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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Guilty Minds: Amazon Prime’s new series brings the court-room into your drawing room

Guilty Minds: Amazon Prime’s new series brings the court-room into your drawing room

A first in the genre for Amazon, the series dramatises ten court-room cases and encapsulates the proceedings, one in each episode. In real-life, court cases in India often take decades to reach conclusion, but directors Shefali Bhushan and co-director Jayant Digambar Somalkar make sure that each case reaches its end at the end of the episode. The series will start streaming on 22 April, can be seen by Prime members in India and across 240 countries and territories worldwide. It stars Shriya Pilgaonkar, Varun Mitra, Namrata Sheth, Sugandha Garg, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Satish Kaushik, Benjamin Gilani, Virendra Sharma, Diksha Juneja, Pranay Pachauri, Deepak Kalra and Chitrangada Satrupa, with many guest appearances, that include Karishma Tanna and Shakti Kapoor.

Trying to be different, the producers decided to hold a press meet at a Mumbai Institute that offers an MBA in Law, followed by lunch. This ensured a huge turnout of the students, and a sizeable presence of the media too. Proceedings were held in three parts. Firstly, we had the lead pair, Shriya Pilgaonkar and Varun Mitra, enacting a scene from the series, partly with the help of a script, a bit awkwardly, with oddly constructed sentences. Next, we had a panel, including two practicing senior advocates, Monica Datta and Ravindra Suryawanshi, answering questions put to them by Prof. Paritosh Basu, Senior Professor and Chairman, LL.B. MBA, from the institute. This turned out to be a rather long-drawn affair, after an inordinate delay in starting the proceedings in the first place, and was followed by a brief media interaction. The advocates shared valuable on the ground experiences, ranging from the dramatic to the comic, from the corridors justice.

Prof. Basu kept probing the lead actors and the director about the dichotomy of unrealistic court-room cases as depicted in films and television and whether the team was influenced by this baggage while shooting Guilty Minds. Shefali, who comes from an impeccable lineage of lawyers and is the only member of her family who did not take-up practicing law, explained the constraints of making the series too realistic. Though there is drama, emotion and comedy in reality, these occur rarely. Moreover, the medium has its own demands, and the main one being the constraint of time. Shriya Pilgaonkar could not recall all the legal terms that she had learnt for the role when the series was shot two years ago, and insisted that Shriya is different from the character she plays, even in terms of moral standards, vis-à-vis crime. Varun said that he surrendered to Shefali, once on the set, and got into the character. He put aside his own real persona while essaying the role.

In an answer to this writer’s question, Shefali revealed that the original title of the series was mens rea (Latin for guilty/culpable mind). Mens rea is taken into account usually while computing the sentence for a crime. When questioned further, whether she has dwelled into aspects like the pre-determined, pre-meditated (soch-samajhkar) aspects of crime, she replied that she has touched upon this aspect too. A Mass Communication student, Shefali is a film-maker, writer and producer. Apart from this, she also sings and plays a few instruments. She has studied Hindustani Classical and researched folk music.

Her father is Shanti Bhushan, who is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court of India and was a former law minister of India, while her brother Prashant Bhushan, is a lawyer and an activist. Her mother is Kumud Bhushan, who is a trained Kathak dancer and painter. She was born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, and when she was five years old, her family moved to Delhi. She completed her schooling at Modern School in New Delhi and her graduation with Economics Honours from Delhi University, in 1992. Before Guilty Minds, she has made a film called Jugni (2016), her debut, which she wrote, directed, and co-produced, and a short film called Tambur. An actress too, she did roles in The Song of Scorpions, Tambur, Iyatta and Mission Sunday. As an artiste, her motto is “How to say it without really saying it.”

“Guilty Minds, for me, is more than just a series based on two prolific lawyers who fight for justice and their clients. It is a representation of all that I’ve learned about the law through my family. Growing up, the Law was a constant topic of discussion on the dinner table at my house and I have always been intrigued by it. So, I wanted to present a realistic take on the legal system and Guilty Minds does that through the varied cases it explores.” said Shefali Bhushan. “I couldn’t have found better collaborators than Amazon Prime Video for making this series and showcasing it to audiences worldwide. I hope the viewers will love it as much as I loved creating the series.”

The slender Shriya Pilgaonkar (Mirzapur) and the average good-looking guy Varun Mitra (Jalebi, Tejas) play the young and ambitious lawyers, who embark on similar journeys but along different paths. Both have studied together in law college. But now, while one (she) is the epitome of virtue, the other (he) is associated with a leading law firm, dealing with all shades of grey, believing that no client is guilty until proven so. 

On the occasion, Aparna Purohit, Head of India Originals, Amazon Prime Video, said “At Prime Video, our endeavour has been to create and showcase content that is just as diverse as our customers. Amazon Original Guilty Minds is our first legal drama and an exciting new addition to our library. The series is our first collaboration with creator and director, Shefali Bhushan, who has presented an authentic and realistic portrayal of Indian courts through a variety of relatable cases. And, the phenomenal performances by our actors have breathed life into the narrative, making Guilty Minds a truly thrilling and compelling watch.”

Rohini, who has graduated from a promising RJ to an excellent compère, was the mistress of ceremonies, and did a wonderful job. Wonder how much rehearsing went into it, but that is really immaterial. Keep it up, Rohini!  



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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