Disney+ Hotstar’s ‘Criminal Justice Season 2’ has some heavy material to unpack. Starring Pankaj Tripathi and Kirti Kulhari as lawyer and defendant, the legal drama is a commentary on the vilification and victimization of women. But with a draggy plot, underwhelming performances and even more underwhelming courtroom scenes, it fails to convey its thematic stakes.
The makers of Criminal Justice return to adapt another Peter Moffat story from the hit British series. While the first, adapted from The Night Of starring Vikrant Massey opened to mixed reviews, the second one retains a key character with tonnes of potential, Pankaj Tripathi’s Madhav Mishra. Tripathi’s lawyer act is admittedly a great element to warrant a Season 2, technically speaking. So Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors (we’re still calling it Criminal Justice 2) opens a new case with Kirti Kulhari playing the accused. In doing so, the show takes on a study of the many ways in which judgements on women are passed and ultimately attempts to chronicle the female plight in and out of the legal system.
Directed by Rohan Sippy and Arjun Mukerjee and written by Apurva Asrani, Criminal Justice Season 2 comes has a lot going on. Anuradha Chandra (played by Kirti Kulhari), a delicate, outwardly harmless woman is accused and on trial for stabbing her husband Bikram Chandra (played by Jisshu Sengupta), an esteemed lawyer who is pretty much a legal luminary in Mumbai. That’s one of the reasons why nobody will touch the case with a ten-foot pole, the other being that it’s seemingly an open-and-shut case. The words are repeated enough by the police and practically every lawyer but there is one – Madhav Mishra who is up for the challenge. And he’s eager enough to leave for the city on the night of his marriage. In his first meeting with his client, however, he finds out she’s unwilling to talk. So the defendant and the defense lawyer embark on a trial with a clear outcome but a wholly unclear motive and it’s up to Mishra to unearth this motive with no help of his uncooperative client.
Criminal Justice Season 2 is set between courtrooms, the Chandra family’s fancy homes and later, prison. The story begins by introducing us to a visibly troubled Anu carrying out a series of increasingly suspicious-looking daily tasks. We’re told that she has a perfect life in the upper echelons of society, a loving husband and a daughter who is worried about her mother’s health. Anu, it turns out, suffers from clinical depression for which she gets medication from doctor Moksh Singhvi, the Chandras’ family friend. So when Bikram is stabbed and Anu takes a walk in her blood-stained clothes in shock, leaving him to be discovered by her daughter, all the clues lead to attempted murder. The cops declare it’s the case of a wile, unstable woman who has done away with his husband. That’s where the show gets down to the business of dropping not-so-subtle hints that something is amiss. And Madhav and his associate Nikhat (played by Anupriya Goenka) must find out what it is.
Sadly, the show cannot convey the stakes of its own riveting themes.
Over the course of the trial that sees Anu behind bars after pleading guilty, it takes on the subjects of vilification and victimization of women both in and out of the legal system. These are increasingly relevant topics given recent real-life examples where trials are carried out by biased spectators with the media and news headlines fueling the fire. Sadly, the show has a set of high-stakes themes it cannot convey. It touches upon marital rape, stigma against mental illness and the distrust against women who aren’t the God-fearing, ideal wives that Indian society so badly wants them to be. Anu isn’t hated for stabbing someone, she’s hated for stabbing her “husband and a respected lawyer” they say. The cultural references are all there – Anu’s mother-in-law (played by Deepti Naval) is the first to call her a manipulative killer, the prosecutor, a Manusmriti-quoting lawyer, is out to make an example for her regardless of the facts of the case and the Chandras’ family friend Mandira Mathur (Mita Vashisht) who wields her influence to make sure the accused stays in jail. Even the cops have picked sides, going as far as manipulating an under-age witness. And if that sounds like a lot to take in, you should see how draggy the plot is.
You can’t just call it a slow burn and get away with dragging the plot for a really, really long time.
I get it, Criminal Justice 2 is supposed to instill tension over the span of eight episodes. But to put it plainly, you can’t just call it a slow burn and get away with dragging the plot for a really, really long time. And by long I mean, 4 episodes longer than it should be. They could’ve wrapped this eight-pat show up as a much shorter mini-series. Rivalling only the wordy title, the show seems to go on forever with some tiring, throwaway arcs. And it’s not like these sub-plots are saved by the best performances. Pankaj Tripathi is the go-to guy to rescue practically any series or movie and for the most part, he thrives on bringing the element of charm. There should be a separate genre of Pankaj supporting his co-stars’ characters as the sympathetic, comforting older guy and perhaps there is. But that won’t do much good in a show as muddled as this one. Madhav doesn’t get any satisfying parts and it’s clear that Tripathi is trying in spite of the lazy writing.
Speaking of lazy, who’s idea was it to place random edits in the middle of a scene, almost cutting off characters? Not the best narrative stricture. Meanwhile, Kirti Kulhari does a remarkable job of reacting. As a troubled woman with parts that require her to express her anguish without many words, she powers through. And that’s not saying much about the lead characters. I tried to reserve my verdict on the acting chops of the rest of the cast but two episodes into the show and I was already questioning why the supporting cast of characters so shite at acting? Most actors seem to be out of sorts or simply surprised to be there, mouthing their words in the most awkward manner. And that opinion didn’t change for the majority of the episodes apart from a few standouts among the women Anu shares her jail cell with including Shilpa Shukla.
SEE ALSO: Exclusive: Kirti Kulhari On Playing The “Toughest Role” On ‘Criminal Justice’, Working With Pankaj Tripathi And More
Let’s just say if I was the judge presiding over that trial, I’d be napping in my chair.
Between the deep-dive into marriages and the gendered equations between Madhav Mishra and his newlywed wife, married cops working the same case and Anu and Bikram’s relationship Criminal Justice Season 2 is pretty on the nose about its marital themes while trying to be comprehensive in its approach (not to say that I didn’t appreciate the multi-perspective approach in parts). After taking in everything going on outside the courtroom, I was crossing my fingers before every courtroom hearing. Maybe, we’ll finally get something good? But let’s just say if I was the judge presiding over that trial, I’d be napping in my chair. The most riveting arguments that should, on paper, inspire resounding reactions are turned into a bland exchange of words. None of the evidence is compelling or surprising enough. It’s just a boring proceeding and it’s easy to see that it doesn’t take a genius to solve the case. The only exciting part was the abundance of reasons to scream “objection” at the screen. So by the time the court took a recess, I was already done with the harrowing experience of watching roughly 6 episodes. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine how the rest of the episodes leading up to the finale went.
Court’s officially dismissed, folks!
Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors is available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar VIP.
Cover artwork: Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India