Kajol in The Trial. (courtesy: disneyplushotstar)
An adeptly executed legal drama that encompasses a range of themes, The Trial - Pyaar, Kaanoon, Dhokha hinges as much on courtroom arguments and testimonies as it does on events that throw people into disarray and trigger moral dilemmas.
Aggressive lawyers go toe-to-toe in no-holds-barred battles. Upheavals erupt in their personal lives and in those of their clients and co-workers. And a woman - a wife, mother and ex-lawyer portrayed by Kajol - comes out of retirement in the wake of a sex scandal involving her husband.
The eight-episode Disney+Hotstar series, adapted from the multi-season CBS show The Good Wife, receives inevitable tweaks with the aim to fit the story into an Indian context. It is delivered in a largely realistic vein. Parts of the show may seem like a bit of a ramble that dangles between the sluggish and the desultory, but The Trial is written and acted sharply enough for the occasional creases not to take its sheen away.
The Trial probes a panoply of points - love and marriage, perfidy and second chances, anguish and healing, power and its abuse, ambition and its repercussions, privilege versus privation, the consequences of shrill media trials, the ethics of the legal profession, and clash between the justifiable and defensible and the expedient and questionable.
Not everything in this world is by the book. One of the key characters in The Trial avers that a lawyer's job is to defend a client, not the truth. The truth is indeed often the biggest casualty as the law firm at the heart of the tale is frequently driven by a commitment to the company's bottomline.
The series, produced by Banijay Asia and Ajay Dvgan Ffilms, revolves around one woman who fights to hold on to her job and keep her family together in the face of a serious crisis. The plot has two other female characters - a hard-nosed, unbending law firm partner and the company's imperturbable investigator. The Trial is at its best when these three women are in the thick of the action.
The female protagonist is Noyonika Sengupta (Kajol), a law school grad who gave up her career a decade ago for the sake of her husband and children. She makes a comeback as a lawyer after her husband Rajiv (Jisshu Sengupta), an additional judge, ends up in jail for abuse of his position.
Noyonika's fate from here on is to a great extent in the hands of Malini Khanna (Sheeba Chaddha), a boss who views the former's return to the profession with a mix of scepticism and suspicion, especially in light of the circumstances that have forced her hand.
Kajol and Sheeba Chaddha get into the groove without any ado and deliver, together and individually, some of the show's most electric moments. The former fleshes out a woman who is at once seething and smarting. The latter gets into the skin of a character who speaks her mind and is no mood to cut Noyonika any slack. The two actors deliver equally powerful portraits although one is in virtually in every major scene of the series and the other isn't.
The trio is completed by Kubbra Sait, cast as Sana Shaikh, the law firm's ever-composed, all-weather investigator who believes work and emotions should not mix, brings a markedly different kind of subdued energy to bear upon her performance.
These three individualistic women often go their own ways and respond to conflicting impulses but frequently interact or work with each other because they serve the same company. Kamini is one of three founding partners, Noyonika a junior lawyer on probation and Sana occupies a lower rung in the law firm's hierarchy but is no less critical to its functioning.
The men in their orbit aren't half as striking. The Trial has been created for India and directed by Suparn S. Varma. The script is credited to three other men - Abbas Dalal, Hussain Dalal and Siddharth Kumar. But the male characters in the plot - a whole bunch of them with varying degrees of importance - are neither as rounded nor as arresting as Noyonika, Kamini and Sana.
Noyonika's husband, jailed for accepting financial and sexual favours as a judge, is at the root of the Sengupta family's troubles. But he never ceases to look beyond his own nose even as Noyonika and her two pre-teen daughters are left to fend for themselves in a world that does not in any way make matters easy for them.
Political strategist Ilyas Khan (Aseem Hattangadi), a close friend of the disgraced judge, intervenes at many junctures to try and ameliorate the misfortunes that Rajiv Sengupta has brought upon his unsuspecting wife. His bank accounts are frozen. Noyonika is forced to move into a smaller apartment and plunge back into work simply to provide for herself and her daughters. Her errant husband is no longer her priority, survival with dignity is.
Her friendship with law college mate Vishal Chaubey (Alyy Khan) - which forms a significant strand of the plot - helps her land a job in Ahuja Khanna Chaubey and Associates. Vishal is a firm ally as politics within the firm peaks, especially owing to the ambitions of another junior lawyer, Dheeraj Paswan (Gaurav Pandey), much younger and fiercely competitive.
There are other men in the mix - high-profile television newscaster Daksh Rathod (Atul Kumar), police inspector Pradeep Shinde (Aamir Ali), who is in a relationship with Sana, and an ageing and arrogant Kishore Ahuja (Kiran Kumar), the seniormost partner of the law firm, aren't instantly endearing, if not outright abhorrent, individuals.
They come off looking inadequate and stereotypical in comparison with the women around them. If that is deliberate, it isn't a bright idea from the point of view of narrative balance. And if it is unintentional, one can only say that a little more thought might have saved these men from being the dull, predictable specimens that they are.
Not that Noyonika, Kamini and Sana are epitomes of perfection. They, too, are capable of bending the rules and resorting to manipulation when push comes to shove, but their transgressions, intended or inadvertent, make them that much more intriguing as people because the script gives them other dimensions too.
The Trial - Pyaar, Kaanoon, Dhokha isn't without a chink or two in its armour, but consistent performances and conceptual clarity make the show more than just passably engaging.
Kajol, Jisshu Sengupta, Kubbra Sait, Sheeba Chaddha, Aamir Ali, Aseem Hattangadi, Gaurav Pandey, Alyy Khan
Suparn S Varma