the methods used to do so. Such a story will have you feeling relatively safer and more trusting of the men in uniform. But it can also leave the audience wondering if that’s the case in real life.
Building a case
An event, ‘Crime and Punishment in Indian Entertainment’ organised by Civic Studios and the Godrej India Culture Lab, intends to tackle questions that ‘entertainment’ like Delhi Crime and Simmba throw up. “Civic entertainment is combining civic education and entertainment – both the theory and practice. Our work is producing content on this topic as well as starting a conversation within the entertainment and the development sector. Entertainment has a large part in influencing what and how we think about something. And especially as citizens, it gives us an idea about the government and public institutions,” explains Anushka Shah, founder of Civic Studios, a film production studio based in Mumbai that was incubated at the MIT Media Lab in Boston, USA. “What’s unique about this event is that people have been making shows about crime for years but no one has studied its representation and impact,” said Parmesh Shahani, head of the Godrej India Culture Lab.
Civic Studios has produced a report, ‘From the Superhero Cop to the Righteous Officer: How we depict our police and courts.’ This report has been put together by analysing over 30 movies, TV shows and web series between 2016 and 2019. It also conducts an in-depth analysis of nine specific media pieces including popular Hindi films Pink, State vs. Jolly LLB 2, Si3 (Tamil), television shows like Crime Patrol, Saavdhan India, CID and OTT series like Delhi Crime, Criminal Justice and Sacred Games Season 1. In collaboration with Ormax Media, a media consulting and analytics firm based in Mumbai, the content was researched for the impact it had on the audience that viewed the content, as compared to those that did not.
A good example is the research done on Simmba , which is a film in which justice is delivered through extra-judicial means. What was discovered through research, is that a greater share of the viewers of the film expressed support for police fake encounters and vigilantism to catch culprits than non-viewers: 25% of non-viewers supported this idea versus 35% of viewers.
Impact of popular culture
“The event is going to focus on the following points – how we represent the police and the judicial system on screen and how that impacts us an audience,” shares Shah. The evening will unfold with the report’s release where the study will be discussed with the audience and more facts will be revealed. This will be followed by a conversation between award-winning senior journalist Dipti Nagpaul, and former investigative journalist and author of Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts and Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia , S Hussain Zaidi, who will also launch his book, Class of ’83 .
To emphasise the difference between reel and real, a panel discussion between – filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan ( Sacred Games 2 0, IPS Officer Chhaya Sharma, lead investigator on the Delhi gangrape case, Deepika Singh Rajawat, human rights lawyer who fought the Kathua rape case and Devika Prasad from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, an organisation working towards police reform – will also take place.
Crime and Punishment in Indian Entertainment, November 8 at the Godrej One Auditorium at 5.30 p.m.