Richie Mehta's Delhi Crime made history last week as the first Indian series to win an International Emmy award, taking home Best Drama Series. The Netflix series took home the prestigious award over fellow nominees: Germany's Charité 2 Season 2, UK's Criminal UK and Argentina's El Jardín de Bronce (The Bronze Garden) Season 2.
Written and directed by Richie Mehta, the seven-episode series stars Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal and Rajesh Tailang, among others. It follows the painstaking investigation into the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case and tracks the efforts of the Delhi police to capture the perpetrators. Delhi Crime is widely considered one of the best projects to come out of the Indian streaming space. The series premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019 after which it was quickly snapped up by Netflix.
Over Zoom, the writer-director spoke to me about the Emmy win and what it means, why he chose not to do Delhi Crime Season 2 and the lack of shows that have made as much of an impact since.
When you started doing the research for Delhi Crime back in 2012, did you ever think that one day, a few years down the line you'd be doing a Netflix press junket discussing the show's Emmy win?
Never. When I started working on it back then, Netflix wasn't working on high-end series at the time, and certainly not globally. HBO, in the US, was the only player for these kinds of shows. So I certainly wasn't intending for any of this. I just started working on it with the hopes that maybe one day something could come from it.
What kind of tangible impact do you think an Emmy win has? Do you feel it makes international audiences sit up and look at stories coming out of India more closely?
I think that's exactly what it is. An Emmy award or any award of this kind of international stature, I think the whole point of it is for an international audience to say 'we have identified and related to and been moved by this piece of work from this country in this language'. It's the international community saying exactly what you're saying, so it's a real point of pride for India. But I certainly think this was a long time coming. There were other shows and movies that built the scaffolding for us to climb. It's just the perfect storm of elements that came together for us.
An Emmy award or any award of this kind of international stature, I think the whole point of it is for an international audience to say 'we have identified and related to and been moved by this piece of work from this country in this language'. It's the international community saying exactly what you're saying, so it's a real point of pride for India.
You mentioned that Netflix wasn't doing these kinds of things back then. What I find so interesting is you made the show before any platform was on board which is very rare. Usually shows only get made when the platform is backing it from the start. Was it strange to do it the other way around?
Yes, definitely. It was almost done like an independent film. And that's not to downplay the involvement of Netflix, the way they picked it up and released it, they took a huge risk and did so much for it. But in terms of going into production it really was structured like an independent film. I hope in the future with projects like this that don't find the market picking them up at a script stage. whether they're mine or other people's, can find the backing to finish it. With some projects, it's easier for people to judge the project based on the final version rather than the script.
You've said you're not involved with Season 2 because you had prior commitments. Now that it's become an anthology franchise, does it worry you at all that, if the new season doesn't hold up, it'll be held against your original Delhi Crime?
Not at all. I look at Delhi Crime season one as a standalone project. I was trying to do something with the help of a lot of extremely talented people, and I'm proud of what we achieved. And as you said, it's an anthology so there's no overlap. Each story will be its own thing, and its own story and characters which is great. I'm looking forward to seeing the new season just as much as everyone else.
Delhi Crime continues to be one of only a handful of projects from the Indian streaming space that has really had an impact with its storytelling. Why do you think that is? Is it because you spent so many years working on it, which is something not a lot of series do?
I suppose it could be. It's hard for me to know the answer but I have spent some time trying to think about this. But then I just gave up because you never really know why things land or don't land. I can only say that every decision that was made on the show from locations and casting and writing and crew assembly, and even distribution and marketing within the Netflix organization, it was all done with a lot of love. I mean, really a lot of love and compassion from everyone who believed in what the intention of the project was and I think that is probably part of it. When every single person working on a project is not doing it for commercial reasons, but personal ones, I think that starts to seep through in all aspects of it. Maybe that's what became contagious to the audience. I certainly never had that before Delhi Crime.
What's next for you? There were quite a few announcements made. You've said you're working on a new film called The Price Of Tea, and there was also talk about you working on a series based on elephant poaching in India.
Yeah, all of those are there. There's The Price Of Tea, there's a project on elephant poaching and there's a couple of more projects and other series as well as another film that was going to shoot during pre-Covid restrictions, which I'm going to pick up again next year. And I'll be very happy to tell you about all of them in several months (laughs).