Criminal Justice is one of the successful legal drama franchises that we have seen on Indian streaming space in the recent past. While the first season of the show was all about acquitting a wrongly accused convict, the second season, with the tagline ‘Behind Closed Doors’, took a women-centric stance. In Season 2, the makers delved into the legalities of marriage, highlighting issues of domestic abuse and marital rape.
Following the success of Season 1, Applause Entertainment, in association with BBC Studios, released the next chapter with a new story and fresh characters with the return of Pankaj Tripathi as the much loved lawyer Madhav Mishra. Kirti Kulhari plays a troubled woman whose takes an extreme step to prevent abuse at the hands of her husband, Jisshu Sengupta.
Talking about giving season 2 a more gendered spin, writer Apurva Asrani says, “Season two of the original UK series was made in 2008-09. Now, 12 years later, the position of women in our society has changed considerably. Post #MeToo, the whole dialogue is different. So, we found the need to add more characters to it.”
Pankaj Tripathi agrees that gender issues are still scarcely represented on screen in India. “When I heard the script, I thought that this was an important story and needed to be told. This is an issue we do not talk about much. Whether there is a solution to an issue or not, it needs to be discussed. There have been films/shows on the topic, but not enough. People generally do not want to talk about these issues. Even the woman who is suffering abuse hesitates to raise her voice,” he says.
Apurva agrees, “The issues are being discussed on a surface level. Films about women having agency are few and far between. The film Damini came out a long time ago. In recent times, Thappad is a good example. Even if you see the web series space, they are more testosterone driven and masculine. Where are the women on OTT?”
Kirti has been part of two successful women-centric titles, the film Pink and the web series Four More Shots Please. She says that being a part of such content on screen gives a better perspective into the issues of women. “I never thought of consent in the way Pink made me think about it. In the film, Mr Bachchan also said that even within a marriage, consent is required. One of the big reasons I wanted to be part of Criminal Justice season 2 was because I wasn’t playing the empowered woman here. She is very weak, and it was a dark space to go into. But the subject is so important, and so under-explored, I had to do it.”
The OTT space has been hailed as progressive and liberating. There is still no censorship, writers can explore any subject they want and have a rather intelligent audience at their disposal. Does that make streaming services more open to sensitive topics such as these?
Sameer Nair, CEO of Applause Entertainment, responds, “I think the platforms are quite receptive. The whole thing for the streaming business is to be able to tell different kinds of stories. You're reaching an audience that is no longer a mass audience, it's a mass of niches. You have individual groups of people who want to see all kinds of stories. Different platforms do have ideas like, ‘this is so us’ and ‘this is not us’ kind of thing, but by and large everyone has got the same agenda. You're talking about currently 4 or 5 million subscribers. Everyone is looking for the next 100 million and the next 500 million. India is the next big market. These are exciting times.”
Pankaj Tripathi has been part of successful web series like Sacred Games and Mirzapur. He insists that it is important for an actor to be part of a story that conveys a message, but it is best conveyed on a lighter note. “There cannot be a story without a message or thought. So storytelling always has a purpose. Some masala entertainers do not have that, their purpose is only to entertain. For me, both are important. The subject in Criminal Justice is quite serious, but I lighten the mood because it is also important to say make your point with a touch of humour,” he adds.
Kirti insists that she is glad to be part of the industry at a time when more women’s issues are being explored. “It's been an upward trend for a few years now. I just happen to be at the right time in this industry. For me, messaging is very important. The treatment could be different, but at the end of it, what are you talking about? I take my profession very seriously, so it has to be worth my time. The OTT platforms are bringing in that shift in the industry. I'm very, very happy about being a part of this huge transformation that the industry is going through,” she concludes.