‘Illegal 2’ Review: Flawed yet binge-worthy and thought-provoking legal drama

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Towards the end of the film Section 375, a female lawyer tells her mentor, “Sir, I don’t think that the justice was served.” The senior lawyer retorts, “We are not in the business of justice. We are in the business of law.” The lawyer’s remark makes it absolutely clear that justice and law are not synonymous. At the end of the day, all laws are subject to human interpretation and a good lawyer understands that there are enough provisions and technicalities to be toyed around with. It all boils down to one thing—whether you can prove it in the court of law. ‘Illegal 2,’ the second season of the Voot Select series ‘Illegal,’ elevates the high stakes showdown between Niharika Singh (played by Neha Sharma) and her former mentor-turned-adversary Janardhan Jaitley (essayed by Piyush Misra) to the next level as the idealistic Niharika navigates contentious legal cases, high profile rivalries and a complex personal life while trying to establish her new firm which she has started in partnership with her adversary from the first season, Puneet Tandon (portrayed Satyadeep Mishra). Directed by Bollywood veteran Ashwini Chaudhary, ‘Illegal 2’ also stars Akshay Oberoi, Parul Gulati, Tanuj Virwani, Sonnalli Seygall, and Achint Kaur.

The first season of ‘Illegal’ had ended with the promise of a rather sadistic and macabre revenge arc with Deepak Tijori’s character orchestrating the kidnapping of his illegitimate daughter Niharika in order to punish her for framing his rapist son. But ‘Illegal 2’ abandons that storyline as we get to learn that Niharika’s father had succumbed to a massive heart attack. Instead the second season of the show seems invested in exploring the mentor v/s mentee battle between Janardhan Jaitley and Niharika Singh with former embarking on an ambitious campaign to be the next Chief Minister of Delhi and the latter starting her own firm. Other then following their rivalry, the season also endeavors to offer an insider’s look at the treacherous world of unscrupulous lawyers, manipulative business moguls, and incorrigibly dirty politicians. The big question, however, always remains: will justice ever be served in the world of law?

Now, over the years, we have seen a lot of Indian films and series set in a courtroom making a mockery out of the judicial processes. We all have seen legal dramas which are all about loud dialogues and histrionics. And wherein the courtrooms are depicted as circuses and the judges are supposed to be ring masters yelling “Order! Order!” again and again. But all that has been changing 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 some dignity to the genre. Speaking of ‘Illegal,’ 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. The same is true of ‘Illegal 2’. Interestingly, the show is at its best when it explores the personal lives of the characters: be it Janardhan Jaitley, Niharika Singh, Puneet Tandon, or others.

In comparison to the first season, Neha Sharma’s acting in ‘Illegal 2’ suffers from some inconsistency. Niharika, most of times, is the quintessential damsel in distress and so when she suddenly unleashes her shrewd side to outwit her formidable adversaries, it’s a little difficult to accept her character as realistic as it’s intended to be. Sharma’s performance in the first season was far more consistent. Yes, Niharika is fast evolving as a ruthless professional in the legal arena, but the transition ought to have been a little more subtle. In comparison to Sharma, Piyush Mishra’s performance in ‘Illegal 2’ is far more measured than his over-the-top act in the first season. But the real star of the second season is Akshay Oberoi who is absolutely brilliant to watch in the role of Akshay Jaitley, Janardhan’s son. It’s a deeply nuanced performance with multiple layers. One ought to watch him in the Eros Now series ‘Flesh’ to truly appreciate his versatility as an actor. After the promise he offered in the first season, Satyadeep Dubey is terribly underutilized in ‘Illegal 2’. The same is true of Parul Gulati. Another standout performance comes from Achint Kaur who proves to be a real scene stealer. Tanuj Virwani is also solid in his role.

Back in 2004, Star One used to air a legal drama series by the name of Siddhant with Pawan Shankar in the titular role. I personally learnt so much about the Indian legal system watching that show as a teenager straight out of school. Also, it was thrilling to watch. Now, I don’t think that anything since then has come close to the brilliance of Siddhant as far as the long form narrative is concerned (whether Indian television or web). The first season of ‘Illegal’ although not in the same class as Siddhant did a good job of tackling issues such as rape, capital punishment and euthanasia. As far as ‘Illegal 2’ is concerned, the show is both binge-worthy as well as thought-provoking despite some obvious shortcomings and flaws. And the credit goes to Ashwini Chaudhary and team for their fearless approach in examining juvenile justice, cyber crime and digital stalking, and the rise of toxic culture on social media platforms.

A version of this review was first published at The Daily Guardian.

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