‘Guilty Minds’ review: Varun Mitra and Shriya Pilgaonkar ensure a knockout win

A still from ‘Guilty Minds’

A still from ‘Guilty Minds’

Courtrooms often brim with melodrama in Hindi cinematic space for, unlike many other genres, it hasn’t undergone a makeover to suit the times. Raising the bar, creator-director Shefali Bhushan has come up with a cogent series that informs and entertains in equal measure.

From the idea of consent in a relationship to the role of technology in everyday life, Bhushan unravels a string of complex cases. The series doesn’t remain limited to the courtroom; the issues it deals with provide a perspective on where do our polity and society stand.

The cases are so hard-fought that you can’t easily decide which side you are on. In one case, it becomes development versus life; in another, it is hard to pick between addiction and insanity. In yet another, the idea of originality in music gets shaken and then there is one where you start feeling for the mother who is lured into selecting a male embryo for IVF. 

The best part is that the series doesn’t hesitate in taking a critical view of the judiciary when required. The case that anchors the series is essentially about how the change in government affects the speed at which the wheels of justice move. It is also about how cases that seemed to have died a natural death, spring up with life, when there is a change in guard in the legislature.

It doesn’t balk at pointing a finger at the integrity of a Supreme Court judge who is perhaps carried away by the love for his progeny and the reputation of the family.

The choice of cases is interesting, but seems safe. There are at least three cases where technology plays a part, but there are no cases where free speech or religious freedom is under threat.

However, if you look closely, there are subtle references, to the politically-charged times, without directly digging into them. When we are first introduced to the courtroom, a lawyer could be heard telling the bench in the background that ‘respect for religions was the intention of the framers of the Constitution.’ There is a case where it comes through that the start-up culture hasn’t made the life of female employees any better. Then there is a stand-up comic in the bar whose jokes bristle with social-political reality. 

Immaculately cast, the series is led by Varun Mitra and Shriya Pilgaonkar who play the persuasive advocates Deepak Rana and Kashaf Quaze. While Deepak has come through the ranks and is morally-ambiguous, Kashaf is the daughter of Supreme Court judge Munawwar Quaze (Benjamin Gilani) and carries an activist streak in her. The Muslim background and legal ambiance allow for liberal use of Urdu, but Bhushan breaks the trope as Kashaf gives a  golpe to the type.  

The magnetic attraction between Deepak and Kashaf oozes through the screen, but Bhushan comes with valid reasons to keep them poles apart. At times, it is the circumstances; at others, it is inner demons that Shriya is up against in her personal space. The bar scene, where the arguments end in a kiss or when Kashaf finds Deepak’s flirtation as interrogation, are two of many moments where you can feel the hormonal rush.

Guilty Minds
Creator: Shefali Bhushan
Cast: Shriya Pilgaonkar, Varun Mitra, Namrata Sheth, Sugandha Garg, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Satish Kaushik, Benjamin Gilani, etc.
No. of episodes: 10
Storyline: the legal drama follows the journey of two young and ambitious lawyers; while one is the epitome of virtue, the other is associated with a leading law firm, dealing with all shades of grey

Deepak has his own baggage to deal with as the only outsider in a family-run law firm. He is close to the owner, L.N. Khanna (Kulbhushan Khanna), but this has made him a thorn in the flesh of Khanna’s grandson Shubrat (Pranay Pachauri) who uses every trick to oust Deepak. When Khanna asks his Harvard-returned granddaughter Shubhangi (Namrata Sheth) to learn the trade under Deepak, it spirals into a parallel track.

Varun exudes the mercurial charm that makes lawyers a different kettle of fish from other professionals. Deepak is the kind of guy who demands attention without making a show of it, and Varun gets it consistently right. For a long time, one has been wondering why the paan masala companies are paying superstars so much money for surrogate advertising when nobody is seen chewing it in popular culture. Here, for a change, we have a protagonist who is addicted to paan masala. Perhaps, it reflects the rural background of Deepak or the everyday reality of our courts, but it works.

Blessed with clear diction, Shriya not only displays the moral conviction that some lawyers carry to stand for the poor and the dispossessed, but also brings out the vulnerable and fun side of Kashaf with elan. It is a difficult role but Shriya never loses Kashaf’s pulse.

Bhushan and the team of writers (Manish Bhushan, Deeksha Gujral, and Jayant Somalkar) ensure that the legal and personal stories get entwined like a body and its soul, making no attempt to judge the actions of the characters. The production design and camerawork create a realistic ambiance. 

Be it the increasing number of female judges or the struggle of the Lordships in understanding the cases where technology plays a crucial role, the series quietly captures a lot that is changing in our courtrooms.

For years, we have missed diversity in the background in Hindi films. The placement of photographs of Bhimrao Ambedkar, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and others in the background is a welcome change but, at times, the makers get carried away in making the point a little too obvious. The diversity is visible in the language used in the courtroom as well, but in some of the courtrooms sequences, it seems the protagonists are addressing the audience and not the judges, lest they understand the sections of the IPC. 

In the OTT universe, same-sex relationships are increasingly becoming a trope that needs to be ticked. So is the presence of a child molester in every other joint family to generate shock/ empathy or to establish inner conflict. The writers could look for different ways to establish obstacles in the growth of characters.

Having said that, the powerful performances and perceptive dialogues ensure that by the time the ten-episode series starts falling into a pattern, we start advocating the cause of the guilty and not-so-guilty minds.

Guilty Minds is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

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Printable version | Jun 8, 2022 5:26:18 pm |