Cast: Shriya Pilgaonkar, Varun Mitra, Namrata Sheth, Sugandha Garg, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Satish Kaushik, Benjamin Gilani, Virendra Saxena, Diksha Juneja, Pranay Pachauri, Deepak Kalra, Chitrangada Satarupa
Director: Shefali Bhushan and Jayant Digambar Somalkar
Rating: 3 and a half stars (out of 5)
Interlocking plots and subplots involving lawyers and their clients run all through Guilty Minds, a ten-part web series that dramatizes as many court cases and straddles a fascinatingly wide range of contemporary themes. Each trial that the series showcases probes questions of both morality and legality with a keen and mellow sense of drama.
A Mumbai movie actress accuseds a celebrated filmmaker of rape. Video game addiction leads a 19-year-old Delhi college boy to commit a heinous act. In a water-scarce village in Maharashtra, locals battle a cola bottling plant.
From the weighty to the knotty, Guilty Minds moves further afield in search of reality-inspired stories. Three young men take a dating app to court for making false promises. The founder of a fertility clinic, a rebel with a cause, fights dismissal from her own company on the grounds of “misconduct and behavioral issues”.
Another IVF clinic conducts illegal sex determination tests under the cover of genetic testing. In Mumbai, a veteran music composer (played by Shakti Kapoor) sues an app developer for stealing their music via algorithms. A court hears the case of a driverless car that causes a fatal accident on a Delhi-Gurgaon.
On an even more serious, almost political, note, Guilty Minds Incorporates a case of an employee of a private security agency who knows too much about his company’s malpractices in the Chambal region. Although this segment of the series is purely fictional and plot details make no reference to government outfits, its resonances are eerily real and evoke the spectre of state-sponsored atrocities and fake encounters in conflict zones.
The subjects may, on the face of it, sound dry and dry, but the legal drama series created and directed by Shefali Bhushan is anything but. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Guilty Minds hinges principally on two families, one of three generations of successful lawyers, the other of a reputed and upright judge, around whom orbit an array of breakers and defenders of the law.
Each episode of the show is devoted to a single trial that is concluded within a runtime of roughly 50 minutes while the equally crucial stories outside the courtroom pan out alongside and address another set of issues centered on shifting choices, questionable certitudes and convoluted loyalties.
On one side is a young idealistic lawyer Kashaf Quaze (Shriya Pilgaonkar) who, with her associate Vandana Kathpalia (Sugandha Garg), instinctively gravitates towards cases that give full rein to the activist in her. On the other is an ambitious and go-getting advocate, Deepak Rana (Varun Mitra), who is prone to being fast and loose with his moves.
Deepak is a partner in a law firm run by LN Khanna (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), his two sons and a grandson Shubhrat (Pranay Pachauri). Deepak is the only outsider in Khanna Khanna and Associates but thanks to the faith that the patriarch has in him, he is every inch an integral part of the legal enterprise and enjoys tremendous clout.
The Indian legal system isn’t known for speedy delivery of judgments, so the courtroom proceedings in Guilty Minds could be deemed guilty of being a bit rushed – each case, as mentioned earlier, is condensed into a single episode and disposed of quickly to make way for the next. However, the structure of the show is solid and the drama of people grappling with moral questions of both personal and social import is consistently engaging.
Guilty Mindswritten by Shefali Bhushan, Jayant Digambar Samalkar (who is also the show’s co-director), Manav Bhushan and Deeksha Gujral, benefits from meticulous research and in-depth knowledge of legalese and an unfailing eye for verisimilitude even when, for the purpose of fictional buttressing, the whipping up of some drama is of the essence.
Bhushan and her team strike a balance between entertainment and information, and between the examination of ethics and the delivery of excitement, without letting the effort show. Each of the pivotal characters, besides the legal challenges they face, has demons to deal with.
Kashaf’s dad is Justice Munawwar Quaze (Benjamin Gilani), whose well-earned reputation is subjected to a smear campaign ostensibly orchestrated by quarters that want him down and out for the count. It isn’t until the very end of the arc that one is sure of the identity of the conspirators. There is nobody in Guilty Minds who is above board, a fact that enhances the level of intrigue that acccompanies the unveiling of hidden realities and motivations.
Kashaf Quaze has frequent face-offs in the courtroom and outside it with her former college mate and professional rival Deepak Rana, a man who has no qualms about bending the rules if it serves his purpose. But there is more to their rivalry than meets the eye.
The two lawyers share a love-hate relationship that is aggravated when 25-year-old Shubhangi Khanna (Namrata Sheth), Shubhrat’s younger sister, returns with a law degree from Harvard University to take her rightful place in the family firm.
Apart from the no-strings attached and constantly evolving equations between Deepak and the two women – it is with remarkable maturity that Guilty Minds treats these and other relationships that are played off against each other as the story unfolds – Guilty Minds is dominated by a murder committed a decade and a half ago in Deepak’s idyllic Himachal Pradesh village.
The long-delayed homicide case involves Justice Quaze, the Khannas and a politically connected liquor baron Tejinder Bhalla (Satish Kaushik). All of them have something to hide. Deepak and Kashaf, too, have something at stake in the mothballed trial given their personal connections with the key players.
The series flits from case to case, with each legal battle contributing its own tone and tenor to the writing, even as the overarching internecine conflicts that the Khannas and the Quazes are exercised over drives the show forward at an even, exhilarating pace. The question of consent in a sexual relationship, the gravity of a virtual reality-induced murder or the life-and-death nature of a drought-hit village’s fight against a cola giant get the solemn treatment that they deserve.
In the staging of the dating app and music copyright legal battles, on the other hand, Guilty Minds allows flashes of sly humour to enter the arguments and counter-arguments.
Kashaf has a past that haunts her, Vandana a present that poses a bunch of questions and Deepak has to reckon with an incident lost in the fog in time. Relationships, some gone sour, some worth fighting for, are the key factors in determining where these lawyers will end up.
Guilty Minds is a multifaceted series packed with lingering paradoxes, startling revelations and conflicting acts of defense and offence and bolstered by a bunch of steady performances that allow all the opacities to flourish.
This show isn’t about one actor or another. It thrives on an ensemble cast that includes many actors who make only single-episode or sporadic appearances and yet make an impact. If one actor deserves a mention above everyone else, it is Shriya Pilgaonkar. She is mesmerising as the honest-to-a-fault advocate.
Not that Varun Mitra, Sugandha Garg and Namrata Sheth are far behind, but it is Pilgaonkar who does the most to convey the nature of the clash of scruples and exigencies that is at the heart of this tale of many legal and emotional jousts. With Season 1 delivering handsome dividends, Guilty Minds is clearly primed for follow-ups worth waiting for.