‘Criminal Justice’ Is Sluggish But Saved by Good Performances

A review of the web series ‘Criminal Justice’ that is now streaming.

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Criminal Justice

‘Criminal Justice’ Depends on Performances to Drive Its Slow Pace

Writer Peter Moffat’s series Criminal Justice premiered on BBC in 2008. The first season consisted of five one-hour long episodes. The show was remade in America as the eight-part Night of in 2016. Now Hotstar is streaming a 10-part Indianised version of the same story.

Adapted by Shridhar Raghavan, the crime thriller has been helmed by Tigmanshu Dhulia and Vishal Furia. Much like Moffat’s original, the story follows a man who is accused of murdering a young woman.

A review of the web series ‘Criminal Justice’ that is now streaming.
Vikrant Massey as Aditya Sharma in Criminal Justice.

Vikrant Massey leads the cast as Aditya Sharma, a college student who helps out the family by occasionally driving a cab. But when a complicated young woman gets into his cab one night, it triggers a chain of events that result in Aditya making a series of bad and impulsive decisions.

If you have seen either of the two earlier (English) versions, then the story arc is easy to follow.

Fortunately, the performances lift up a sluggish narrative that feels stretched beyond requirement. If the “binge-ability” of a show is the measure of its entertainment value, then Criminal Justice is not quite that.

Repetition of information through dialogue, stretched out scenes, sundry plot lines fill up redundant spaces.

The Indian Criminal Justice hits its stride by the mid-point when the rape and murder case is being fought in court. The series is most interesting when the drama moves away from the melodrama of Aditya’s family into the court and the jail.

Once remanded to judicial custody, the snivelling and sweaty Aditya encounters a variety of characters and is forced to learn the rules for survival. In jail, he finds both a nemesis and a mentor. Jackie Shroff is in top form as Mustafa, the veteran inmate who takes Aditya under his wing. If there were potential for a spin-off show here, it would be that of Mustafa.

A review of the web series ‘Criminal Justice’ that is now streaming.
Jackie Shroff as Mustafa in Criminal Justice.
While the prison set up has some expected dynamics and scenarios, the production values and performances provide ample authenticity and interest. The intricate sound design also merits mention.

Even as Aditya is navigating the twisted world on the inside, his family is facing societal pressures on the outside. The high-powered lawyer team, fronted by the no-nonsense Mandira Mathur (Mita Vashisht) assisted by Nikhat (Anupriya Goenka) is trying to build a case in Aditya’s defence. But the police, under the leadership of officer Raghu Salian (Pankaj Saraswat), will bend rules to close a quick win in what they believe is an open and shut case.

Supporting cast members Saraswat, Rucha Inamdar and Gaurav Dwivedi (as Aditya’s sister and brother-in-law respectively) and Madhurima Roy as the murdered girl are the most convincing.

A review of the web series ‘Criminal Justice’ that is now streaming.
Pankaj Tripathi as Madhav Mishra in Criminal Justice.

Flirting with the case, and skirting on the periphery, is a small-time opportunistic lawyer called Madhav Mishra. Played with his trademark edge of humour and mischief, Pankaj Tripathi infuses the show with a dose of lightness even as his character – described as more of a scamster than a lawyer – experiences the most interesting transformation.

After Mirzapur, Massey continues to impress and is strongly establishing himself as a talent to watch out for. You feel for this man whose innocence appears to mean nothing in a world of files and pliable facts and who receives his greatest education behind bars.

Those who have seen either the British or American versions might not find that much new in this Hotstar special. Those who haven’t need to prepare for a patient watch.

(Udita Jhunjhunwala is a features writer, author and movie critic whose contributions on cinema and lifestyle appear in leading Indian and international publications and websites. She is also a 'Tomatometer-approved' film critic.)

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