Directed by Suparn Varma, The Trial is a Hindi adaptation of The Good Wife and features Kajol, Jisshu U Sengupta, Kubbra Sait, Sheeba Chaddha, and others
After working as the creative producer of Manoj Bajpayee’s Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai, Suparn S Varma is all set with another courtroom drama, the Trial. Suparn is the director of the show, which will be dropped on Disney+ Hotstar on July 14. The show is a Hindi adaptation of The Good Wife and features Kajol, Jisshu U Sengupta, Kubbra Sait, Sheeba Chaddha, and others. The director was in Kolkata to promote the series. In an exclusive chat with OTTplay, Suparn talks about the courtroom drama connection between the film and the show, how a show from the West is blended with Indian sensitivity, and his Kolkata connection. Read on…
Tell us about your Kolkata connection…
I don’t know how many times I have come to Kolkata. I have my family here. I have been coming here since it used to be called Calcutta (laughs). My mausi lives in New Alipore. My mother goes to Dakshineshwar often. I have a proper connection with this place. Although I am from UP, and Suparn sounds like Shuporno in Bengali.
You are associated with Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai – a courtroom drama, and now, The Trial, which also deals with the courtroom…
The fun part is that I actually rehearsed the courtroom scenes of Bandaa on the sets of The Trial because I had the same production designer Priya Suhas and the same locations – which was changed to a session’s court of Jodhpur for Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai. So I had my team come to design the shots. I had similar camera setups for the show and the film. We seamlessly worked on it. However, The Trial is just 20% courtroom drama. The rest is trials of marriage, relationships, life, and so on. It is a relationship drama more than anything else. That’s what I wanted to explore.
Bandaa wrapped a little earlier than the Trial. Of course, one is a film, and the latter is a show. Post-production of eight episodes took longer than a film. Meanwhile, the characters – Nayanika Sengupta in The Trial and Solanki are very different. Solanki works on one case and chooses a righteous path. Nayanika works in a law firm and walks on a grey path. For her, there is no right or wrong but just on the side of her client. If Bandaa was a web series, Solanki might also have been like that.
From Ray Donovan into Rana Naidu to The Good Wife into The Trial – you have been adapting shows from the West. What do you keep in mind to turn them into Indian shows?
Not every story can be adapted. It has to match the emotional culture. What we did here is we took the skeleton of The Good Wife and used that to build our show. We can’t use their court cases because we don’t have a jury system. I wanted to bring contemporary cases that reflect the society of today. Interestingly, like the original show, the cases reflect what’s happening in her (protagonist’s) real life. But the choices she makes in her professional and personal are different. There is a dichotomy. Nayanika Sengupta – that’s Kajol’s character – is different from Alicia Florrick in the original show. This is because, in India, if a woman suffers anything – a failed marriage, children going wrong, professional debacle – it’s always the woman’s fault. We tend to victim shame more in India and give men a bigger pass. The West also victim shame, but perhaps they are a bit more considerate. Here, the mother of a woman also says, ‘Beta yeh ladka hai. Ek hi to galati hui, maaf kar do.’ But if a woman does it, ‘Burn her because she is a witch.’ Nayanika’s response to society, her life conduct, and her relationships are very different from the original show. Also, Will (from the original show) will be canceled today. If a boss has an affair with a junior-level employee, the power dynamics become different. We had to work on that in a different format. They developed characters in different seasons. They wrote the story as they were making the show. Here we know the characters already, and hence we could layer our characters and make them stronger from episode 1. Also, they wrote it for television. They had 23 episodes. We have eight. So the storytelling is much denser, harder, and faster.
Also, The Trial is about a bunch of strong women – be it Kajol or Sheeba Chaddha’s character or Kubra’s (Sait) character. They are strong women. They are fascinating women who can stand up in the world of men. They are impressive, and they are awesome. I am a single parents child, and hence I grew up with a strong woman. Men don’t like it because they try to control it. What they can’t control, they judge and label.
So, the show delves into the dynamics of our very own Indian society…
The society has changed even more after Covid. Social media changed everything. Today, people are lonelier. Their outlook toward life is different. When they look back on their life and the things they missed out on, they perhaps feel bad, but by then, things have moved on. Relationships are not black and white. Your loved one’s dreams change, adapt, and grow. You choose to stay together or not to stay together for various reasons. You may stay together and yet go out and come back. It is a complex thing. Those are the issues I wanted to capture in The Trial. It is a much more layered world.
How and why did you think of casting Kajol?
As soon as I wanted to adapt The Good Wife, I thought about Kajol. We approached her, and she heard my take, and she came on board. She loved it. So far, we have seen her in characters and films in which heroes try to steal her from her fiances or boyfriends. And then take her on a train. Suppose Raj and Simran get married. What happens 20 years later? What happens if Raj cheats on Simran? That fairy tale rose lenses are off. Let’s start with the story. And then she chooses to stay in the marriage or not, the way she navigates the shame and scandals, the responsibility of being the mother of two daughters, the pressure of returning to her career – these are the things that The Trial captures. Nobody questions a man returning to his career. A woman faces a lot of questions – why is she coming back, or will she be able to do it? The fact is Kajol has always worked maybe after a year or two years break. But everyone is saying that this is her comeback. She never went away to come back. Aamir (Khan) does a film after four years, and no one says that this film is his comeback. Our gaze is different towards women. We got her to play a character that she had never done before. We have seen her bubbly, light, and happy. This is murkier. She is at a stage in her life when she wants a challenge. It was good fun.
How was your experience of working with Kajol?
She is an absolute joy. Kajol is the most brutally honest person I know, and that is empowering. She doesn’t take nonsense, and she doesn’t give nonsense. She expects absolute honesty. She is spontaneous. Everyone is co-creating. I love energy. She is mad. I am mad, and we just need to decide who is madder.
On the other hand, Jisshu U Sengupta is often seen as a good husband of powerful woman characters in different shows and films…
Jisshu has been playing the good husband but this time not. He has been playing the husband of a strong woman on several occasions. My job was to make him play the husband of a strong woman and cheat on her. The tricky question is why did he do it. I had a long discussion with him about his choices. Where is he coming from, and why did he do it? There are a lot of grey shades. Jisshu is one of the most giving and trusting actors. I really enjoyed letting him be. He is magical. He is experienced, and he has worked with some of the greatest filmmakers in India. And the chemistry he and Kajol formed from day one worked like magic. With that chemistry, things start going wrong between the husband and wife. That becomes interesting. He is cast in a character that he has not done before. Like Venkatesh in Rana Naidu. He has been playing the character of a good man for the last 40 years. And then, in the show, you like him, and yet you hate him. Same with Jisshu. You love him. Men love him. And then you don’t know.