Languages: Kannada, English
The very existence of true crime non-fiction for entertainment is a concept that is cloaked in deep moral greys. If this was ever in doubt, Crime Stories: India Detectives confirms it. The four-episode docuseries streaming follows cops in Bengaluru, as they encounter violent crimes and attempt to solve them. Make no mistake " for those predisposed to the genre, the show can be unputdownable. That it may leave you with an unpleasant aftertaste is a different matter altogether.
The series could have easily been passed off as Bengaluru Crime, a franchise-style follow-up to Netflix India's Delhi Crime (2019), if it did not painfully remind you that the people and stories you are witnessing are real. The treatment and technical craft used to heighten the drama is, at once, objectively impressive and subjectively jarring.
Each episode deals with one specific crime, solved by different police officers. The first three deal with cases of murder, while the final episode features a kidnapping that I would rather not talk about. The cases themselves are not particularly complex, in that they are solved by standard techniques that you do not need to be an insider to know of. Track phone, check available CCTV feed, monitor bank transactions and social media, the works; throw a stone at the Netflix catalogue, and there is a good chance it will land on a title that depicts, in some form, the police playbook to catch a murderer. The substance of the show lies in how it lays bare the grotesque causes and effects of human behaviour.
So in Episode 3, a policewoman investigating the murder of a sex worker unabashedly expresses her utter contempt for prostitution, going so far as to claim that cops in general hate prostitutes. After her experience on the case, the cop in question eventually gains a deeper empathy and understanding of the underlying issues that make commercial sex work the only option for so many people, particularly in India's large urban centres. Yet, there is no escaping the uncomfortable thought that while she may have gathered some perspective, what about the thousands of other cops in the country who are responsible for the security of citizens irrespective of what their profession is?
In another episode, a cop confirms what we all knew in some way " in the hunt for the guilty, the system has no qualms about harassing innocent people along the way. So while the show does not directly put the cops under a scanner " if anything, the protagonists of the case-cracking are quite likeable " letting the cops express their biases is a choice that is illuminating in its own right.
What particularly piqued my approval was the absence of judgment shown by the makers when placing a person in front of a camera. In its stab at exposing the underbelly of crime in Bengaluru, the show even provides a platform to the guilty, for a peek into their perspective on why they committed the crime. You are left to gauge or question the morality of it all for yourself. Inevitably, in every episode, those that committed the crime also manage to evoke sympathy to varying degrees.
It reminds you that crime is only a symptom pointing to a collapsing society, not the problem itself.
In India, we have not yet had a proper reckoning on the flawed nature of existing policing systems in a democracy the way the US has had in recent years. The individuals tasked with maintaining law and order on a daily basis may be heroes, but they are only human. The system that defines their role in society needs urgent reform. Existing systems that hinge on countering criminal violence with state violence have proven to be ineffective as a deterrence against criminal behaviour. I would argue that even a show like Crime Stories could potentially be a better deterrent, if only it could reach every person. (One could also argue that the show provides tips on what not to do for aspiring criminals, though that is a debate for another day.)
So yes, the show has a lot going for it. Still, despite my own shamefully perverse, unending fascination with the genre, Crime Stories: India Detectives is precisely the kind of show I binge hard, but find equally hard to recommend, hypocrisy ki seema be damned.
All that artfully filmed B-roll, the aerial top shots following cop cars, the choice of music as a cue for what to feel in the moment, the glossy grit (or gritty gloss, take your pick); all of it enhances the feel of the show. But it is also tough to swallow all that craft when it is pointed at the crying mother of a victim. There is an intimacy that is breached, something that makes you feel like you do not belong there, like you have no right to be a passive consumer of any of this. (Why the show has no trigger warnings is beyond comprehension.)
At the end of each episode, when one crime story winds up, the last couple of minutes tease the next crime, the next episode. I knew I would be watching the next one right away, falling for the lure of Binge TV with my eyes wide open. That is the thing about true crime; it has a way of making all of us complicit.
Crime Stories: India Detectives is streaming on Netflix India.