If you’ve been wondering when we’d get our version of classic legal drama shows like ‘The Practice’ and the ‘Law And Order’ franchise, look no further than Guilty Minds, helmed by Shefali Bhushan and Jayant Digambar Somalkar.
The most striking aspect of the ten-episode series is how genuine it feels, despite the drama inherent in its stories.
All of the thunderous verbal duels and colorful statements between rival lawyers and jousting presiding judges saw in so many of our mainstream films are replaced by matter-of-fact cross-examination of witnesses or a straightforward presentation of facts.
Where, oh where are all the ‘dhai kilo ka haath’ and’mi-laard’ discussions, and witnesses who are ‘khaoing Geeta ki kasam’ galore? Where have all the rattling sabers gone? With relief, I almost came upon lines like ‘mere kaabil dost’ and ‘my learned friend.’ Not everything in those films was a falsehood. Phew.
‘Guilty Minds,’ on the other hand, demonstrates that a show can be modern and sharp, observant of cultural mores and biases, yet manage to insert a welcome liberal attitude towards both criminals and perpetrators. Why do people behave the way they do? What are their drives? No one is born with the ability to be wicked. What drives some people to throw all manners to the wind and go on a path of no return?
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Even the toughest people have flaws, and can’t those who dwell in glass homes throw stones when provoked? While the judges deliver their verdicts, it’s worth noting that we aren’t invited to pass judgment on the characters. Instead, we are given details and mitigating situations and are left to form our own opinions.
Guilty Minds not all episodes are written by Manav Bhushan
Not all of the episodes of Guilty Minds are written by Manav Bhushan, Deeksha Gujral, and the two filmmakers succeed in reaching all of these targets. However, there is a clear attempt to integrate varied themes and areas of society, even if the writer’s room is clearly a devotee of futurism and Artificial Intelligence, offering us tales in which computers nearly best men. One involves a driverless car (yes, really), another is an aggregator of famous songs that leads to a ‘fresh new’ one, and yet another is a dating app designed to defraud lusty young guys.
But, once again, not even the most clever machine can outwit astute legal minds: Shefali Bhushan, who comes from a family of well-known lawyers, is well aware that this is the order of the day.
Speaking of smart ‘vakeels,’ ‘Guilty Minds’ is jam-packed with them. Shriya Pilgaonkar plays Kashaf Qazi, a lawyer who, together with her associate Vandana Kathpalia nicknamed Vandu (Sugandha Garg), takes on issues for the poor.
Deepak Rana (Varun Mitra), an outsider who has created a name for himself in a respected family-run law practice led by the imposing ‘Your Honour’ L N Khanna, is pitted against these tough ladies (Kulbhushan Kharbanda). The younger Khannas, Shubhrat, and Shubhangi (Pranay Pachauri and Namrata Sheth) are determined to carve out a space for themselves.
Benjamin Gilani, who is practically unrecognizable, appears as a morally upright judge who must deal with a blot on his escutcheon. Satish Kaushik appears as a shady, obnoxious self-made businessman who runs a ‘sharab ka dhanda’: Deepak Kalra plays his son, a crude, carelessly good-natured coke-snorter with the swagger of a very specific Delhi species, a guy who can pull off printed twin-sets and man-buns while demanding:’momos, mayo ka saath.’
It’s an intriguing ensemble, with many more performers appearing in each episode, all of whom work well together. Work has been done to make all of these characters appear fleshed-out, with lives outside of discussing their matters.’ There’s romance and sex, to put it mildly, and that’s a good thing.
Jealousy and green eyes are present. The placement of these pieces may be vaguely reminiscent of their Western counterparts, but the stories are desi enough: the overriding desire to have a male child, greedy medical practitioners, and firms that do covert sex determination tests are all very recognizable. An old-school Bollywood composer, played superbly by Shakti Kapoor, is extremely disturbed by a ‘dhun chor’; the thief is as disturbed that his contraption is not being taken seriously enough.
Who is the true plagiarist when the OG is God himself? Or is it herself? The gender politics are basically accurate as well, however, I’m wondering how crucial it is for a character to be lesbian to have cred: is it already becoming a stereotype, or is it just my imagination?
Guilty Minds: The conclusion
This is a well-executed and well-acted production. My only gripe is the trite title ‘Guilty Minds,’ which feels un-nuanced for a show that asserts that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and perhaps not even then.
Given our circumstances, just the fact that one of the main characters is Muslim, whose unresolved childhood trauma can belong to anyone– religion, caste, creed, no bar– makes it a tremendous win. And this character’s line is at the top of the class. “Pehle sawaal poochhne par humein vidrohi kehte thay, aur ab deshdrohi,” says the narrator. More, please.