- BOTTOM LINE: A Multi-Layered Dystopian Series
|Platform: Netflix||Genre: Drama|
What Is the Story About?
India is in its 2040s as a 20s something Shalini is married to Rizwan Chowdhury; the two live their life at peace with a young daughter Leila. Just when everything’s possibly going in the right direction, their world is torn apart as a group of Communalists wreck their abode. While Rizwan is no more, Leila goes missing and Shalini is hijacked into a religious group Aryavarta where her life changes for the worse overnight. There seems to be no hope at the end of the tunnel. Two years have passed in that hell-hole but a caged Shalini is still determined to win her daughter back into her life. Will her rebel counterpart Bhanu help?
Though Leila isn’t among the most consistent narratives you could find on a digital platform, it’s benefited by strong performances that keep a viewer intrigued. Huma Qureshi in her digital medium entry does a commendable job as Shalini. Her restrained performance as a doting mother (a part that demands her to keep her emotions under check) strikes an emotional chord effortlessly. Her silence reveals more about the character that goes through a tornado of mixed emotions and hopelessness through various stages in her life. No prizes for guessing that it’s the best performance in her career.
Siddharth, despite poor story selection through his career graph, has always been a consistent performer and here too, he doesn’t disappoint. In a role of several grey shades, the actor stands tall in a controlled performance minus any exaggeration. His on-screen ease is a delight to watch and he submits himself into an interesting role rather seamlessly. He completely justifies the two-sided characterization of Bhanu and shares a warm camaraderie with Huma Qureshi.
Based on the book written by Praayag Akbar, Leila offers great opportunity to provide adequate social commentary on the current Indian society, although it’s set amid a dystopian backdrop. From the communalistic phase that the country is undergoing to gently tackling issues like over-population, water-crisis and religious extremism, the multi-layered story translates into a reasonably gripping watch with the modern-day parallels. The directors Shanker Raman, Deepa Mehta, Pawan Kumar make for an impressive trio to helm this multi-layered material. However, their indulgence in building this backdrop at the cost of taking a leisurely approach to tell their story affects the overall appeal of Leila in season one.
The detailing is still the backbone of Leila. The directors and the technical team leave no stone upturned in crafting this setup of the religious group Aryavarta and the futuristic backdrop brick by brick with utmost delicacy and care. Most characters are well-rounded and etched, but for Siddharth’s that could have been established with more clarity. An air of mystery and darkness is built within the first three episodes efficiently. The directors dissect into terms like love-jihad and have a strong perspective against religious communal-ism and the caste system. The fearless tone of the series catches you by surprise and is the need of the hour for digital content creators too.
Things, however, take a downward spiral post that. Leila has a firm directorial voice but the screenplay suffers. The writers don’t just know where to stop or control their creative energies. The narrative proceeds as if it’s conveying something untold or unheard of, but everything about this world begins to feel predictable. The mysterious aura is stretched beyond necessity and veers towards boredom. The classiness of the execution creates an element of intrigue through the frames, but only partially.
Leila has several other aspects that work for it, including the performance and the technicalities. However, it’s best described as a middling ride that has its moments. As a book, Leila may have made for a terrific read. Here the ride isn’t as smooth. Let’s hope season two overcomes this bumpiness.
From Seema Biswas to Sanjay Suri to Rahul Khanna and Akash Khurana, the series is replete with a dream supporting cast who are any director’s delight. Though Rahul Khanna doesn’t get much screen-space to prove his worth, he plays his part as Rizwan, the on-screen husband to Huma, with enough sincerity. Seema Biswas, as a lowly laborer who in her own little ways helps a mother find her daughter, provides just the right
rusticity to her role and is full of life as long as she lasts.
Akash Khurana is another shining light of Leila. As Aryavarta’s chief leader, he ensures the right authoritarianism and wickedness in his histrionics and shares some wonderful moments with Huma Qureshi in their combination sequences. One sees more posters of Sanjay Suri than the actor himself in the series; looks like the makers have reserved his best for season two. Another popular supporting actor Arif Zakaria, meanwhile, is somehow too wooden and one-dimensional with his portrayal this time around.
Music and Other Departments?
Composer Alokananda Dasgupta, after his superb work with Sacred Games, continues his winning momentum with Leila as well. The space that he deals within Leila is as politically charged as Sacred Games and he builds a music score that grows on you bit by bit, just the like the series itself. Creating a futuristic visual backdrop is far from easy and cinematographer Johan Heurlin Aidt clearly understands the detailing that goes into the construction of a dystopian world, capturing the dark tones of the theme and his surroundings with several underplayed metaphors. Writer Asad Hussain provides enough wit to his lines that are an able mix of abstraction, poetry and uncanny straightforwardness.
The editing is where things could have certainly worked better, the atmosphere of the 2040s India gets repetitive and indulgent beyond a
point and the proceedings lack the vigor it’s expected to possess.
Did I Enjoy It?
Will You Recommend It?
Leila Review by Srivathsan N
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