‘Illegal’: A bingeworthy legal drama

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

There was a time in Hindi cinema when legal dramas used to be all about loud dialogues and histrionics. The courtrooms were depicted as circuses and the judges were supposed to be ring masters yelling “Order! Order!” all the time. But all that changed gradually with filmmakers striving for realism in place of melodrama. In the recent times, we have witnessed a decent number of well made courtroom dramas which have brought dignity to the genre. This brings us to the latest Voot Select series Illegal starring Neha Sharma, Satyadeep Mishra, Akshay Oberoi, Deepak Tijori, Kubbra Sait, Kitu Gidwani, Parul Gulati, and Piyush Mishra in major roles. The series is written by Reshu Nath while Sahir Raza is the director. Noted Bollywood director Vikram Bhatt is the creative producer on the show. 

Illegal revolves around an idealistic young lawyer named Niharika Singh (Sharma) who moves from Bangalore to Delhi after she takes up a job at a leading law firm in the capital. The film is headed by a big shot lawyer named Janardhan Jaitley (Piyush Mishra). Niharika in the past had put her career on the line to ensure that a rapist was convicted and for that the media calls her the mad lawyer. Jaitley is a master manipulator who understands well that cases are fought not just in the courtroom but also in the outside world where media runs its own trial. While he has big plans for her, he knows he will have to use her tactfully. 

For the most part, the 10 episode series deals with a rape case that may remind the viewers of Section 375, but the series is at its best when it explores the personal lives of the lawyer characters played by Sharma and Satyadeep Mishra (Puneet Tandon). Now, the series isn't essentially a courtroom drama as most of the events unfold outside the courtroom. It can be more appropriately called a legal drama. 

Back in 2004, there used to legal drama series by the name of Siddhant (on a now defunct channel called Star One) with actor Pawan Shankar in the lead. I personally learnt so much about the legal system watching that show as a teenager straight out of school. Also, as a drama, it used to give me goosebumps. I don't think anything comes close to the brilliance of Siddhant as far as the long form narrative is concerned (whether Indian television or web). Illegal is also not in the same class but it does a good job of tackling issues such as rape, capital punishment and euthanasia. Director Sahir Raza does a reasonable job of balancing the professional with the personal. But he doesn't always go the distance while tackling the procedural side of the legal machinery which leaves a void at times for the keen-eyed viewer. But the show’s gritty nature and the earnest performances of Neha Sharma, Satyadeep Mishra, Kubbra Sait, and Deepak Tijori certainly make it binge-worthy.

Rating: 7.5/10

A version of this review was also published in The Sunday Guardian.

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