Criminal Justice Behind Closed Doors cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Anupria Goenka, Kirti Kulhari, Deepti Naval, Mita Vashisht, Ashish Vidyarthi, Jisshu Sengupta, Shilpa Shukla
Criminal Justice Behind Closed Doors director: Rohan Sippy and Arjun Mukherjee
Criminal Justice Behind Closed Doors rating: Three stars
The fact that the Indian justice system is flawed, and at times is even broken is a well documented and accepted fact. The lawyers know it, as do the judges, and as for the people who end up in the system, well, movies and shows get made on them. Criminal Justice: Behind Close Doors season two takes us deeper into that system, and uses a new lens to view it. While season 1 was the remake of The Night Of, this season is a spin-off of the original, with Madhav Mishra (Pankaj Tripathi), whom we met last season, headlining it.
The show’s plot was pretty much revealed in the trailer itself, so one wondered what’s really going to happen in the season. But those fears were misplaced. We meet the Chandras, a super affluent, happy and picture-perfect family. Bikram Chandra (Jisshu Sengupta) is a bleeding-heart liberal lawyer, who makes heart-thumping speeches for the downtrodden in courtrooms. He is shown to be someone who has it all, including a beautiful, doting wife Anu, played by Kirti Kulhari, and a 12-year-old daughter who loves doing crosswords. But by the end of the first episode, we see this picture-perfect family disintegrate as Chandra is seen stabbed with a knife, and Anu is seen roaming the streets in a blood-soaked nightgown. Sure, that’s where our interest is piqued, and we sit and notice, that all’s not what meets the eye.
Enter Madhav Mishra, the much loved, quirky lawyer, who’s roped in to defend Anu, as no other lawyer wished to touch the case with a barge pole. He is the same Madhav Mishra from season 1, low on resources, equipped with a sharp tongue and quick wit, but will do anything to defend his clients, no matter how guilty. He is joined by Nikhat Hussain – Anupria Goenka reprising her role from season 1 – who’s is struggling to find work.
If you were expecting a taut, pacy legal thriller, Criminal Justice: Behind Close Doors is not it. Rather it is a super slow burn, where the detailing and the tiny pieces of the puzzle all come together slowly and steadily in a gratifying manner. This season takes its time, but it unravels beautifully. Yes, it’s a murder case, but it’s a why-dunnit, rather than a whodunit.
Where Criminal Justice Season 2 wins is in using the lens of gender to tell the story. Women and their position in the criminal justice system is a recurring theme in the show. It’s in the prison that things really unfold. From unexpected allies, to facing judgment from her inmates, Anu’s journey weaves in different viewpoints. Anu’s journey from her plush apartment in Mumbai to these cramped quarters, where the toilet overflows regularly, and you have to fight for every slice of bread, is well captured and Kulhari’s performance is noteworthy. She speaks less, is obviously fragile, but she soldiers on. That said, wish there was more time given to the backstories of other inmates.
Take note, Criminal Justice 2 is no Orange is the New Black, Netflix’s breakout series, though one can see hints of the Australian series Wentworth. But this is not a show about women in prison. It’s about women and their struggle with and in society to even breathe at times. It’s about daily relatable things that women face everywhere. It’s about a woman who is judged instantly for her actions, while a man can literally get away with murder. It’s about the notion of patriarchy, and how often women enable it. It’s about women’s right to be acknowledged in a workplace dominated by men. It’s about women having the right to chose, or to say no, to stay or to leave. There’s a nod to sexual consent as well, but neither of these issues overwhelm or dominate, they all blend seamlessly, adding to the complex, layered narrative.
The story is spread over ten months, and while the larger overtone of the show is that of innate seriousness, Madhav and his wife Ratna’s (played by Khushboo Atre) banter does provide ample comic relief. It’s quite a delight to watch Tripathi with mehendi on his hands as he handles briefs and hearings in court. But when is Tripathi not a delight to watch, he has had a stellar run this year.
A stellar ensemble cast, comprising Mita Vashisht, Deepti Naval, Shilpa Shukla and others, ensure that the ball is not dropped performance-wise. Where the series lags is in the length. It could have done with some crisp editing.
Produced by Applause Entertainment, who are riding high on their recent success of Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors is a gripping morality tale, not to be missed. A tip: Just be patient, and pay attention, or you might miss some details.