Intense, gripping, hooking, shocking…

If we think of words that would define a movie-watching – or even a web series-watching – experience to be fruitful these days, the ones mentioned above might just resonate more with today’s generation.

Edge-of-the-seat thrillers, sprinkled with suspense and confusion, with a whodunit plot are a ready mix of a hit. Take the success of Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu-starrer Badla as an example.

And so, taking this trend ahead, came Hotstar’s Criminal Justice. Launched earlier in the month, the 10-episode web series, based on Peter Moffat’s original series of the same name, revolves around a gruesome murder mystery.

But what set it apart, you ask? The Red Sparrow takes a look.

The plot thickens

The most important aspect of any show is the content, and the plot here is nothing less than eyeball-grabbing. College-going Aditya (Vikrant Massey) is a talented student as well as a sportsperson. Belonging to a middle-class family, he drives a cab occasionally to help his father with the family expenses. One fateful night, while on his way to a college party, he meets a beautiful-but-wrecked passenger Sanaya (Madhurima Roy). They are at loggerheads at first, but soon bond over their alma mater – soon after which Aditya finds himself in Sanaya’s house, spending time with her. Alcohol, drugs and passion consume the two as Aditya wakes up in the middle of the night, unable to recall what happened between them, to find Sanaya’s dead body. Wait, what just happened?

The mystery lies here – Is the innocent-looking Aditya really as innocent as he looks? And the way the plot thickens and the layers are unfolded, you judge him, but then you can’t help but root for him. For a moment you stop and think – oh wait, he might just be guilty and wouldn’t that be the best plot twist ever? But then there are moments where you can’t help but feel for the boy and his family.

The ensemble star cast

Massey, Tripathi, Jackie Shroff and Mita Vashisht. If that star cast doesn’t intrigue you, we don’t know what will. We all knew how good Massey could be after watching him in Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death in the Gunj, or even any of his television shows in the past, and here too, he’s brilliant. He, very understatedly, performs very complex scenes – whether in a cab, at a court, in jail or in a hospital – throughout the show, and by the end of it, he becomes one with Aditya. Pankaj Tripathi, too, shines bright in a character full of quirks, that you are left in awe of the ease with which he performs.

Boasting of some brilliant performances by not just the well-known names, but the relatively lesser-known ones too – right from Rucha Inamdar (Avni) and Anupriya Goenka (Nikhat) to Pankaj Saraswat (Raghu) and Madhurima Roy – this show brings about something very unique. It’s rare to see not just lead characters, but even the ones with the not-so-substantial, comparatively smaller roles, perform so naturally on camera. This show manages to do just that. In fact, a few supporting characters, especially like the ones of Avni and Nikhat not just stand out, but manage to leave a mark of their own.

Guilty until proven innocent?

Media trials are a well-known reality in the world we live in today. And this show too highlights that aspect in more ways than one. In a scene with Aditya’s sister Avni, a media person requests her to come to his show to present her version of what happened. When she agrees, she is insulted in the show as the sister of a rapist and murderer while she, almost helplessly, keeps saying that her brother is innocent. In another scene in the court, the prosecution keeps referring to him as guilty till the judge intervenes. This reflects a very relevant mindset, which is quite the opposite of the actual unspoken rule of a person being innocent until proven guilty.

Another aspect of this guilt lies in the role of symbolism. Several characters in this story are grappling with their past – especially Tripathi’s Advocate Madhav Mishra. He too is guilty of something that had happened previously in his career, and takes Aditya’s case very seriously – almost personally – because of that reason. Initially introduced as an almost-fraudster lawyer who is looking for a way to earn extra money, he develops into this character with an itch – literally and figuratively. He itches to give justice to a boy who he thinks is innocent but is already a criminal in everyone else’s mind, and that reflects in his constant struggle with eczema – both of which find a closure by the end of the series.

What about the loose ends?

And then come the loopholes. Every episode is almost an hour long, and while that wouldn’t have been a problem otherwise, it is a bit of a problem here because it deals with several sub-plots while tackling the murder mystery. A part of me wanted it to remain focused on the main story instead of jumping from one sub-plot to another as the central storyline progressed. Right from what went down with Aditya’s sister, to his parents’ struggle to even the utter creepiness of Laayak (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) and the dynamics in the jail, and junior lawyer Nikhat’s righteous conversations with her mother with regards to the case – everything is discussed – a few of which could have easily been edited out.

Another thing that could have been better was the final episode. The conclusion seemed too little and no, not too late, but too early – almost a bit rushed. Again, if the sub-plots were narrowed down, the final episode in itself could have been expanded, explained and executed better.

Worth a watch?

Definitely. Which show is perfect? Of course there are things that could have been better in this show, but it’s worth a watch. The build-up to the suspense and the eventual conclusion to the murder mystery is gripping and will manage to keep you hooked. It’s not exactly something that you can’t predict though, but it still convinces with its fine performances. Tripathi is the star of the show while Massey lives up to his very complex character in every way possible. Oh, and Jaggu dada rocks – it’s actually good to see him back on screen in a compelling role.


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