Digital Review: ‘Illegal’

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‘Illegal’ is Voot Select’s latest offering and it starts streaming on the platform on 12th May with Neha Sharma, Akshay Oberoi and Piyush Mishra in the main roles. Directed by Sahir Raza and written by Reshu Nath, this series promises a gripping courtroom drama, intertwined with strained relationships and intentions which borderline the good and bad.

When Niharika (Sharma) is kicked out her of her last law firm when she outs a high profile dignitary for his unwanted sexual advances and rape on her friend, she gets into a state where she’s waiting for her next job offering. She finally gets an interview with the Senior Jaitly (Mishra) whose firm is well-known in the field and she has is hired. When she arrives on her first day in Delhi, she walks in on Junior Jaitly, Akshay (Oberoi), and it emerges that they are old flames. Having a passion for a certain type of case, Niharika is put in charge of Meher Salam’s (Kubbra Sait) who is in jail for murdering five members of her family and is on death row. However, she is also asked to front the case of Neeraj Shikhavat, the son of her estranged father (Deepak Tijori), who as been accused of rape by a hotel employee. Will she be able to give her best to the case and put aside her ill feelings towards her father?

This 10-episode series provides a somewhat refreshing take on a courtroom drama when it’s not getting caught up in its own branches. Nath’s writing and Raza’s direction brings to light many social issues including a hint of the Me Too movement, corruption and the issue of bringing entitled male behaviour to the limelight. The story unravels interestingly, with ties coming to light slowly and kind of effectively, without overshadowing the main narrative so much that it overtakes, in the most part.

Sharma leads the cast with her fiesty, just and sometimes torn performance as Niharika. This is closely followed by Oberoi as Akshay, managing a decent performance as the lawyer who is quite clearly still in love with Niharika but who also needs to remain loyal to his family, specifically his mother who is played by Kitu Gidwani. Mishra is also good as Akshay’s father and the leader of the corrupt firm, always managing to find a way of getting cases to fall in his favour. The rest of the ensemble cast, including Deepak Tijori, are worthy of their performances, including the actor who plays Neeraj. Kubbra Sait also deserves a mention as Meher.

What seems to, unfortunately, let this series down is the fact that there is too much going on and there are many questionable things that happen and the characters say and do which simply didn’t need to be a part of the original plotline. The climax of the Meher Salam case is somewhat exaggerated and dilutes the overall message of the show, but it does form a decent premise for a possible second series. However, the main part of the confusion is the with the rape case of Neeraj, which seems to be less and less believable and decreasingly gripping as the episodes go on. The slight tangent of the love story between Niharika and Akshay is dealt with well but it becomes (potentially) murky when the latter has a wife who knows of his love for his old flame but nothing else really transpires as such to keep the audience engaged with that strand. The other part of the narrative which perhaps isn’t as clear as it should’ve been is why Akshay’s mother has it in her head that her brother was killed by her husband. This backstory does get told in the latter half of the 10 episodes but seems too little, too late.

This web-series has such potential as courtroom dramas are usually well received by the audiences, when executed well. Sadly, in this particular case, the courtroom scenes are decent but it’s the overall intertwining stories which are a huge let-down. The performances are the only thing which lift the series to the level it ends up being at and, regrettably, they are not enough to help it sail through successfully. If there is a second season commissioned, hopefully makers and writers will take into account where some of the overlapping isn’t needed as it just over-complicates an otherwise interesting set of subjects which could have had some real impact.

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