Based on the eponymous BBC series, created by Peter Moffat and subsequently its American remake ‘The Night Of’, aired on HBO, the 10 episode Hotstar Special ‘Criminal Justice’ manages to pique your attention, despite having a tailor-made premise which could’ve been brilliant. It falls short of expectations, after showing glimpses of its ingenuity. Several problems mar the narrative, the writing being a major one. But individual performances make the show watchable, with actors like Vikrant Massey and Pankaj Tripathi becoming the steerers of this sinking ship. 

The story begins with the alleged rape and murder of a rich heiress, last seen with an app cab driver. Circumstantial evidence point fingers towards the driver who pleads innocence. In ten episodes, which spans across twenty-two months, the story revolves around the case and the driver’s life inside the prison. Conceptualised from its American counterpart, ‘Criminal Justice’ has been heavily Indianised for the Desi viewer. By doing this, the show adopts a 70s revenge drama view for its content. The initial few episodes highlight this aspect. This is pivotal because the first three episodes do test your patience. The actors ham, the murder occurs in the first episode itself leaving nothing to the imagination, high pitched background score, which frankly is pure noise, eventually starts to lose steam. It’s the fourth episode when the series becomes gripping. If you can withstand the ordinary with patience, the good stuff follows later on.

Vikrant Massey, the current heartthrob of parallel cinema gets a meaty role. He plays Aditya, an MBA student and part-time cab driver who gets into trouble, after what seems a harmless app cab pickup. He gets immersed in his role and gives a riveting performance. The fifth episode has his monologue as he puts his side of the story to the court. This one scene lets you know, how gifted this actor is. His character goes in a sea of changes, as he evolves into a hardened man, from a fun loving regular person. The other anchor of this ship is the versatile Pankaj Tripathi, one of the best actors of this country, today. Presented in a caricature of a bumbling lawyer, who suffers from a severe Eczema, he is just fabulous! Beneath the fool that he seems, the character presents multiple layers of a personality that knows how the legal system works in this country. Anupriya Goenka plays Aditya’s lawyer and Pankaj Saraswat plays the honest police officer who believes Aditya is the killer. Both are decent in their respective roles. 

Jackie Shroff plays Mustafa, Aditya’s guardian angel inside the prison and comes as a fresh breath of air. His character has the right amount of cockiness and a ‘bindaas bhidu’ attitude that he has imbibed in his real-life persona. Dibyendu Bhattacharya plays Layak, a prison inmate and Aditya’s nemesis. His character, an ode to Nawazuddin’s role in Sriram Raghavan’s ‘Badlapur’ is a heinous man, who sets his eye on Aditya from day one. Mita Vashisht, who vanishes after episode five, is decent. So are rest of the cast, who frankly are there but don’t do much. Rucha Inamdar as Aditya’s sister has a separate storyline, where she’s struggling in her marital life. It looks like, the directors (Tigmanshu Dhulia for the first two episodes and Vishal Furia for rest) and the writer Shridhar Raghavan wanted to push in materials which just doesn’t fit into the ten episodes. So in the final product, everything looks rushed in. 

To be honest, ‘Criminal Justice’ is a pale shadow of its original content. It neither has the grip of ‘Mindhunter’ nor has the complicated yet excellent character development of ‘Broadchurch’. For the Indian viewer, it will be just another show about crime, a well-off cousin of the pathetic Crime Patrol show that airs on Sony Network. Watch the show only for its lead cast and their individual performances.

‘Criminal Justice’ now streaming on Hotstar Specials.

The Cinemawala Rating: 2.5/5

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