Guilty Minds cast: Shriya Pilgaonkar, Varun Mitra, Karishma Tanna, Sugandha Garg
Guilty Minds director: Shefali Bhushan and Jayant Digambar Somalkar
If you’ve been wondering when we will have our own version of such iconic legal drama shows as ‘The Practice’, and the ‘Law And Order’ franchise, here comes the all-desi, hugely entertaining and thought-provoking Guilty Mindsdirected by Shefali Bhushan and Jayant Digambar Somalkar.
What’s most striking about the show, which runs ten episodes, is how real it feels despite the dollops of drama inherent in its stories. All those thundering verbal duels and colorful speeches between rival lawyers, and jousting presiding judges that we’ve seen in so many of our mainstream movies are replaced by matter-of-fact cross-examination of witnesses, or a straight-forward presentation of facts . Where, oh where are all those ‘dhai kilo ka haath’, and ‘mi-laard’ type of dialogues, and witnesses who are ‘khaoing Geeta ki kasam’ galore? Where are all the rattling sabers? I almost fell upon lines featuring ‘mere kaabil dost’ and ‘my learned friend’, with relief. Not everything about those movies was a lie. Phew.
Seriously, though, ‘Guilty Minds’ proves that it is entirely possible for a show to be contemporary and sharp, reflective of societal mores and biases, and manage to insert a topline a welcome liberal attitude towards both criminals and perpetrators. Why do people do what they do? What are their compulsions? No one is born evil. What makes some people fling all niceties to the wind, and go down a path of no return? Even the strongest humans have weak spots, and can’t those who live in glass houses throw stones when provoked? While of course the judges deliver judgments, what’s notable is we aren’t invited to judge the characters. Instead, we are presented with details, and the extenuating circumstances, and left to make up our minds.
Not all the episodes, written by Manav Bhushan, Deeksha Gujral and the two directors, are equally successful in hitting all these marks. But again, a clear attempt has been made to include diverse issues and sections of society, even if there’s a clearly a fan of futurism and Artificial Intelligence in the writer’s room, giving us plots in which machines nearly best men. One features a driverless car (yes, really), another an aggregator of popular tunes leading to a ‘brand new’ one, and yet another a dating app programmed to cheat desirous young men. But clearly again, not even the most intelligent machine can out-wit smart legal eagles: Shefali Bhushan, who comes from a family of well-known lawyers, knows that that is the order of nature.
Speaking of clever ‘vakeels’, ‘Guilty Minds’ is chock full of them. Shriya Pilgaonkar plays Kashaf Quaze, who with her partner de ella Vandana Kathpalia aka Vandu (Sugandha Garg), takes up cases on behalf of the meek. Up against these feisty ladies is the very smart Deepak Rana (Varun Mitra), an outsider who has made a mark for himself in a reputed family-run law firm, headed by the formidable ‘Your Honour’ LN Khanna (Kulbhushan Kharbanda). The younger Khannas comprising brother-sister duo Shubhrat and Shubhangi (Pranay Pachauri and Namrata Sheth) are determined to create a niche for themselves. Benjamin Gilani, nearly unrecognizable, shows up as a morally upright judge who has to deal with a blot on his escutcheon of him. Satish Kaushik is present as a dodgy, loud self-made businessman who runs a ‘sharaab ka dhanda’ : Deepak Kalra plays his son, a coarse, carelessly good-natured coke-snorter, with the swag of a very specific Delhi species, a guy able to carry off printed twin-sets and man-buns, and demand : ‘momos, mayo ke saath’.
It’s an interesting ensemble, with many more actors appearing in each episode, which meshes well with each other. Work has been done to make all these characters appear fleshed-out, with lives they lead when they are not arguing their ‘matters’. There’s romance and sex, without putting too fine a point on it, and that’s good. There’s jealousy and green eyes. Faintly, the placement of these elements may remind you of their Western counterparts, but no matter, the plots are desi enough: the overriding desire to have a male child, greedy medical practitioners, and firms which conduct clandestine sex determination tests, is so very familiar. An old-school Bollywood composer, played by a terrific Shakti Kapoor is deeply upset by a ‘dhun’chor’ ; said thief is equally upset that his contraption of him is not being taken as seriously as it should. Who, really, is the plagiarist, when the OG is god himself? Or herself? The gender politics is mostly spot on too, except by now I’m wondering how important it is for a character to necessarily be lesbian to claim cred: is it already becoming a trope, or is it just my imagination?
This is a well-done, well-acted show. My only quibble is the banal title ‘Guilty Minds’, which feels un-nuanced for a show which says everyone is innocent until they are proven guilty, and maybe not even then. Just by virtue of the fact that one of the lead characters is Muslim, whose unresolved childhood trauma can belong to anyone– religion, caste, creed no bar– makes it a big win, given our times. And this line by a character goes right to the top of the class. “Pehle sawaal poochhne par humein vidrohi kehte thay, aur ab deshdrohi”. More, more.