Delhi didn’t become the rape capital of the nation overnight. A staggering number of events over the national capital, a metropolitan city with a literacy rate higher than 2/3 of Indian cities in existence and a lifestyle index higher than most have led Delhi to infamously claim the rather spiteful title. While all these cases of rape and cases of assault against women have been widely reported in the media prompting appropriate (and inappropriate, at times) public response, none of the cases shook the collective conscience of an entire nation that was awakened from its slumber to the horrifying reality of crimes against women and the deplorable issue of women safety in the streets, in public places and even their homes.
The case that did that was the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape case, an event so horrid to recount, yet stays in our memory as if burnt into the conscience of this nation as a sorry reminder of the failure of the government who failed to act swiftly, every individual who parries or has parried in wrongful behavior against women, and the collective humanity of an unassuming public. Five of the perpetrators were hanged to death in a long due verdict by the Supreme Court in 2017, while one of them is out of juvenile court after serving a three year term in a correctional facility.
‘Delhi Crime’ is a seven-part series produced by Netflix that documents the police procedural and aftermath of the incident, and is out for streaming on 22nd March. As is the case with every true crime series, we expect the subject matter of the series to be handled with utmost respect, care and sensitivity, and I’m sure that with the extensive amount of research director Richie Mehta seems to have based this series on, that will be the case. Until that, we have compiled a list of police procedurals and true crime stories that effectively document the impact of said event in a manner that makes us think. Here’s the list of best series similar to ‘Delhi Crime’ that are our recommendations. You can watch several of these shows like ‘Delhi Crime’ on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
10. Firebrand (2019)
‘Firebrand’ belongs to the same school of films as a lot of others on this list, most notably, the same kind of paradox that ‘Soni’ has at the heart of its premise: a strong female protagonist dedicated to defending women facing injustice but brought down by the same kind of bigotry or assault in their personal lives. This Marathi language film has a riveting fire in its core, yet is presented as a quiet, introspective film with a finale that is divisive at best. However, more than anything, it’s the performances that uplift this little, understated film. Usha Jadhav, Sachin Khedekar, Girish Kulkarni and Rajeshwari Sachdev are all stellar in their roles, portraying flesh and blood characters in this lesser known Indie. The film is available for streaming on Netflix, so you know where to find It the next time you switch on your television sets.
9. Soni (2018)
‘Soni’, more than anything is an essential film, one that I didn’t know I needed to see before I did. I was pleasantly surprised by the kind of poise and understanding of the female psyche, especially in the Indian context, that was maturely exhibited in the film helmed by debutant director Ivan Ayr. By placing its strong female police protagonists in the midst of the very gender disparity and issues they combat while in uniform, the film stresses upon the grave, deep-seated patriarchy and the current sad state of affairs with respect to that in the nation. The unrelenting long takes make sure the scene stays with you, and the fascinating lead performances evoke the kind of viewer engagement absolutely essential for films of this nature to work.
8. Mom (2017)
Films finding themselves in the bracket of rape-revenge category of cinema have been growing in numbers, and ‘Mom’, among the handful of films on this subject, is exactly that. However, if there is one reason that you would choose to watch the film for, let it be Sridevi. It is sad that I write this for her performance posthumously, but her act deserves all the accolades and praises showered upon her. The film has some interesting casting choices on display here too, especially Akshaye Khanna and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who add to the credibility of the proceedings and are particularly good to watch. However, make no mistake that this is almost completely Sridevi’s show: she is a force to reckon with here as she carries the film on her shoulders with relative ease, sensitive in the emotional scenes with genuine pathos, and steely in the vigilante scenes of the film. ‘Mom’ marks Sridevi’s 300th and final film before her untimely death.
7. No One Killed Jessica (2011)
Another case that riled up the entire nation was the Jessica Lal murder case back in 1999 that should have supposedly been an open-and-shut murder case, but instead turned into a media and court frenzy owing to the attacker escaping and being acquitted of the charges for the murder because of his political connections. Justice delayed is justice denied, and the film stands firm in its commitment to deliver this message through this true crime account. The imagery of the candle light marches and protests at India Gate too, though unsettling and saddening, were highly evocative of the same kind of dissatisfaction from the government’s resolution to tackle such incidents, as was the case with the Nirbhaya incident. Some parts of it may be fictionalised to a certain extent, but ‘No One Killed Jessica’ remains a mostly faithful account for a case whose extent remains baffling to this date, and is also heartfelt in showing the plight of the family members who wanted nothing but justice for their daughter.
