There is a moment in the web series Guilty Minds, where Vandana (Sugandha Garg), a lawyer, is seen smoking a cigarette. She is somewhere in rural Maharashtra, researching the case she is working on. An elderly villager walks up to her and asks her to light his beedi. The exchange is practically wordless and does not add anything to the plot and yet, it is a moment that defined the series for me. Guilty Minds does not waste anyone's time by trying to normalise things like women smoking; it just depicts these realities, and the viewer, like the villager, is expected to be an adult about it.
We see a similar approach with the depiction of a protagonist, Kashaf Quaze (Shriya Pilgaonkar), and her family who are clearly Muslims. But their being Muslim is treated as a circumstance, an aspect of their background. The Quazes are never used to make a point about how Muslims are treated in the country or about correcting any image attributed to the community.
Yet, the series is not afraid to take a stance where required. Vandana's girlfriend and live-in partner, Sunanda (Chitrangada Satarupa), gets a powerful scene of coming out as queer to her conservative mother. The revelation has not happened on Sunanda's terms; she was outed by someone else. But in defending her sexuality and her love for Vandana, Sunanda takes control of the situation in the best way that she can, saying without so many words that being gay is, like being Muslim, a normal part of many people's lives.
The authenticity in Guilty Minds is visible in so many other instances. A Pahadi Deepak (Varun Mitra), Bengali Sunanda, and Punjabi Shubhrat (Pranay Pachauri) speak to their families in the mother tongue, instead of speaking in Hindi to make it easier for the viewers. Even with the court cases that change from episode to episode, the side we are supposed to empathise with doesn't always win; and even where there are wins, it often feels like a partial victory— a far cry from the triumphant and ultimately cathartic courtroom-drama climaxes often seen in Indian movies. The judges here ask doubts when they do not understand something and admonish star lawyers when they begin to get carried away with their arguments.
The series is also successful in bringing attention to issues that urban audiences, watching the show in air-conditioned living rooms may not hear about otherwise, like how some men in rural Maharashtra often take a second or, sometimes, third wife. These women serve as 'water wives' when the first wife is unable to walk long distances to fetch water for household needs. The same episode shows a power cut in the middle of court proceedings, something that is unfamiliar to the lawyers from Delhi, but everyone else in the room laughs it off because that's just how it is in those parts.
I was happy to see Suchitra Krishnamurthy on screen after a while and was ecstatic at seeing LN Khanna (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) celebrate a cricket match victory, because the ten-year-old in me was instantly reminded of Lagaan's Raja Puran Singh cheering for the Indian farmers when they took Captain Russell's wicket in the iconic match in 1893.
I eagerly look forward to a second season, hoping that there will be one, featuring the same brilliant cast led by their equally (if not more) brilliant captain — creator, writer and director, Shefali Bhushan.