Netflix series "Delhi Crime", based on the 2012 Delhi gangrape-murder, which saw nation-wide protests leading to a change in India's rape laws, found acceptance with the audience as it depicted the procedural investigation of the case without exploiting the pain behind it, says actor Shefali Shah. She plays Vartika Chaturvedi, whose character in the show was based on former Delhi Police DCP Chaya Sharma who cracked the case of the brutal gangrape of the physiotherapy intern within 72 hours.
The 23-year-old, who came to be known as 'Nirbhaya', the fearless one, was assaulted on the night of December 16, 2012 in a moving bus by six men and died of her grievous injuries 13 days later in a Singapore hospital. Revisiting the heinousness of the crime is not something many wanted to do when the series, directed by Indian-Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta, premiered on the streamer early this year.
"I got a lot of reactions saying 'we are too afraid and too scared to open up old wounds. So we don't want to watch it'. A lot of people were very terrified about it saying it might be a graphic depiction of what happened, but it is not.
"Then they watched the show and they appreciated the sensitivity with which it was handled. We weren't harnessing the pain, we were harnessing the strength of being able to catch the culprits," Shah told PTI in a telephonic interview.
The actor said the series followed the investigation of the case in the five-day aftermath, not the incident. "I completely respect and understand the sentiment. It's not an easy one to take," she added.
Shah, 47, said becoming Vartika was a challenge but she eventually managed to find the soul of the character. "I think I've managed to fill her shoes, which were very large shoes to fill. When you watch it, you don't think Shefali did a good job, you just respect and admire Vartika as a person. You understand her strength, the intricacies of who she is. I can safely say that there can't be any other Vartika.
"There might be someone else who is powerful than her as a character or even another actor playing it much more strongly than I could. But this version of Vartika which has been loved and appreciated, and respected so much, there can't be another one."
The actor, who recently won the best actress iReel Award for 2019, said creating a character is the "highest kick" she gets out of a project.
Calling "Delhi Crime", her "learning curve", Shah said she is glad the hard work translated into appreciation and awards.
"One of the best things about 'Delhi Crime' was having a director who was honest enough to tell me right from the word go that 'I don't want an actor I want a collaborator on this'.
"Richie told me 'I have created Vartika on paper and now you've got to bring her to life'. We really worked hard on the script. The way I worked on this, I've never worked before and now when I look back, I feel what was I even doing all these years? I wasn't even doing one-tenth of the work that I put into the show."
The National Award winner is of the opinion that rapists deserve the "most severe punishment possible in the book". "As a citizen, as a woman, I feel until you punish them and set an example, it's not going to stop. And it has to be fast-tracked. If there was anything worse than capital punishment. How can these people be allowed or how can they be entitled to a life of a human? They are not human, this is animal behaviour," she said.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court began hearing a plea filed by one of the four convicts in the Nirbhaya gangrape-cum-murder case seeking a review of the 2017 apex court judgment upholding his death penalty in the case.
Shah said like others, she is also expecting justice and fast. "It's been years and we're still talking about it. I respect the judiciary, the government and the law but keep them alive for what?'
The recent rape and brutal killing of a Hyderabad veterinarian has once again shaken the nation.
The four men accused of the crime were killed by police in an "encounter" and the actor said it is "poetic justice". "We don't know exactly what happened over there. For example, the first time Richie met me, I just knew about the case and how traumatised we were.
"I didn't know that there was an investigation that followed so strongly that they caught the six culprits in five days and that a woman DCP did this. I didn't know about it. So, none of us know actually happened in there (Hyderabad). But then, it's poetic justice," she said.
Team "Delhi Crime" will be back for a second season and Shah said she can't wait to get started.
"We haven't yet shot. We are soon going to start work on it. The characters are the same, it will be a different crime," she said.