As It Happens

Why this filmmaker made a TV series about the 2012 Delhi bus rape case

The rape and murder of Jyoti Singh shook India. Now, after spending the last six years living and breathing the case, Canadian-Indian filmmaker Richie Mehta's new show about the investigation is out on Netflix.

Richie Mehta said he felt compelled to make Delhi Crime when he met female police officers working on the case

Richie Mehta directed the new Netflix series Delhi Crime. (Galit Rodan/Canadian Press)

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A drama series made by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta and based on a fatal 2012 gang rape case in Delhi launched on Netflix Friday.

Delhi Crime is a fictionalized depiction of real events surrounding the case of medical student Jyoti Singh.

The 23-year-old was raped and beaten by six men for hours on a moving bus in India's capital city. She died two weeks later as a result of injuries sustained in the attack.

Mehta, who is from Mississauga, Ont., wrote and directed Delhi Crime, which looks at the obstacles facing the under-resourced police officers who worked on the case, particularly Vartika Chaturvedi, the deputy commissioner who led the investigation.

As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner spoke to Mehta about the series and why he was hesitant to pursue the story until he met with some of the law enforcement officers involved in the case.

Here is part of their conversation.

What was it about this crime that made you decide to write this show?

I was in Delhi when it happened in 2012. We all know what the crime is now, and it's as incomprehensible hearing it today as it was at the time.

The only difference was you weren't sure what you were hearing. It was unfolding in a manner which seemed nonsensical because it's — how can one human being do this to another person?

And then the rumours start to become fact and you realize this is true. This has happened. And so all those complex emotions are inside you. That doesn't mean you make a film out of it.

Certainly, for me, it was not the case. I had no intention of doing anything about it.

However, I had a family friend in the Delhi police. I met with him and he had seen my previous films and he suggested I make a project on this. 

I told him I didn't think it was appropriate at all. He said, "Why don't you read the verdict, sentencing these six people to death?"

And then he said, "I will introduce you to the cops involved in this investigation now." 

As I met the cops I started to get to know them. And I really started to see their point of view on this, especially the female officers. 

You were initially reluctant to tell Jyoti's story. Why was that?

It's the same kind of thing, I suppose, post-9/11. This incredibly traumatic and dramatic event happens and you're observing it if you're not directly involved. The first thing is not, "Oh, I can make a movie."

You don't have anything to say about it. You just you don't have anything to say about anything. You're just trying to figure it out.

I just landed into it over time.

Shefali Shah plays police officer Vartika Chaturvedi in the Netflix series Delhi Crime. (Netflix)

Delhi Crime actually begins after the rape and by following the investigating officer on the case as she searches for the men who did it. What story are you telling with the program?

I'm telling the story of how the Delhi police mobilized after this crime because of the reaction of the female deputy commissioner.

[Chaturvedi] was the first senior officer called to the hospital. It was based on her reaction, not as a cop, but as a person, and as a woman. She mobilized the entire force to do something that was super human, which was to catch these six guys in five days having no information about them whatsoever.

It spread across all of North India. And she basically moved mountains to make it happen. And in the journey of following this manhunt, it is so vast and so varied and complex that you actually start to explore all the reasons this has happened.

How do you hope that your series could change attitudes in the country? 

My sincere hope is that people will look at law enforcement officials with more compassion and empathy. It's an extremely difficult job and people here are trying to do the best they can with it.

And that if it's a systemic issue that people want to address, at least approach the people with that compassion, and then we can start looking forward.

The reason I made this a seven-hour series, which is basically a seven-hour film, is because I wanted to illustrate how complex the situation is.

Indian demonstrators shout slogans during a rally in New Delhi on Dec. 20, 2015, protesting the release of a juvenile offender, the youngest of a group of men who brutally assaulted a 23-year-old student on a bus in 2012. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

How worried were you that you might be glorifying this horrible crime?

It was a worry for me, of course, all the way through.

It wasn't about glorifying as much as it was crossing the line of sensitivity. For example, there was no chance I would ever show the crime in any manner, visually or acoustically. That was never an option for me.

To me, this is not about evil. It was about the aftermath of evil. It was about the people who are fighting it for us.

It's a very, very, very, tricky line to walk all the way through and it's reflected in everything from the essence of why a scene exists to music or sound design.

Everything about it is negotiating this line of: are we on the right side of sensitivity?

Written by Sarah Jackson and John McGill with files from The Canadian Press. Produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.