With quality original content hard to come by, OTT platforms are increasingly investing in adaptations of foreign content to satiate the taste of a section of globalised audience that doesn’t want to read subtitles but refuses to admit it.
After The Night Manager, this week we have The Trial, the Indian version of The Good Wife, the popular and critically acclaimed CBS series that has been adapted across cultures because of the universal appeal of the core theme where a wife stands up for her besmirched husband to save her family.
The Trial (Hindi)
Director: Suparn Varma
Cast: Kajol, Jisshu Sengupta, Alyy Khan, Sheeba Chaddha, Kiran Kumar, Kubbra Sait
Run-time: 40-45 minutes
Storyline: Noyonika, a homemaker with a law degree, returns to the fray after her husband is imprisoned in a sex and corruption scandal
The title suggests what the makers want to achieve. They call it The Trial but then hyphenate it with Pyaar, Kanoon Aur Dhokha. Perhaps, they know that their content is rich but the cost of data is still very cheap. So, the treatment demands addressing both ends of the spectrum, and director Suparn Varma largely succeeds in the experiment. Like any soap opera, he keeps the fire simmering (it is another matter that the sparks hardly burn anything.)
An engaging mix of courtroom drama that emanates from the transgressions committed in the bedroom, The Trial follows Noyonika Sengupta (Kajol), the doting wife of a disgraced judge Rajiv Sengupta (Jisshu Sengupta). A homemaker with a law degree, Noyonika returns to work after her husband is charged with indulging in corrupt practices and moral turpitude.
As the sex tapes of her husband threaten to ravage her family, emotionally and financially, Noyonika takes charge. Helped by an old flame Vikas Chaubey (Alyy Khan), she joins a reputed law firm where the broken-hearted but suave Vikas is one of the three partners. Malini Khanna (Sheeba Chaddha), a hard-nosed legal eagle who strikes a balance between pro bono and highly paid appearances in court and staunchly believes in merit, is another partner. Then there is the old war horse Kishore Ahuja (Kiran Kumar), who is obsessed with public litigation.
Noyonika has to start from scratch and face stiff competition from a young, self-made lawyer Dheeraj Paswan (Gaurav Pandey) who feels Noyonika is a product of nepotism and finds a mentor in Malini.
Spread over eight episodes, director Suparn Varma and his writers, Hussain and Abbas Dalal, and Siddharth Kumar, have drawn from recent headlines from the news pages to create a well-oiled narrative where you could see the reflection of several real-life cases and characters. The court scenes and the tussle in the law firm are not as sharp as Amazon Prime’s Guilty Mindsbut have enough heft to hold interest. The dialogues are sharp and the conversations are crisp. More importantly, the family drama doesn’t get drenched in easy melodrama.
Noyonika is much more than just a ‘good’ wife. She is fiercely protective of her children but she has an independent voice and her struggle to strike a work-life balance mirrors many working women smashing glass ceilings every day without leaving hold of the ground beneath their feet. She refuses to take her repentant husband at face value but still fights for him. Of course, she is focused on her job and two teenage daughters but, along the way, her latent bond with Vishal threatens to turn her personal life into a triangle.
It is this intangible in-betweenness of situations that keeps us away from the remote. Not exactly new, but the way it unspools, the emotional upheaval feels very much today and the gender dynamics in the office and at home don’t appear superficial for a large part. The long form allows different personalities to grow and nudge each other as the series progresses and the detailing helps in stretching the case from six episodes to eight.
It can’t, however, be said about the representation of the social stratification of characters or the forces that want to bring down Rajiv and his family. Set in the world of the well-heeled, the writers capture the ambitions and moral dilemmas of the characters quite well. However, the characterisation of the upwardly mobile seems more well-rounded than the Paswans of the world. Perhaps, the social tapestry that comes with stories is hard to adapt. In fact, the way Rajiv, an additional judge, flaunts his riches, doesn’t fit into the way corrupt officials usually behave in Indian public life.
However, rousing performances backed by heartfelt dialogues, help tide over the gaps. After a long time, Kajol gets a meaty role and one could see her relishing the challenge. The role required a middle-aged woman who hasn’t lost her spunky attitude and Kajol fits the bill completely. The web series could well do for her what Aarya achieved for Sushmita Sen.
In fact, judicious casting is another remarkable feature of the series. The makers have looked beyond the obvious faces that dot the OTT space these days and have brought back some lesser-seen powerhouses. Alyy Khan is a smart choice for Vishal. He brings gravitas to the role of a pragmatic lawyer who is struggling to come to terms with what could have been every time he sees Noyonika. Jisshu is credible in the role of a refined charmer who manipulates situations to his advantage.
Watching Kiran Kumar is refreshing as the aging legal luminary who is losing his mind. Atul Kumar is pitch-perfect as a self-obsessed hotshot television anchor. Sheeba Chaddha gets the measure of the multi-layered Malini. Kubbra Sait and Gaurav try hard to make sense of their thinly-etched characters. It is good to see Beena Banerjee after a long time and she fits the bill as a modern-looking mother-in-law with a regressive outlook.
The Trial is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.