The new Voot Select series Illegal unfolds in Delhi. Set in the world of high-end law firms, the 10-part legal drama isn’t big on showdowns, focusing instead on the vile machinations outside of court. Piyush Mishra plays Janardhan Jaitley, a Gordon Gekko-type who hires a young lawyer (Neha Sharma) into his firm. With his furtive ways and hidden motives, the character recalls another criminal lawyer played by Piyush, in the 2016 film Pink.
“My character in Illegal is more complex,” Piyush contends. “He has a lot at stake than winning or losing a case.” The actor says he liked the multi-layered approach adopted for Illegal. “The creators have gone beyond the confines of the courtroom and shown you what actually happens. They also explore the personal life of lawyers, which I find fascinating. Expectedly, there was a fair bit of research involved.”
On making his web debut, Piyush says he was looking forward to working in the format. “A web-series gives you more space. I was actually working on another series before the lockdown happened.
Having said that, my first passion isn’t film or television. It’s theatre.” Neha has starred in Hindi films like Crook, Youngistaan, Mubarakan and Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior. In Illegal, she plays Niharika, an ambitious lawyer from Bangalore. Neha says she wasn’t actively looking out for a web project. However, after meeting the creators of Illegal, she was drawn to the crew of like-minded people.
“Given a web show is such a long process, it’s important I did it with a team I liked,” she notes. “Moreover, every actor wants to do a meaty role. No offence to anyone but when it comes to Hindi cinema, not enough good roles are written for women.” In the show, Niharika is assigned to two high-profile cases. The first one concerns Meher Salam (Kubra Sait), a woman who was given capital punishment but is forced to languish in prison, where is routinely tortured. The second arc involves the rape trial of a well-placed client. Neha says she liked the nuanced portrayal of sexual assault and crimes against women in the show.
“There were times I felt Niharika was a bit harsh on the girl in court. But when you realize what was in line for her, it made sense for her to act that way.” In the #MeToo era, Neha feels shows like Illegal will inspire more women to speak out. “It’s a stance that our writer Reshu Nath has taken. It also reassures the fact that when women write women characters, it has a different edge.”