Shefali Bhushan’s directorial Amazon Prime Video web series presents a realistic picture of the courtroom and doesn’t shy away from exploring the various facets of morality and ethics in complex cases.
Kashaf Quaze (Shriya Pilgaonkar) and Deepak Rana (Varun Mitra) are lawyers who had studied at the same law college. However, in the real world, they often find themselves battling it out against each other as they represent two different law firms that are poles apart in their basic ideology. While Kashaf’s "For The People Associates" believes that truth shall prevail, for Deepak’s law firm, "Khanna & Khanna Associates," their clients’ truth (as told by them) trumps all. The 10 episodes of this legal drama present an assortment of cases, ranging from issues like casting couch and plagiarism in the film industry, shady goings-on in fertility clinics, cola companies overusing local natural resources, to the dangers of online video game addiction and technological advancements. Apart from the 10 different and interesting court cases, the series also brushes upon topics like familial secrets, molestation by a family member, office politics and romance, the inability of parents to accept the queer relationship of their children, the complexities of interpersonal relationships, morality and ethics, among others.
Shefali Bhushan’s directorial web series Guilty Minds opens with a sensational, headline-making case where an actress (essayed by Karishma Tanna) accuses a supposedly feminist director (Atul Kumar) of rape. The episode has all the ingredients for the perfect pilot of a 10-episode long web series with each episode of about 50 minutes duration – but only on paper. However, the same cannot be said about the series, which only gets better with every passing chapter. Guilty Minds begins quite slowly, but it steadily manages to engulf you in the complexities of the layers of its characters as the lines between right and wrong increasingly get blurred, depending upon who’s perspective appeals to you more.
Even though every new episode in the series deals with a new case, there’s an ongoing case, the outcome of which is likely to change things not just for the protagonists, but for those around them too. While Kashaf comes from a family of lawyers and her father, too, is a righteous judge, Deepak’s roots lie in his village in the mountains. His meteoric rise to become a partner in Khanna & Khanna Associates makes the firm’s owner, LN Khanna (played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda)'s grandson, Shubhrat (Pranay Pachauri), jealous and borderline obsessed with the idea of taking him down. Things are complicated further when Shubhrat’s sister Shubhangi (Namrata Sheth) joins the firm and begins to develop feelings for Deepak, who has (apparently) been in love with Kashaf ever since their college days.
If Deepak’s life and relationships are complicated, Kashaf doesn’t have it easy either. She is battling demons from her past and, at the same time, doesn’t even think twice before getting personally invested and emotionally involved while fighting for the underdogs. What comes as a refreshing welcome in Kashaf’s character is that she doesn’t need a knight in shining armour to fight her battles, whether they are personal or professional. We’re used to seeing Muslim female characters at the mercy of the men around them, often waiting to be rescued or "saved." Kashaf’s character stands out because it simply doesn’t get defined by her surname and doesn’t succumb to the stereotypes that we’re accustomed to. It also helps that Shriya Pilgaonkar plays Kashaf effortlessly well. She slips into her character with ease, which makes her performance realistic and believable.
Varun Mitra as Deepak brings the necessary charm and pizzaz that are required for his character. While it is established at the beginning itself that Deepak is the slightly unethical one when compared to the righteous Kashaf, it comes as a pleasant surprise when the tables turn in the middle of the series, with each of their backstories gradually unfolding.
There’s some smart writing on display here by the team of Manav Bhushan, Deeksha Gujral, and Somalkar, along with creator-director Shefali Bhushan. While they keep the courtroom drama, sans much drama and theatrics, otherwise a common trope in cinema, they do keep the court scenes engaging enough for the viewer. One of the most important devices that have been put to use by them is to give a peculiar quality or eccentricity to almost all of the judges who are presiding over the cases. While one of the judges admits taking up the profession because of a lack of mathematical skills, another doesn’t shy away from flaunting his knowledge of music. A lady judge squirms at the mention of the full form of DUM among other millennial terms in a case involving a dating app, while there’s another judge who repeatedly looks at the counsellor to explain the technical aspects of software in lame-man terms.
The series is also peppered with small instances that bring in welcome comic relief, especially in episodes where the screenplay becomes quite slow to the point of testing one’s patience. For example, small instances like a squabble between two peasants about who stole whose buffalo, a judge’s remark that flattery won’t help anyone win the case, or a mediator who repeats almost EVERYTHING said by the opposing lawyers while helping them arrive at a "settlement", - It’s moments like these that keep you invested when the long-drawn episodes start moving at the pace of pending cases in Indian courts.
The supporting cast does a fair job in the limited amount of screen time that they get. Sugandha Garg, who we’ve previously seen in the Disney+Hotstar series Aarya, does wonders in Guilty Minds too. Her portrayal of Vandana stands out among the rest. Special appearances by veterans like Suchitra Krishnamurthy, Shakti Kapoor, and Satish Kaushik too hit the spot well. The background score throughout the series isn’t really great, but a couple of songs that have been incorporated are quite meaningful. The title track of the series explains how punishment can become fun if one just replaces the first letter of "Sazaa" with that of the word "Mazaa". The beginning credits too make for an interesting watch, with an ironic underlying theme.
Guilty Minds presents a realistic picture of the courtroom and doesn’t shy away from exploring the various facets of morality and ethics in complex cases. The pace at which the series progresses surely tests your patience, and no fireworks are happening during the courtroom proceedings, but the performances by the cast, the interesting premise of every episode, and clever writing will keep you invested.