‘Leila’ review: A brave dystopian drama, let down by a lousy screenplay
7 Good Leila is a brave attempt, but we wish it invested a bit more on creating the setting, and aimed more at taut writing.
Created by Urmi Juvekar, Leila – based on Prayaag Akbar’s novel of the same name – has been directed by Deepa Mehta, Shanker Raman and Pavan Kumar. It is set in 2047, in India, what is now known as “Aryavarta” (almost modelled on the concept of Hindu Rashtra) whose leader is Dr Joshi (Sanjay Suri). It is a totalitarian regime controlled by fascists, where people are segregated according to their caste or religion, and any kind of intermingling: be it inter-caste or inter-religion marriage is prohibited. And the children of such marriage are taken away from their homes, and the women sent to ‘purification centres’.
The children are taught that their country is their mother, the women are given sedatives. Reminds one of classic dystopian texts like Brave New World. There’s a suicide, two murders, a forced abortion, a mother who is separated from her baby, a woman being punished for rebelling by being married off to a dog, and another being made to roll over half-eaten plates of food. This part might remind you of The Handmaid’s Tale due to the muted tones and the maroon-saree clad women, but this is where the similarity ends.
The setting is not too different from current day India, with the current problems that plague us. The first two episodes might be gripping but slowly it doesn’t know what to focus on, there are far too many issues: surveillance, hyper-segregation, social hierarchies, authoritarianism, pollution, a water supply crisis – without exploring any of the them in depth.
The protagonist is an elite Hindu girl Shalini (Huma Qureshi), who is married to a Muslim man Riz (Rahul Khanna). Qureshi is mostly expressionless, we do not understand whether it is to project her steely resolve to find her daughter Leila, or she has just transformed into a shadow of her former self because of what happened to her and her family. It is difficult to empathize with Shalini beyond a point, because most of what she is doing is all coincidental, she just lands up in favourable situations mostly. There’s another important character called Bhanu (Siddharth), who seems to be in charge of some women sent as slaves to the ‘Shram Kendra’ (labour camp) where they are sent if they are to be punished. But we are never told the exact capacity in which he works. His character seems quite sketchy. Arif Zakaria as Guru Ma is convincing, and his stony eyes reflecting his ruthlessness makes you feel uncomfortable. Seema Biswas shines in her limited role of a labour camp inmate.
The build up to the ending seemed unconvincing again, there are drones firing at rebel camps but they don’t drop bombs or try to annihilate the rebels completely. The show also lightly toys with the idea of a genocide, but none of it is fleshed out properly. The build up in the end makes one expect that there might be a disastrous ending, but again the ending too falls flat.
Leila is a brave attempt, but we wish it invested a bit more on creating the setting, and aimed more at taut writing.
The author Sneha Pan
I drink tea and I know things.