Like in Season 1, Delhi Police in general—and specifically the team in focus, the sleuths led by DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah)—in Netflix’s Delhi Crime 2 are unlikely heroes. They are determined, exhausted, nibbling, apologetic and selfless. They power through the limitations. As such, they also represent all the apologisms of a police and judicial system that galloping crime rates have crimped, if not defeated.
Not unfairly, Delhi is considered the crime capital of India. To set a crime thriller in Delhi, and to set it with the narrow focus of a police team, serves two purposes: It streamlines the storytelling and makes it potentially tight and immersive; and it projects the multitude of crime universes thriving in the capital city’s arteries without much of a helicopter view.
In Delhi Crime 2, led once again by Ritchie Mehta, directed by Tanuj Chopra and written by a team led by Mayank Tewaari, the legal system itself gets a passing mention. In this season, we see a benevolent legal side through a “celebrity lawyer” who belongs to a denotified tribe from the outskirts of Delhi, played laconically by Danish Husain.
The first season played like a moody ode to Delhi Police. The second has the same unsullied focus on Vartika and her team—and their courage in trying circumstances. The season finale ends with a succinct meditation on courage: “As you know, Vartika, courage comes at a price.”
What the second season has amply is a much more rigorous focus on plotting, with classic use of red herrings and reveals, and a more sophisticated visual language facilitated by David Bolen’s mood-drip cinematography, Sanjay Mourya’s sound design and Ceiri Torjussen’s background music.
Vartika’s daughter Chandu (Yashaswini Dayama) is in university at Toronto, still at generational loggerheads with her mother, while her father Vishal (Denzil Smith) is the amicable defuser. Vartika’s potential protégé from the first season, Neeti Singh (Rasika Duggal), is at the centre of an imploding marital storm, the onerous fatherly trappings of intuitive inspector Bhupendra Singh (Rajesh Tailang) continue, and the Delhi Police commissioner Kumar Vijay (Adil Hussain), a yes-man representing the capital’s power vector, remains as insolent and prickly as ever. Sub-inspector Jairaj Singh (Anurag Arora) is the tech whiz in this dingy station. Two of the other members in Vartika's team, sub-inspector Sudhir Kumar (Gopal Dutt) and SHO Subhash Gupta (Sidharth Bhardwaj) are much more on the go as field officers in the investigation.
A series of brazen and gruesome murders of senior citizens living in South Delhi’s affluent high-walled mansions sets the DCP and her team on a mammoth path dictated largely by forensic clues. The procedural is at the centre of the drama, leading the harrowed officers to first, a group of hooligans on the margins of the metropolis belonging to a denotified tribe—its ghettoed other, the feared neecha-nagaris—and then to a group of suspects including a beauty parlour assistant Karisma (Tilottama Shome).
To be fair, the writers do go a little beyond the antiseptic image that Season 1 projected about the police force, by introducing the character of SHO Ajay Vishwas (Sadanand Patil). He is a retired officer whom the team seeks out on the orders of the police commissioner because he has a history of dealing with criminals from the denotified tribe in question. He is corrupt, aggressive and abusive, manipulative and, as Vartika describes him, “such a bigot”.
But that aside corrects itself because Vartika herself is an enlightened liberal. She stoically defies orders handed down by the home minister because it is the right thing to do—getting her the coveted fan in her daughter. She tells probing reporters at a press conference, “We are not after a tribe, we are after a criminal”. Her grind doesn’t ever dim her moral lens. Vartika stands up against custodial police brutality with articulate outrage. In that sense, this season is keen to go with the pulse of the age. Criminal motivations and the nature of repugnant crime is explained in convincing philosophical nuggets through the film’s cracking, economical dialogues—less said, more shown.
Being a mini series—this season has five episodes—the series has electric pace with density of storytelling, yet another triumphant case for the format of crime thriller mini series. Editing is sharp, the details in the main characters revealing enough to make them believably human, but the story’s focus remains on the procedural and the plot.
Performances are notches above the first season. Shah’s Vartika has the same mature, nuanced layers, and the actor is compelling in the lead role, expressing as much with her eyes as with the lean dialogues she has. Duggal doesn’t have a single note of superfluousness in her portrayal of a woman in the throes of duty, and suppressing a lot that she doesn’t have the freedom to express or deal with—in stark contrast to Vartika, Neeti has yet to find her own worth as a woman belonging to two distinct worlds, home and the police station, suggesting without directly articulating that she is a Vartika in the making. Rajesh Tailing as the man Vartika trusts the most in her team, and Gopal Dutt and Sidharth Bhardwaj in the roles of her other main subordinates efficiently anchor their performances in important moments.
The towering performance of the season, though, is in a smaller role by Tilottama Shome. She plays a character which embodies the outlier, a psychological blueprint of a certain kind of criminality as well as a woman undone by her gender, with few dialogues. She orchestrates a stealthy, menacing presence simply with her body language. It’s the most difficult role of the series so far, and Shome carries it off with remarkable harnessing of acting intelligence.So Delhi Crime Season 2 exceeds Season 1 in performance, storytelling and atmospherics, retaining the narrow core and vision about criminality and the skullduggery synonymous with Indian police systems—a creative strategy that’s as justified given the tight narrative as it is limiting.