Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors Review: A Tale about Abuse and Marital Rape that Becomes Predictable

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Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors Review: A Tale about Abuse and Marital Rape that Becomes Predictable

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In an episode of Hotstar’s reboot of Criminal Justice, Madhav Mishra, played with trademark charm by Pankaj Tripathi asks a police officer if he can briefly leave his belongings in the corridor of the police station. The officer laughs, declaring, “Arey police station hai ye” to which Mishra replies, hands folded, a sneaky smile on his face, “isiliye toh puch raha hun”. The second season of the show, titled Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors feels like a tired attempt at resuscitating characters and a world that frankly needed more than just the injection of precious ideas like domestic abuse, marital rape, and consent. Even Tripathi and his mastery of the OTT space cannot elevate a season that is so impressed with its own moral worldview, it misses the taciturn walls of India’s justice system that Mishra and his ilk occasionally tease us with. 

Anuradha, played by a pensive Kirti Kulhari, is married to high-profile advocate Bikram Chandra (Jisshu Sengupta). The first episode is spent ascertaining Chandra’s duality, between his saintly public image and the one he brings home. Anuradha retaliates to Chandra’s sexual aggression and stabs him in bed. It’s not a spoiler really, because the second season of Criminal Justice doesn’t deal with the who of it as much as it strains to explain the why of it all. After Anuradha lands at the police station, and subsequently confesses to the crime, Mishra is called upon to both carry her case and the show. Often, that is not a task beyond Tripathi but here he belabours in the shoes of a man who has seemingly not learned or grown from his last, pivotal outing (the first season). In one scene, he pulls a random advocate from the corridor of the court to appear “confident” and sophisticated. The scene would have settled well in the first season, but here it feels having been sucked from the selfmocking world of Jolly LLB

The money-minded Mishra slowly comes to terms with the gender-specific complexity of the case, as he contends with his own marriage on the side. It’s an intriguing parallel to draw on but it fails to subsequently convince. On the other side, Anuradha, initially resigned to her fate, gathers the strength to fight, not have herself acquitted but to have the world know the many bridges she has herself had to cross to the point of jumping. She is aided in this process by a handful of inmates in prison, who both hold her hand and unearth for her the plight that she naively assumes is only hers. Some of the best moments of the show can be found here. Though its strength, in many ways this structural similarity to other predecessors like Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad, and of course Peter Moffat’s original are too familiar for impact. The countless relationships that are supposedly impacted by the gruesome domestic realities of Anuradha’s circumstances are worn devices that neither bring novelty nor educated performances. 

There are flickers of what this new season could have been had it tried to not just adapt but extract cultural antecedents that make India, specifically Mumbai, and its performative wokeness, a nightmare setting to get justice in. Strangely, none of the city’s characters are used in what is essentially a format (eight episodes long) that allows you to draw from places, their native eccentricities. Further, the performances are uneven. Kulhari tries but is ultimately ineffective at becoming the emotional core of the show. It compares poorly to Sushmita Sen’s protagonist in Aarya, a revelation in the otherwise stale universe of Hotstar remakes. Adarsh Vidyarthi makes the most of a sprightly cameo while Anupriya Goenka, recurring as Nishat, is admirable. The rest mostly make up the numbers, short-changed by the thinness of the material at hand or its overenthusiasm to roll everything into a turkey of sensitivity and feed it to the oven of audience empathy. In one scene a woman cop tells her partner after witnessing Anuradha’s bail hearing, “Andar jo kuch bhi hua tujhe ajeeb nahi laga, jis tarah se woh apni beti ke liye royi”, with the depth of a safety pin trying to hold a rambling script together. “Magarmach ke aansu hai woh,” the man replies. Motherhood is new in this town. 

Criminal Justice, co-directed by Rohan Sippy and Arjun Mukherjee, and written by the usually dependable Apurva Asrani, meanders somewhere between the original it is trying to recreate, the masterfully suspenseful The Sinner, the gender ergonomics of Thappad and the unabashed quirkiness of Jolly LLB, but lands neither here nor there. Attested in this new season with high-value issues like abuse and marital rape, Criminal Justice banks itself entirely on what it thinks it will teach us rather than how it might also entertain us. The subject chosen is great but the treatment is so predictable, you’d have had to have lived under a rock to find it fresh. Perhaps the greatest sin of this second season however is to even render Tripathi, ineffective in the face of the herculean task of infusing life, humour, and wit into a world so dry it can’t make us care for the characters as much as it wants to care about social injustice.