Leila starring Huma Qureshi recently debuted on Netflix and after a six-episode run, the series ended on a cliffhanger promising a second season. Deepa Mehta (1947: Earth, Fire) has directed the first two episodes and serves as one of the producers on the show based on Prayaag Akbar’s book of the same name. Leila is set in a dystopian world where the society is segregated by communities and the sectors housing each community are divided by walls.
The stark difference between the privileged and those living on the sidelines is quite apparent. People are fighting over clean drinking water and those living in the slums don’t get that even when it rains. Such is the world of Leila. There are elements of the show that work in enhancing the plot while there are some that leave you puzzled.
Here’s everything that works and doesn’t work for Netflix’s Leila.
Pros for Leila
1. Strong supporting cast
Arif Zakaria, Siddharth and Seema Biswas are appropriately cast but it can be said that not all of them are appropriately utilised.
Zakaria’s Guru Maa is mean and conniving. His hatred towards ‘doosh’ is obvious right from the start and his scenes with Huma’s Shalini paint him as the authority figure who can’t be fooled.
Sidharth’s Bhanu is a mystery and he plays it like one. The changing shades of the character and his journey with Shalini reveal the layers of his character but throughout the run, he is just angry. His transition from being a loyalist to a rebel could have been explored more but unfortunately, we aren’t told much about his background. We know him via his job and thus his motivation to be a rebel is never explicitly discussed.
Seema Biswas’ Madhu gets a few scenes and you are left wondering why the actor took up this role that isn’t even strongly written.
Huma Qureshi’s Shalini often slips into flashbacks when she is stuck in her painful current state. These flashbacks serve as a stark reminder as to what her life was and how it has changed drastically. She often reminisces about her daughter, her husband and her rich lifestyle and when compared to her current state, these flashbacks serve as motivation for Shalini’s character.
3. Initial world building
Leila does a wonderful job in the initial episodes when the series is trying to establish the universe. They introduce a totalitarian world where women are sent to purity camps as a punishment for their sins, which could be marrying outside of their community, asking for a share in their father’s property or bearing a ‘mishrit’ child.
The world building is promising at the start but as the series progresses, the rules of this world start getting hazy. Like any society, there are loopholes in the system here as well but they are only explained when the plot finds it convenient.
Cons for Leila
1. Search for Leila
The show begins with the premise that Shalini is desperately looking for her daughter Leila. They separated two years ago after the Repeaters attacked Shalini’s house and Leila’s whereabouts since that time are unknown. Shalini goes from pillar to post in trying to look for her daughter but her singular focus does not accentuate the plot, in fact, it makes the episodes lag.
Even after Shalini learns about Leila’s state, she makes some rash decisions and as a viewer, you know that they weren’t thought out. When a character questions her about the same, Shalini is dumbfounded thereby underlining the big flaw of her plan but soon, she gets back to harping the same tune again.
2. Plot convenience
Through Shalini’s journey, her ultimate goal is to find Leila and conveniently enough, she lands up at the right place at the right time to find all the pieces of the puzzle. Her job at the Dixit residence, the face of Repeater on a poster in a clinic, her easy access to her in-law’s residence and her presence at the anti-establishment academic’s residence all serve her cause.
After a couple of lucky breaks, it starts feeling like Shalini is placed correctly on purpose as a part of the larger plan, but such is not the case which unfortunately makes this a case of plot convenience.
3. Season finale
By the end of the season, the show isn’t just about Leila but a larger rebellion. Huma’s Shalini has unwantedly become a part of the rebellion and while she thinks she can get to Leila via this route, the audience knows that there is a bleak chance of them uniting.
This leads to a strange finale that involves her challenging the head of Aryavarta in a public gathering and it does not take a genius to figure that no good would come out of this. Her entry into the public gathering happens due to a big plot convenience and the audience is left wondering what her end game is. The finale is intriguing but does not make us hopeful for the next season.