Commit To The Cause
India’s dystopian thriller Leila gets off to a good start with an intriguing and strong opening episode. It’s one that does well to set the tone and mood for the show to follow and is arguably the strongest of the 6 here.
We begin in the year 2047, in a new nation called Aryavarta ruled by a man named Dr Joshi. The nation is divided into communities, separated by high walls and a victim of segregation. Water and clean air have become luxuries and as we cut down to one of the districts, we find Shalini, her husband Riz and daughter Leila swimming in a pool. However, they are soon interrupted by men who accuse them of wasting water. Shalini protests, claiming that she has paid for the water but ignoring her pleas, the men end up killing Riz and taking her away.
From here, we then cut forward 2 years to find Shalini now living with other women in a centre. Treated like slaves and all dressed in red, they are also drugged on a daily basis. A few are chosen to take the purity test which will allow them to go back home but if they fail; they will be sent to a labour camp and never see their families again.
Shalini finds out from another girl that a new law has been passed; any kids from mixed parentage are taken away by the government. Since her husband was a Muslim, she no worries that her daughter Leila is in danger. We then see this new law in action as Kanika’s baby is being tested for purity. Unfortunately, the results show that she is of mixed blood so the guards put her in a cage, ready to be taken away. Kanika, warned by Shalini, tries to save her baby but is quickly knocked out by the guards. This causes both of them to be punished for their actions. Kanika is made to marry a dog while Shalini is forbidden from taking part in the purity test.
However, she later finds out that one of the women, Renu, was supposed to have performed an abortion on Pooja but failed to do so. She decides to reveal this to leader Guru Ma who then changes his mind and lets her take part in the purity test after all.
The day of the test finds Shalini faced with a difficult choice; to be able to succeed she has to press a button which will kill the traitors Pooja and Renu. Unable to bring herself to perform this task, she fails the test and is sent to the labour camp. As she enters the bus, she is quickly told to sit somewhere else as being a category 5; she can only sit in certain seats.
On their way to the camp, we see how poor and desperate for water people are. The bus gets toppled by protestors and rioters which gives Shalini a chance to escape. However, the guard spots which direction she’s run off in and chases after her.
Leila is based on a dystopian book of the same name but not having read the book, I can’t comment on how close to the novel this series is. This new Netflix show has a lot of similarities to The Handmaid’s tale though and this is likely to be a big talking point for many people. While it’s not quite up to the same artistic level of Hulu’s flagship show, Leila does a very good job at world building and keeping us hooked.
Segregation has always been an issue in the world and there is an interesting nod to history when Shalini is told to sit in a different seat on the bus. It reminds us of Rosa Parks in 1955 who refused to move seats when ordered to move by the bus driver. Whether this was deliberate or not, it’s a nice touch nonetheless.
This first episode sets the tone quite well for what’s to come; a tense and believable Indian dystopian series. With just 6 episodes, Leila looks to be a promising, binge-worthy drama and certainly leaves the door wide open for the episodes to follow.