Thrilling and gripping, Leila reveals the bitter truth of today’s India

Published: July 11, 2019
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One could not help but notice similarities between today’s India and the India shown in the series. PHOTO: IMDB

Leila, based on its namesake novel by Prayaag Akbar, is the first Indian dystopian series that made its debut on Netflix recently. Set in the year 2047, it depicts a society where different communities live in segregation based on their religious beliefs and caste differences. It follows the story of a mother (played by Huma Qureshi) who, after the murder of her husband, sets out on a daunting journey of finding her lost daughter.

The series portrays India as a nation ruled by the ultra-nationalist regime of Aryavarrta, under the leadership of Joshi Ji. Although this Netflix show envisions a fictitious society, one could not help but notice similarities between today’s India and the India screened in the series.

The writer trio (Urmi Juvekar, Suhani Kanwar, Patrick Graham) does a commendable job in adapting the novel of Prayaag Akbar’s. Leila, from the start, is a fast-paced and thrilling experience that keeps the viewers on their toes. The script is spot-on and fits perfectly with the tone of the series.

However, the character development needs some work. The background story of the male lead Bhanu (Sidharth Suryanarayan) is not shown to us. One can’t help but wonder why he chose the path that he chose and what drove him to wear the mask of a rebel in the first place. Moreover, Leila, by no means, portrays a surreal society. Instead, the totalitarian order presented in the series seems like a reflection of today’s India. Be it the mob mentality of the Hindu nationalists or fading secular values, the reality doesn’t seem too far from the on-screen plot. However, the writers deserve a special applause for the remarkable ability and courage to highlight the reality.

Academy award-nominated director, Deepa Mehta, along with Pawan Kumar and Shankar Rawan, have not done complete justice to the series. Even though Mehta has more than once stunned the world by her brilliant direction, she falters here. The inconsistencies in her portrayal are very difficult to overlook.

On the one hand, the series show that technological advancements have enabled men to erect huge pyramids from a mere push of a button or find all the necessary information about a person by a simple tattoo scan. On the other hand, however, people are still seen driving outdated vehicles and the law enforcement units are still equipped with ammunition from the late 90s. This dual tonic society does not sit well with the viewers who appear rather confused by it. To add to it, the constant flashback scenes slow down the pace of the series which further aggravates the viewers’ discomfort.

However, not every aspect of the direction is bleak. The directors have outdone themselves with flawless development of the series. The story does not seem rushed. The evolution of a young woman into a brave, courageous and determined character deserves special mention. Coupled with it, the directors depicted the jingoism and ultra-nationalism in the series in such a way that it does not seem like a far-fetched idea when seen in today’s age.

Qureshi, as a grieving mother searching for her daughter, has delivered the performance of a lifetime. She shines in every frame. Although she established herself as an accomplished actor in films such as Gangs of Wassaypur and Badlapur, she has exceeded our expectations this time. Her transformation from a wealthy, happy and loved wife to that of a distressed convict is immaculate.

Suryanarayan, as a rebel in disguise of a law enforcer, does a tremendous job as well. His poker face and body language adds to the tone of his character perfectly. All in all, he works as an anchorage, strengthening every scene he is a part of. The supporting cast, be it Rahul Khanna or Seema Biswas, add to the essence of the series and do justice to their roles.

Leila is a vividly-constructed series that grips the viewers from the start till the end. The series compels one to wonder if it really is fictitious or if it’s based on reality. The screenplay and the acting are admirable. What Leila lacks, however, is coherent direction which somewhat forms a bump in the path of an otherwise smooth ride.

Watch Leila if you have the guts to digest the bitter truth of what India has turned into now. It is sure to leave you glued to the screen for the entirety of the series.

(All photos: IMDb)

Talha Asad

Talha Asad

The author works as a civil engineer in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He is a film buff and a habitual writer with an interest in American history. He tweets @TAKhanSwati (twitter.com/TAKhanSwati).

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