6. Ajji (2017)
I happened to watch ‘Ajji’ at a local film festival last year, and while it may not be my favourite film on the subject, I have to agree that it is one of the most hard hitting films on the subject from India. ‘Ajji’, Marathi for grandmother, is the story of a young girl who is raped, and her grandmother who, realising that the police are inept at doing their job, takes matters into her own hands. Sushama Deshpande is a revelation in her role as the matriarch seeking to bring the perpetrators to justice, and her act really comes around as all worthy and commendable. A true blue indie film, one that is in no way lacking in spirit, ‘Ajji’ is dark, violent, gritty and an edge-of-your-seat revenge drama.
5. Talvar (2015)
Another excellently done police procedural on a true crime: a murder case that had the entire nation’s attention over simply how baffling and improbable it all was. The investigating police officers, first on the scene after the reporting of the murder, the first CBI team that conducted the enquiry and the second CBI team that opposed the conclusion of the first one, all presented different theories over what conspired the night Aarushi Talwar was murdered along with her domestic help. Since the case remains notoriously unsolved even as of date, the narrative is presented in a ‘Rashomon’-like format, wherein all possible perspectives without the truth are laid out in front of the audience to ponder upon. Based on the strength of these merits, a crackling performance from Irfan Khan, and sensitive handling of the subject matter, ‘Talvar’ will always stand in high regard for me as a rare gem of an Indian true crime film.
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4. Black Friday (2004)
As good a police procedural as any, ‘Black Friday’ documents the events that led to the infamous ’93 Bombay blast in retaliation to unrest and riot amongst the Hindu and Muslim communities in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition. The film presents the side of the orchestrators of the event and the police investigation that followed the blasts lasting months and years that led to the nabbing of the terrorists. Anurag Kashyap’s first feature film to be given a theatrical release, it is an unflinching, radical look on the infamous events that shook the country, something only Kashyap could have pulled off in the landscape of Indian cinema. Not to be missed at any cost.
3. Pink (2016)
An excellent social drama wrapped up as a courtroom procedural, ‘Pink’, unsurprisingly so has the national capital as its setting of choice and follows three young working girls up against the law on wrongful counts of assault after having escaped attempted molestation at the hands of three Delhi youths, one of who is well connected in the city’s political landscape and has suffered a serious injury in the wake of the event. Tapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang are absolute firecrackers in their roles turning in sensitive and sincere performances, while Amitabh Bachchan rounds up the cast with a solid and mature performance. ‘Pink’s effective writing, especially in the courtroom scenes, makes sure that its message is driven home like a nail in your skull without ever feeling too preachy. Hang on a little for the end credits to catch a wonderful poem on the issue in Sr. Bachchan’s baritone.
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2. Anatomy of Violence (2016)
A lesser known attempt by acclaimed director Deepa Mehta to study, quite literally, the anatomy of violence, examining in her film the events and conditions that led to the horrific event including India’s caste system, societal constraints that may have fuelled it, and the lives and conditions of the six perpetrators, fictionally dramatized here by a group of actors for the film. Discounting its merits as a film, it’s an interesting and particularly important examination into what leads such men to committing such acts of unspeakable nature and pits it against the state of the Indian female population in the country right now. It doesn’t give you definitive answers, but it will surely give you something to think about.
1. India’s Daughter (2015)
This is as close to the subject matter as one can get, filmmaking wise. Part of the BBC’s ‘Storyville’ series, ‘India’s Daughter’, by Leslee Udwin, is a documentary feature that recalls the events of the horrific event that occurred in the national capital. While the film was met with immediate backlash owing to a truly deplorable statement by one of the accused interviewed for the film and remained marred in controversy and allegations when it first released, the film went on to win a few laurels internationally. The director of the film has stated that the public agitation in response to the event is what inspired her to make the film, and while none including me can vouch for the accuracy of what’s on display, I can be almost certain that it will make your blood boil in disgust and helplessness. As of this day, the documentary feature remains banned in India.
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