The year 2020 has been a year of lows for women in India, amidst a global pandemic we saw the media trial of Rhea Chakraborty, the rape and murder of the Dalit teen in Hathras and several other crimes against women that came to light while many slipped under. The National Commission For Women also revealed statistics of increased statistics of domestic violence during the lockdown. Criminal Justice 2 is a bold blend of many of these issues brought together. It is not a gripping suspense thriller. However, it is a neatly documented series that brings forth several issues without making it cumbersome.
Criminal Justice 2 begins with Vikram Chandra (played by Jisshu Sengupta) making a passionate speech in the courtroom against the atrocities faced by his Dalit client. As we follow him around the day, we meet the ‘perfect’ man who is respectful towards his colleagues and is efficient in his field. He is also shown as a doting father and a loving husband. By the end of the first episode of Criminal Justice 2 titled ‘A Perfect Family,’ we see Anuradha, Vikram’s wife (played by Kirti Kulhari) stab her husband, call the emergency and leave her daughter with the dying father. Her nightdress is blood-soaked; the police and the ambulance arrive as Anuradha takes a walk around the city before surrendering herself in the hospital.
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Structured as a courtroom drama, Criminal Justice 2 series is not a whodunit; it is about understanding why Anuradha did what she did, and wondering if the country’s justice system will understand her motives. Madhav Mishra, the newly-wed defence lawyer, played effortlessly by Pankaj Tripathi, is a delight to watch. Not only do we enjoy his banter with his wife Ratna, we see how he goes against the entire legal community to make some money, but he soon realises that the case may not be an ‘open and shut case’ as everyone thinks, and he insists that his client is ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
Madhav Mishra’s character in Criminal Justice 2 has been crafted as a polar opposite of Vikram Chandra, not only is he an outcast in the law fraternity, but he would go to lengths for making some money. He is not what one would call a ‘woke’, liberal feminist among his peers or elsewhere but he knows exactly when to pass the mic to his female counterpart Nikhat (Anupriya Goenka) who has grown up in a dysfunctional family herself. He knows when to admit his flaws before his wife, and most importantly understands that he is not the ‘perfect man’.
Anuradha, who is a patient of clinical depression, takes us inside the prison in Criminal Justice 2. During her judicial custody, where we not only see a pregnant Anuradha unlearning her lavish lifestyle, we also see her coping with the grief of being alienated from her daughter. We see the other inmates raising their voices against the discrimination within the prison in different ways; we also see how the power structures outside the prison still influence the world inside the prison. A suicidal prison inmate shows how mental health is no more an issue that we can put on the back burner; it needs an immediate address and also across different stratus of the society.
The public prosecutor (Ashish Vidyarthi) shows us how media trials are as important in today’s times as the courtroom trial and how public opinion can be made based on pictures, rumours, and fake news. Quoting the Manu Smriti to outline the role of a woman, he tries to establish how women’s roles determine the future of the country and the religion. The character assassination of Anuradha reminds us of Rhea Chakraborty’s media trials. People’s tendency towards disciplining and punishing the deviant woman is sketched without resorting to melodrama.
Other characters in Criminal Justice 2 like the male and female police officers are employed to understand the system’s underlying misogyny and the dire need for women personnel in the police force. Varun’s mother and her friends reflect the attitude of friends and family, who cannot accept the toxic behaviour of their sons even with all their liberal approach.
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The story of the Chandras in Criminal Justice 2 reminds us of the relationship between Sanjeev Mehra and Dolly in Pataal Lok although these couples are from the upper class; the makers have tried to portray the equations in other classes and castes. In Criminal Justice, the power equation between the two police officers, who are colleagues by day and husband and wife at night, the relationship of Ratna and Madhav, and Nikhat and her mother’s experience, come together to offer a wholesome commentary on the gender equation in our society.
The ostracisation that Anuradha faces inside and outside the jail for having failed as a wife shows us how the society still considers a woman’s sole purpose to be a good wife and a child bearer. Anuradha and Dolly’s mental health is used to guilt-trip them, and their friends and relatives consider them as flawed women. Even within the prison, the inmates consider that Anuradha’s crime is of the highest degree because no woman can kill her husband, even when almost all of them have suffered violence in the hands of their husbands.
While Anuradha’s husband resorts to marital rape, Dolly’s husband indulges in an extra-marital affair. Their wives’ mental health gives them a free ticket to victimhood. We can see the difference in attitude that people have towards a woman who commits adultery and a man who does the same. We see how easily the image of a woman with her newly-born child can clear her public image.
Criminal Justice 2 successfully reveals the flaws in our justice system and the need for prison reforms. It also brings to notice the need to address the issue of marital rape and abuse. The increasing domestic violence calls for such a reform. Additionally, it also shows how media trial has become a toxic tool of society. It is one of the many negative aspects of social media and biased journalism. The case of Rhea Chakraborty has been one of the many lows of journalism in India.
As films and series address these issues, we can only be hopeful that changes can be brought. Although Criminal Justice 2 is a slow watch, it shows us light at the tunnel’s end. There is no denying that increasing women personnel in the system is a way to curb violence against women: Nikhat the passionate lawyer, the women police officer who draws a line between her personal and professional life, convinces the audience why we need them in real life too. We can only hope that 2021 will see more inclusive justice and police system and a more responsible media.
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