Richie Mehta's award-winning series, which was acquired by the streaming giant after it bowed at Sundance, is based on the police investigations behind the real-life fatal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012.
Canadian-Indian director Richie Mehta's debut series Delhi Crime Story has generated strong buzz since it bowed at Sundance this year as part of the festival's Indie Episodic program. The series is based on the police investigations following the horrific and fatal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012, which sparked national outrage about the safety of women and the slow pace of the law in delivering justice.
The seven part series was acquired by Netflix, which streamed it worldwide in March. It is toplined by Shefali Shah who portrays a senior woman police officer who heads the investigations as she battles against all odds.
While adding to Netflix's growing slate in India, the series was also a test case in how to present a story tackling sensitive and controversial issues.
"Some people said we shouldn’t tell that story, but we’re really committed to artistic freedom," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said at a summit in Delhi on Friday as part of a wide-ranging discussion on the video giant's India plans.
"Getting a project like this out there is controversial," Mehta tells The Hollywood Reporter while pointing that Netflix boarded the project after it was completed and was closely involved with him in working out the marketing strategy. "I had never seen a team like this where they wanted to see what was in my head and in my heart, look at what was the content and say, how do we get it out there," says Mehta.
Mehta, who is a jury member for the short films category at the ongoing International Film Festival and Awards Macao, also adds that in terms of audience feedback, he has seen people responding "to the issues that I wanted to highlight, such as the resource limitations of the Delhi police and how we put so much burden on them. But what is the emotional burden on them? We should be having more compassion for them which is what I wanted to highlight. The other issue is about [the challenges faced by] lady officers. If you want to help solve the law and order problem in India, it starts with compassion."
He also points that "a lot of cops have contacted me in India and are just grateful and eager to get their stories out in some way."
But the sad fact remains that despite the nationwide protests and outrage that were sparked off by the 2012 incident, horrific incidents of brutal violence against women still continue. Just in the last couple of weeks two cases have shaken the country. A young woman was attacked and gang-raped by four men in Hyderabad after which she was strangled and burnt to death. Similarly, another woman was set on fire last week in the town of Unnao when she was on her way to court to testify against her rapists after she first filed charges against them in March.
"These are the barbaric incidents that are publicized, but we also know that there are other such incidents which don't get media attention and they are happening consistently and one is as bad as the other," says Mehta. He points that even after the 2012 incident, "the situation hasn't necessarily improved. Laws have changed, public awareness has increased among a certain class of people who are media savvy. But has it changed on the ground? I don't know. All I can say is that my heart breaks."
Mehta also points that "the Indian judiciary has so many issues in terms of back logs [of cases]. That's one of the reasons we ended Delhi Crime Story before the case went to court. Because there is a whole other series there which requires exploration which I didn't have the capacity for to fit in my time."
While India's Supreme Court upheld a verdict that awarded the death penalty to the four convicts in the Delhi case, the final sentence is still awaiting execution.
Mehta, who researched the case for four years from 2012 onward, digging deep into police files, says that he originally wrote the story as a film "but it got so big that it turned into a series."
Delhi Crime Story was produced by Golden Karavan, the recently set up production company focusing on streaming content, backed by U.S. entertainment executives Jeff Sagansky and Florence Sloan of GoldenPeaks Productions, as well as mega TV producer Aaron Kaplan of Kapital Entertainment who teamed with India- and U.S.-based Apoorva Bakshi, Pooja Kohli and Sanjay Bachani of FilmKaravan Originals for the venture. The project was also co-produced by Ivanhoe Pictures' John Penotti.
In its Sundance review, THR noted that the show "is one of those elongated procedurals that Peak TV and streaming have birthed and enabled, in the character-driven vein of The Killing or Seven Seconds, only without their character complexity."
At the 2nd annual Asian Academy Creative Awards in Singapore on Friday, Delhi Crime Story picked up multiple wins including best actress for Shah, best drama series and best direction.
As for the possibilities of a second season, Mehta says that there is a team working on it though he won't direct it, adding, "I can't say how they will develop it as it's still early stages."
Mehta's 2007 debut feature Amal premiered at Toronto and was nominated for six Canadian Screen Awards, including best picture. His next project was 2013's sci-fi drama I'll Follow You Down, starring Gillian Anderson, after which he directed Siddharth, which was shortlisted for the Golden Globes’ best foreign-language film. His credits also include the crowdsourced documentary India in a Day whose co-producers included Ridley Scott.
Mehta says that he would "like to return to features" and is currently developing a project titled The Price of Tea, which he pitched at the Macau festival's industry hub section in 2017 and is following it up again with potential partners.
"It's a China-based story about a real experience I had in Beijing some years ago where I was sightseeing and met this Chinese woman and we walked and talked the whole day just like Before Sunrise [the 1995 romantic drama starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy]." Only in Mehta's case he says that "at the end of the day, I found out it was a scam. She just wanted me to go to a tea shop and buy tea.... But she went easy on me as she could have really taken me to the cleaners!"
Meanwhile, during his session in Delhi, Hastings also made a headline-grabbing announcement stating that Netflix would be spending over $400 million (30 billion rupees) in Indian content over 2019 and 2020. This would include both originals and licensed content.
Asked for his views on that, Mehta said, "God! What that tells me is that I don't think the same amount of resources have been available for indie films in India. I suppose not even for mainstream films!"
via Hollywood Reporter
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