A desi take on The Good Wife, The Trial simmers on the lukewarm water of average performances. It neither justifies its inspiration nor conveys the excitement that a legal drama demands. It is a disappointing mix of yesterday’s stereotypes and tired dialogue delivery.
Released on 14th July 2023, The Trial is a story of a homemaker crossing the boundaries of her home to sustain and assert her identity. A senior judge is caught in a bribing scandal and is arrested, while his wife is forced to work and fend for the family. She decides to work in a law firm led by her past boyfriend and the tense dynamics play out. The series is a lazy adaptation of The Good Wife and is best watched to enjoy the acting brilliance of Sheeba Chaddha.
The Trial: pyaar, kanoon and dhokha
The first five minutes of the series introduce some lost pyaar, a hint of kanoon, and a lot of dhokha. The beginning depicts a scandal, an arrest, a posh bungalow, a Bollywood mother, and a slap. Mrs. Noyonika Sengupta played by Kajol expresses her contempt for the cheating husband with a slap and then stands by him in a show of support.
The slap is as ornamental as Kajol’s hurt. She subsequently shows her support throughout the series which culminates in a disappointing and predictable climax. Her job hunt is supplied by voice-over through a static expression conveying continuous rejections.
Her appointment as a junior lawyer in her college friend’s law firm is convenient and a stagnant thought. An adaptation is successful only when supplied with strong cultural nuances, and The Trial fails to deliver. Kajol’s stagnant expression surely establishes her as the victim, but cannot resurrect her as the beacon of strength she is determined to become.
Predictable legal cases
Mrs. Sengupta or Kajol fights a plethora of legal cases throughout the series. A few of them are solved episodically and some are dragged till the very end but almost all are predictable. The cases are fought with carefully blow-dried hair, and impeccably ironed clothes, inside neat courtrooms.
The arguments are not well-researched neither are the conditions made tricky. Predictable cases are fought predictably and Kajol wins almost all of them. The legal cases are not well-researched either. Serious and idealistic dialogues are laced with legal emergence at almost every juncture.
The ‘galti’ in The Trial
There is repeated mention of some mistake or ‘galti‘ throughout the series. In the first episode, Rajeev Sengupta’s (Jisshu Sengupta) mother establishes his act of sleeping with an escort as a mistake. It is supplied to trigger disgust in the beginning but the repetitive iteration makes it seem normal. From family to colleagues, almost every character mentions Sengupta’s transgression and labels it a mistake.
In a patriarchal society, a man’s sexual transgressions are viewed as innocent mistakes. It is almost always blamed on the circumstances they are in. In a scene, Kajol asserts that her husband’s affair was a result of the immense power he had been handed. Blaming power or conspiracy for the man’s fault is the norm and this series does nothing to break away from this stereotype. Even in the legal cases that are fought, women are held as revered paragons while the fatal mistakes of men are ignored.
In Episode 5 Kubra Seth’s character in a sympathetic and angry tone says, ‘sab mardon ki galti hai‘, ‘it is all the fault of men’. Her blanket statement sums up her character. Shown as a brilliant investigator, her character is built as a juxtaposition to Kajol’s. She is independent, flawed, poor, hungry for money, and suffering from some hidden trauma.
Her portrayal throughout as the woman who does not trust the world and the men in it gets tiring towards the end. Her constant support for Kajol and inability to build a relationship with men is the writer’s idea of a feminist. She is impractical and out for revenge, a stereotype of an independent feminist woman played well.
Motherhood and its complications in The Trial
The name of the series can be justified for the trials Kajol has to fight as a mother and win. Motherhood is the only battle she cannot afford to fight. While she appears meek elsewhere, as a mother she is strong, assertive, protective, and honest. She promotes the ideal combination of progressive and strict parenting.
A mother of two daughters, she works hard to give them a better future and teaches them to not hide. The daughters are motivated to fight society’s contempt and judgment at every step. She tells them about their father’s mistakes and treats them as equals.
The representation of motherhood in The Trial also has a flip side, Sengupta’s mother supports him unconditionally and judges his wife at every step. She also comments on how she is not raising her daughters right and questions her authority at every step of the way.
Noyonika’s moral baggage in The Trial
Noyonika seems to be carrying the baggage of societal expectations and the need to be “the good wife” throughout. She is blamed to have “easily” got a home and a job. She is taunted to be a nepotism hire at her firm. She is burdened with the crime of her husband and is expected to behave accordingly.
In a scene, the simmering sexual tension between Vishal (Alyy Khan) and Kajol bursts and erupts in a kiss. Kajol’s recoil from the act and the guilt thereafter expose the moral baggage she carries. Her awkwardness and shame become apparent and bear heavily on the screen.
She could be the wife of a cheating husband, but she could not think of moving on. She is expected to stay chaste and wait for her man to return from prison. When he does return, he wraps her in another coil of deception that is hinted to unwind in a subsequent season.
The stereotype of a “good” wife
A news reporter, Daksh Rathore is shown as the loudmouth primetime anchor who maligns Noyonika. His need for TRP ratings and rankings drives him to penalise innocent women and demonise them. In his obsession, he does many opinion slots on Noyonika and calls her the “Dharma patni” or the “good wife” or blames her to be in an illicit relationship with her boss, Vishal.
Kajol’s character is credited with narration at the beginning and end of every episode. The voice becomes a monologue of the figure of the good wife trying to reiterate stereotypes and justify her morality. She ends up constructing a lot of age-old notions like “ghar basana” and the likes.
Rajeev vs. Vishal: a war of male egos
The stereotype of the man being the guardian is embedded in the series and is repeatedly asserted. Rajeev is revered as the husband who provided for his family. In his absence, Vishal is constructed as the saviour. He not only gives Noyonika the job but also supports her as a friend. When she refuses his sexual advances, he manages the situation with utmost maturity and remains dignified.
Rajeev views him as his competition and continuously taunts his wife. He tries to blame her for all the late evenings and suggests a relationship between Vishal and Noyonika. The male egos clash and destroy the femininity in both. The need to own the woman and claim her as a reward is disturbing and apparent.
The Trial is a weak adaptation and any attempt to adapt the American series in an Indian milieu fails miserably. The characters are two-dimensional and lack tones and voices. They just re-iterate what has already been told.
Even on the legal front, the series is disappointing. The lawyers lack passion and skill and the complainants are too livid. The only spark in the entire series is Sheeba Chaddha. Her acting is impeccable and she goes beyond her character description to explore the nuances. She is complicated, three-dimensional, and grey. She is a practical woman who has survived and made a name for herself. Her remembrance shows the pain of compromises she must have made to reach the level she is at but she is not remorseful. She is a practical woman who sees the bad in the good wife. The few dialogues she has pierce through the screen and her selective presence is like a breath of fresh air.
The Trial must be watched as an average series and an adaptation that could have been skipped. It becomes painstakingly long and dragged at a few junctures. The relationships are not nuanced enough and become stereotypical, the portrayals are boring, and the judgments are predictable. It is a series that had the ingredients to become amazing but has unfortunately faltered in its steps.