Kuch toh gadbad hai...

If real-world policing in India is like Crime Patrol - Dastak on television, then our aspirations of policing are mirrored in CID. Both continue to be hugely popular with audiences. That the two TV shows are almost antithetical in the telling of the policing story is not lost on anybody either!

shrutirao

Shruti Rao | July 5, 2013


A video grab of the popular crime serial CID (on Sony) featuring ACP Pradyuman (in suit)
A video grab of the popular crime serial CID (on Sony) featuring ACP Pradyuman (in suit)

If you were anywhere around a TV screen in the last two decades, you would have stumbled upon Sony channel’s show CID. First aired 16 years ago, in 1997, this crime detective series is now the longest running TV series in India. 

With hundreds of fan pages on Facebook, parody Twitter handles (but even that’s an honour, really) and parodies on YouTube, the show has settled into nothing less than cult status amid TV-watching public in India (whether they watch it seriously, or for “it’s-so-out-there-it’s-entertaining” type fun, doesn’t really hurt the TRPs of the show).

Make no mistake, however, CID’s popularity doesn’t exist only ‘underground’ so to speak, but ‘over’ it as well – on a stage where the cast and crew of the show now host an annual bravery awards ceremony, honouring the courage and resilience shown by ordinary citizens in extenuating circumstances. CID, thus, is as mainstream as it is hipster.

Crime Patrol, on the other hand, is Canada to CID’s America. It’s not flashy, it’s not in-your-face and in many ways still lives on a much more meagre salary than its big brother in terms of popularity and media tie-ins. While CID gets the Aamir Khans and Kareena Kapoors to act in their show during film promotions, Crime Patrol gets stuck with interventions from the information and broadcasting ministry to not air certain cases because they are too “sensitive”.

Only some of these cases are ‘famous’ – easily recollected by its viewers; most are unheard of – cases that have taken place across the country, even in remote parts.

What’s good is, the channel that airs CID also produces Crime Patrol. In many ways Crime Patrol is the perfect foil to CID. One might argue that the two shows attempt to do vastly different things. That CID provides popcorn entertainment, a cosy murder mystery to wrap up the night with, while Crime Patrol is a reality series. That CID presents an elite team of investigators instead of the police. That it is removed from reality and in fact may not even be pandering to that genre of gritty, realistic crime investigation.

But isn’t that also precisely a comment on the strength of law enforcement in this country right now? That once a crime occurs, it is this team of six that the common man calls up and not the police? In fact, a police officer is nowhere to be seen in the show. It’s been 16 years and we don’t really have an idea what the CID’s jurisdiction really is. But that isn’t supposed to matter.

CID is gleeful, it’s fun and it has the freedom to not take itself too seriously. It is arguably hyperreal. It simulates a society in which even the most commonplace murder overrides the jurisdiction of local police officers, where even the most disadvantaged lot know who to call when it happens, where all crimes are penalised by capital punishment (in fact the ACP gets to declare this at the end of almost every episode).
It’s a society that has the luxury of not believing in reform. It’s a futuristic dystopia in that the brilliant technology used by the CID is immediate, effective and never wrong – even when scanning databases of a population of 1 billion and growing (through search engine ‘Koogle’). It’s also a dystopian fantasy in that it allows for this squad of vanguards to exist without the hiccups of mundane administration, politics, corruption, governance and procedure. In other words, without the hiccups of daily life.

And like every dystopian stitch of fiction, it most definitely betrays an opinion on our contemporary reality.

Filling a void
It is this immediate reality that Crime Patrol attempts to cover, with stunning sensitivity and deliberation. No character in it is over the top, and even actors playing their real-life counterparts betray no creative “interpretation” of them. In the parched land of Indian television today, Crime Patrol has surprisingly, and with great responsibility, delivered.

Crime Patrol is woven in such a way as to remind us that solving a case not only takes effort, it takes time. Time that we never afford the police the minute a crime is committed. But the series is sensitive about this balance. It isn’t hysterical to prove that all cops are good. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it always reiterates that in the good versus bad game of law enforcement and police procedural system in India, the scales weigh scarily towards the bad.

Unlike CID’s awe-inspiring technology at hand, Crime Patrol’s world shows the pitfalls of working in such a technology-run world without basic technology. A land where Excel sheets are luxury, paperwork is a clear handicap. But what is impressive is that none of this is shown as an excuse for bad policing. The reason for bad policing, we’re given to induce, is bad policing.

But that’s where Crime Patrol is resilient and insistent: that we must step back, and through the hysteria also note the good. It makes no claims about the people it represents, the cases – though real – are told without glory. The police officers shown handling these cases aren’t portrayed as overwhelmingly evil and corrupt, nor pious. They’re ordinary citizens doing their job, each at his own free-will to falter or rise. The cases reconstructed are recent ones, not legendary retelling of the one good case that cops solved eons ago in that golden age, when people were honest and governance was morally incorruptible. 

There’s a difference between ‘creating a myth’ of effective governance through law enforcement – which is what CID does in the end – and demonstrating it.
In the wake of protests over the December 16 gangrape in Delhi, and the brutal sexual assault on a five-year-old girl, among others, shows like Crime Patrol have to tread with even more caution. They have to pander to people who are increasingly vocal about monumental shortcomings and ineptness of the police force in both law enforcement and overall sensitivity. We’re now aware that it is wrong for anyone to justify the rising crime rates by contending that women “ask for it”, children are sitting ducks, and migrants are sexually-frustrated animals.

It also shows that we are not wrong in demanding such results or work from our police officials; if anything, it encourages us to ask for just this sort of law enforcement. It is overwhelmingly encouraging to see that a group of people in the industry has stepped up to fill this gaping hole in the oeuvre of current Indian television and attempted to make a show around this radical notion that criminals, law enforcers, victims, victimizers, bystanders, reporters and saviours are all living alongside you and me.

There is no telling background score to give away who is who.
The popularity of Crime Patrol is nothing short of heartening, it has even given birth to numerous rip-offs on different channels – and what’s even better is that in all actuality, the same demographic is watching both CID and Crime Patrol.

With shows like Crime Patrol comes along this hope that not all is lost. It clocks in its hours every week to remind us that governance and responsible representation are not unredeemable. To remind us that this same world that you and I are sharing is a funny world where the news channels are covering crimes with alarming insensitivity, gimmicks and sensationalising and the onus of sensitively-handled, decent reportage of same crime is picked up by entertainment channels.

Sixteen years of ACP Pradyuman telling Inspector Daya ‘darwaza todo!’, and it’s Crime Patrol that’s breaking all the doors!

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