This is #CriticalMargin, where Ishita Sengupta gets contemplative over new Hindi films and shows. Today: The Trial, starring Kajol.
THE current abundance of Hindi web shows, clogging the pores of streaming platforms, has made me a superstitious person. Every week comes an eight-episode series that is seven episodes too long, bearing the aesthetic of a music video and possessing the depth of a Honey Singh song. Every week I tell myself, this is clearly the worst. And then something else arrives, like it can sense my naive optimism, and unfolds as an affront to all the senses. Suddenly, the title of ‘worst’ changes title, as I stare helplessly at the screen. I know better now, having learnt my lesson. Thus, the only adjective I will use for Suparn Verma’s The Trial, the new eight-episode series streaming on Hotstar, is bad. Very bad.
The Trial, like most respectable series on the site, is an official adaptation of a foreign-language show. In this case, Verma has based his outing on the supremely popular drama The Good Wife. The multiple Emmy-winning Julianna Margulies-starrer series centred on a wife waking up to her cheating husband as the latter gets embroiled in a sex scandal. Much of the popularity of the sprawling seven-season series (2009-2016) rested on the accuracy with which it held a scalpel to a public phenomena — a high-profile man found guilty of being unfaithful — and unravelled as a private portrait of the wife compelled to remain ‘good’ and defend her husband despite adversity. The network series’ refusal to victimise its protagonist spawned a moral ambivalence that accounted for its persistent allure.
Verma’s work, farcical in its inclination for melodrama, is immune to words like ‘ambiguity’, ‘nuance’, ‘crisis’ ‘affecting’. Instead, it is a masterclass in taking an immensely watchable premise and botching it up beyond recognition. The Trial is so poorly conceived and nonsensically executed, so inefficiently adapted that it makes promotional videos look better in comparison.
The show opens on a familiar note. A sex tape of additional judge Rajeev Sengupta (Jisshu Sengupta) is leaked and he is put behind bars for taking undue favours for work. This disrupts his family, leaving his wife and their two daughters in the lurch. Noyonika (Kajol, always two notches dialled up), a homemaker for the past many years, decides to pursue her legal profession to fend for her children and herself. The public humiliation prevents her from getting a job till another lawyer, Vishal Chaubey (Alyy Khan) reaches out. She is hesitant to respond. They have a past but given her distressing present, she gives in. Noyonika joins his firm as a junior lawyer on a six-month probation period.
The premise of a woman compelled to take over the reins of her family in the absence of her husband is not ingenious. Ram Madhvani’s Aarya (streaming on Hotstar, also an adaptation of Dutch drama series Penoza) is a compelling example, having shown us how it is done. The Kajol-starrer, on the other hand, is a blazing example of how it is undone.
Written by Hussain Dalal, Abbas Dalal and Siddharth Kumar, the series is neither a crafty depiction of what a woman, confronted with such publicised plight, undergoes nor is it an illustration of her professional merit. It is equally, if not more, frustrating on both fronts. Each episode follows a template. A case is introduced begging the participation of Noyonika. She goes, she fights, she wins. It does not matter that she has spent decades away from a profession that relies on practice.
Also, for a show titled The Trial, it has one of the most amateur courtroom scenes. All arguments are lopsidedly designed, leading to an easy victory for the protagonist. Noyonika asks two questions, she is reprimanded by the judge thrice and within moments, she wins. There is no sense of tension to these sequences. Solutions just occur to her, revelations just happen. For a series riddled with one low moment after another, there is a particularly awful scene where the judge, absolutely unprovoked, takes to schooling Noyonika in a room full of people for her husband’s misconduct.
Back home, her personal life is adrift. We are made to believe that with their assets frozen, the family is going through a financial crunch. This is relayed twice — both times using the same crutch of late payment of school fees. But the series’ understanding of this emergency is as far-removed as Luv Ranjan’s empathy for female characters. The house Noyonika lives in with her two daughters is expansive. If this is what she ‘settled for’ in a city like Mumbai then it is a real estate marvel and I would like the broker’s number.
Verma’s incompetence in building a credible world can only be rivalled by his non understanding of women. For a show headlined by a woman, The Trial remains obdurately obtuse to her feelings, making zero effort to mine her interiority for a compelling character arc. Instead it shamelessly relies on voiceovers. When her husband is back home, amping up the conflicting emotions Noyonika must be going through, her voiceover sounds like this: “Kanoon todne walo ko saza milti hain aur dil todne wale ko aksar doosra mauka milta hai” (Those who break the law are punished but those who break hearts are given a second chance). When she gets cheated (again), her voiceover sounds like this: “Galat insaan ke saath sahi karoge toh badle mein insaaf nahi dhoka hi milega” (If you do right by the wrong person, you will be betrayed in return). By the third episode, Noyonika ceases to be a character and becomes a walking-talking PSA.
But then no one is any better. Her daughters are given no personalities except watching Bigg Boss-type reality shows and their father’s doctored sex videos (I really wish I was joking). The Vishal character, still in love with Noyonika, is reduced to unwatchable neediness like he is still in college. Alyy Khan essays the role by incessantly talking — to Kajol, to himself, to his phone like he has suddenly woken up to his rich baritone. Sheeba Chaddha plays Malini, one of the three partners in the law firm. She is always a joy to watch but her character is short changed for easy resolutions. I am yet to understand what exactly the character essayed by Aseem Hattangady does in the series. He is called Illyas which can be treated as an alias for anything you want him to be.
It is only July and already the Hindi streaming landscape has taken on an interesting shape. The highs have been exceptional and the lows have been downright tedious. Verma’s The Trial is easily one of the worst outings of 2023 with the most bizarre background music. Wait, what did I just type? Forgive me Binge Gods. I am just a film critic, sitting before my laptop and asking for a show to be watchable.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of OTTplay. The author is solely responsible for any claims arising out of the content of this column.)