Richie Mehta was in Delhi in December 2012 when the world around him collapsed, as it did for Indians all over the globe, when the heinous gangrape of a woman in Delhi’s Munirka became the headlines of the morning, and it was apparent to those involved in the aftermath of the 2012 gangrape that the world would not be the same again. “I saw the world collapse around us, and our understanding of humanity was in a really precarious place. Several months later, I was working on a project when I met Neeraj Kumar who had just retired as the Commissioner of Delhi Police. He said that I should make a film on this incident, and the investigation that followed. I didn’t think it was appropriate to make a film on this, but he insisted I meet the officers involved, and read the verdict that had just come out in the Sessions Court,” Mehta says.
Kumar introduced Mehta to the police officers involved in the case, leaving him intrigued as to how they had dealt with a crime that was still baffling to most. Every time Mehta would interview a police officer, they would tell him their point of view, but they would all unanimously point to one woman — Chhaya Sharma, who was DCP South Delhi at the time. “When I met her and began speaking to her, I really formed an affinity with this hero. I started to see the point of view of this woman, who led to the investigation into the crime. I began to see her point of view as a woman first, and then as a cop. As I wrote it and researched the case, many people I spoke to didn’t want to have anything to do with this series. It was controversial. Florence Sloan, Pooja Kohli, and Apoorva Bakshi came together as producers, and collectively decided to take a huge chance on this project. Afterwards, it was picked up by Simran Sethi at Netflix. Neha Kaul from Netflix India led the team in releasing it,” Mehta says. The result was Delhi Crime, the police procedural show that became the first Indian programme ever to have won an International Emmy. Starring Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal, and Rajesh Tailang in the lead roles, the show has an 8.5/10 rating on IMDb and a 93 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
While the show was widely acclaimed, it also received censure for what many believed was a white-washing of the Delhi Police. “I wasn’t trying to look at the Delhi Police at large. I can’t speak to that organisation, nor can I speak to their actions. I can only speak about this group of 12 or so officers, and the work they did in those five days after this crime occurred, which, I think, was exemplary,” he says. Mehta has been a film-maker for around 13 years now. His first feature film Amal, starring Naseeruddin Shah and Seema Biswas, was the recipient of over 30 international awards, and was also named one of the top 10 Canadian films of the decade by the media. His film, Siddharth, was also shortlisted at the Golden Globes in the Best Foreign Language category. However, Mehta himself is an extremely private figure. In fact, Neeraj Kumar describes Mehta as a “nondescript young Canadian film-maker” in an opinion piece for The Print.
Everything about Mehta that is known to everyone, has to come from his work. And his work, though varied, has one similarity throughout — a bittersweet ending. “The bittersweet ending is a creative choice, of course, but they are also significant to my life experiences. I think that when things are wrapped up, it is very easy for a viewer to forget about the experience because everything has been concluded. I don’t want people to forget the work that I have done. It’s not about legacy, the issues that I’m trying to address with my work aren’t issues that go away once the credits roll,” he says. I’ve not reached the end of life, so I don’t know what it is but when I contemplate the end of my life as the end of my journey, I have a bittersweet feeling as well,” he adds. At an age when children actually believe that Daniel Radcliffe is Harry Potter, Mehta, who distinctly remembers watching Star Wars and Indiana Jones, was intuitive enough to make the distinction between Harrison Ford and Indiana Jones, and realise that “this guy just goes to work”, and “this is not real”.
His fascination for science-fiction movies carried on to his teenage years till his late teens, when he began to study cinema. Film-making, for Mehta, is a calculative process. He says that resorting to formulas and tropes is advantageous in the sense that it makes the audience comfortable, and if you use them correctly, you can hold their hand, and take them into a place they’re not familiar with — and they’ll go with you. In narrative cinema, Mehta says, if you go too far and too fast into redefining the paradigm, you run the cost of alienating your audience. Despite the fantastic work on OTT platforms, iconic directors, and even major production houses view it as the theatre’s upstart cousin. Many even believe that films and web-series on OTT platforms should not be nominated for awards like Oscars and Emmys. What are Mehta’s thoughts?
“In this era of COVID, everyone is viewing material on OTT platforms around the world. For someone to claim that they should not be nominated for Oscars and Emmys, I think, is absurd, because the quality of the work ranges from first-time film-makers who are trying to do very entertaining and mainstream work to the greatest cinematic masters, which is the range you get in every film industry. The range is there on a platform, and I believe the awards are appropriately recognising it, and should continue to do so,” he says, and emphatically states that he is not working on Delhi Crime 2. A man of few words, but a film-maker of many moods.