LEILA REVIEW: A captivating drama with terrific performances

LEILA REVIEW: A captivating drama with terrific performances

Production House: Open Air Films, Tulsea Cast: Huma Qureshi, Siddharth, Seema Biswas, Rahul Khanna Dialogues: Asad Hussain Music: Aloknanda Dasgupta Cinematography: Johan Heurlin Aidt Editing: Shan Mohd. Producers: Priya Sreedharan, Wasim Khan, Zulfaquar Haider Story: Prayaag Akbar (novel) Direction: Deepa Mehta, Shanker Raman, Pawan Kumar Premier date: June 14, 2019 Story: Shalini and Rizwan Chowdhury live together with their daughter Leila in a highly communalised country set in the 2040s. It's a timeframe where caste, religion, and income have created more divisions among people than ever before. The water crisis is on an all-time high, there are climate change concerns and the future of the populace looks bleak. It's in this dangerous backdrop that Shalini loses her husband to an attack on their home by a fringe group while her daughter also goes missing. Meanwhile, Shalini is kidnapped and finds herself trapped in a religious community Aryavarta where she's made to undergo a quarantine/religious purification of sorts and there isn't much hope for a better tomorrow. She's on a mission to find her daughter, come what may. Will she succeed? Artistes’ Performances: Huma Qureshi couldn't have found a better role than Shalini to make her presence felt in her debut streaming space outing. She sinks her teeth into the role of a vulnerable mother who could go to any extent to find her daughter and Huma's measured, delicate portrayal ensures the deserved empathy for the character. She never puts a foot wrong. It's a role that required her to express through silence over dialogue and the directorial trio is extremely efficient in tapping this dimension of the actress. Her co-star Siddharth isn't far behind either. Not much needs to be said about the acting credentials of the performer. In his return to the entertainment industry after a brief sabbatical, Siddharth oozes the same charm on the screen but we get to see a matured side to the actor more here. Probably for the first time in his career, he essays a role with several grey shades and his understated performance is an asset to the series. The supporting cast complements the lead performers well, particularly Seema Biswas in the role of a low-income labourer who's a friend of Shalini. Rahul Khanna, Akash Khurana, and others only make brief appearances and shine within their scope. Sanjay Suri's presence is limited to posters this time around, the makers have preserved his repertoire for season two. Technical Merit - Direction: The presence of three directors for a six-episode series isn't always good news for its consistency. However, the seamlessness of the episodes directed by the trio of Deepa Mehta, Shanker Raman, and Pawan Kumar proves that needn't be the case every time. It's genuinely difficult to distinguish who helms which episode without the information from the rolling credits. All of them have their own delicate touches that add value to this multi-layered material. Leila is a story that needs sensitive and sensible treatment; one wrong step and the tone could have gone bonkers. Here are directors who bank heavily on the intricate detailing to deliver the goods. The series is a much needed political commentary on the edgy times we live in and significantly discusses the perils of religious extremism. The directors don't merely treat this as a material of fiction but also provide modern-day parallels to a religiously intolerant country. Of course, the series isn't without its cinematic liberties and a sense of urgency in the need of the hour too. The finesse works for the most part but occasionally turns into indulgence in the latter portions. Dialogues: Asad Hussain's dialogue writing is sharp at most places with an able mix of English and Hindi lines thrown in. From the tone of religious extremists to the dialogues of the commoners, politicians, and goons, the writer proves that there's worth and variety in his armoury. Cinematography: Cinematographer Johan Heurlin Aidt, who'd recently worked on Delhi Crime, proves to be a master in ensuring that the gloomy and tense mood of the series is translated into the colour patterns on his frames. Given that the narrative is always on the move and on the edge, there's a certain mystery in the way he unveils the word of the series, the religious group Aryavarta and the man makes wonderful use of the close-up shots to capture the intensity in the eyes of the lead cast. Music: Aloknanda Dasgupta has already shown glimpses of his potential in Sacred Games and only further consolidates on his victorious run with Leila. There's enough bite in his score that conveys the gloomy atmosphere of the series. We couldn't have asked for anything better. Editing: Leila is a weighty script that often has so much to say and convey but not everything translates onto the screen so organically. This is where things could have been tighter. Probably, this is an attempt from the writers to stay true to the original novel and not being sure of what to borrow and what to omit. The editor should have ideally realised this gap. However, there are no issues with the flow or the coherence of the sequences, just that some redundancy could have been toned down. Production standards: The scale of the series is as good as a feature film or ranks even better. Mostly shot in the outdoors, the visuals are raw, rustic and at the same time grand in the need of the hour. The VFX work fittingly feels believable on the screen. The props, various visual elements that complete the frames enhance the viewing experience on the whole. The solid content is backed by adequate technical proficiency here. Highlights: Strong performances Superb technical proficiency Hard-hitting content Drawback: The repetitive quality of the last few episodes Detailing bordering on indulgence at times Analysis: The timing of Leila as a series couldn't have been any better when the nation is seriously looming under the threat of a religious divide. Leila's fictional dystopian setting mirrors the worst concerns of an average citizen in the country and the storytellers deserve credit to have put forward their perspectives without any dilution here. Leila calls spade a spade and doesn't turn preachy at any point in time. The series takes time to grow on its audiences. While the first three episodes are more captivating than the latter ones, Leila is hugely benefited by the strong performances. Subtle, measured and still hard-hitting, the series offers a good bang for our bucks. Icing on the cake: A hard-hitting take on the perils of religious extremism Rating: 3.25/5


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