Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors review — Kirti Kulhari, Pankaj Tripathi's show tries too hard to come off as realistic
Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors flirts with the notorious brand of 'realistic' that traverses the line of exploitative and vulgar.
At first, the camera stares right down an unflushed latrine inside a jail. Then comes the buzzing sound effect of flies. An episode later, Anupama Chandra (Kirti Kulhari) seemingly pukes over the Snorricam, giving us an unenviable view of the projectile vomit. A few of the female in-mates hurl abuses, and then laugh in a high-pitched manner to intimidate a posh 'new inmate', who can't bear the stench of prison. "Ouch!", she says when someone's arm brushes against hers. We get it. It's a hard life. But Rohan Sippy and Arjun Mukerjee (the directors) try too hard to showcase themselves as 'serious' filmmakers engaging with 'realistic' cinema. The notorious brand of Madhur Bhandarkar realistic, one that traverses the line of exploitative and vulgar. Based on the BBC original (of the same name) by Peter Moffat, which yielded a middling first season (starring Vikrant Massey), this inchoate sequel that never quite hits its intended marks.
Anupama Chandra or Anu (Kirti Kulhari, who deserves MUCH better), along with being a patient of anxiety and depression, also happens to be the wife of a superstar lawyer, Bikram Chandra (Jisshu Sengupta). Bikram is a saviour by day, waxing eloquence on his client's Dalit identity having to do with his lynching and the subtle casteism in our modern society, becomes a seemingly nosy husband by night, who photographs his wife's drawer of undergarments, makes notes from the odometer in his wife's car to keep a tab on her outings, and even constantly gaslights her about her 'mistakes' as a human being. One fateful night, Anu decides she's had enough. Grabbing a kitchen knife, she stabs her husband, during what seems like just another evening of ritualistic rough sex between the two spouses. Did Anu kill her husband in cold blood? Was it a crime of passion? Is there more to this case than meets the eye? Of course, there is. However, none of it is particularly novel.
This ‘open-and-shut’ case is taken on by (who else, but) Pankaj Tripathi - the omnipresent actor of our times. Like his predecessors (Irrfan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui) even Tripathi makes the most by turning mediocre films/shows into something watchable. Playing the outcast lawyer, Madhav Mishra, disowned by the lawyer community, Tripathi brings sincerity and his trademark light touch to a role, the only reason for which seems to be an irrefusable paycheck. Even where his character is shown as agonisingly incompetent, owing to the screenwriter's contrivances, Tripathi clues himself in to make the most of what he can. He brings nice touches to a character, who is expected to bring levity to the set by exchanging barbs with a newly-wed wife, introducing her to everyone as ‘Ratna from Patna’.
This is Sengupta's fourth Hindi project of 2020 (after Shakuntala Devi, Sadak 2 and Durgamati), and his performances have skirted the line of parody more than once. As his career in Bengali cinema of nearly two decades is testament, Sengupta isn't a terrible actor. But he seriously seems to be missing a few beats in his Hindi performances, making an actor with his experience look painfully artificial. Even the way he handles a bottle of petroleum jelly, before a swim. It's supposed to come off as menacing and yet, it barely gets any response out of you. Kulhari is a consistently great actor, who spends much of the show's time playing the wailing and screaming ingenue, almost as if she's asking someone to save her from sinking in the second season's mediocrity. Deepti Naval is unintentionally hilarious in her role as Bikram's mother, Vijaya Chandra, who relishes each swear word in her scenes. From 'bitch' to 'whore', Naval grinds her teeth through every swear word as if it might be her last.
Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors has noble intentions, and one can see that from the way the makers find a way to slide their politics into the show. An entire scene is spent (rather clumsily) educating Madhav Mishra about what 'woke' means. Tripathi rebounds it splendidly the next morning, when he casually says 'I am woke' after getting up from his bed. In a jail scene, we hear something eerily similar to Goli Maaro Saalon Ko - a chant used during pro-CAA rallies only a year ago. Over here, the purpose of the chant is to protest against rotten jail food. During the last few episodes, there's some didactic gender discourse, something that's well-intended but rarely fulfilling. There's an entire track around Anupriya Goenka's Nikhat Hussain, who tries to convince her mother to 'move on' from a father, who has already begun living with another woman. The show makes a lot of the right noises to be labelled 'progressive', especially in an industry that's more and more inclined to make films/shows (consciously or not) painting most accusers as 'manipulators'.
However, it's also amply clear that Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors was birthed out of a colourless spreadsheet. A gimmick that seems to have worked well for Hotstar Specials, where they've gone about developing remakes of international hit shows (Out of Love from Doctor Foster, Hostages from the Israeli show of the same name), much like the first season of Criminal Justice, that came from Peter Moffat's 2008 BBC show, starring Ben Whishaw. The second one has been made after crunching numbers, and not with the intention of sharing a specific point of view. This second season might meet the 'targets', however, it's not doing anything to mask the platform's indifference towards its projects. The thing is sometimes when you're staring down at faeces, it probably doesn't translate to 'meaningful' cinema. Sometimes, it's merely a reflection of your craft.
(All images from Twitter)
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