Netflix Leila is released and the series seems to lack the complexity of its source material, still it’s a thumbs up for the Huma Qureshi debut. Based on the Prayaag Akbar’s debut novel, Leila (2017), the series Leila is out but, seems to go a little off with the setting. The actual novel revolves around “a digitised city, sometime in the near future” that comes alive with disconcerting, geometric precision. It comprises of the giant quadrangular sectors – self-sustaining homogenous havens of the sub-castes and religions – cordoned off by 60-feet sector walls, guarded by the Repeaters, who only permit the outsiders after a rigorous ID check. The city is also segregated vertically with the “flyroads” transport privileged civilians; where clean air is bottled and sold; and the streams of trash are discarded by the rich and flow down the sector walls.
All of these featured setting to the salutations and diktats of “purity for all” – is in a new state, called the Council, which ‘protects’ and treats their children similar to the protective forms of an overbearing Indian father. However, inter-breeding is still disapproved, and falls under the dissent of punishment. In such an organised world of chaos, Shalini (Huma) has lost her daughter and, also her mind in the search. Her name is “Leila” – who is an interbreed of a Muslim man and a Hindu woman, considering her to be called in two versions: Leela (Hindu) or Laila (Muslim).
The novel has been adapted into a Netflix series with the same name, co-directed by Deepa Mehta, Shankar Ramen and Pawan Kumar. Leila is narrated through a third person’s limited point of view that collapses the differences between Shalini’s inner and outer worlds. But, the web series has set on to pursue certain changes to the original text – structural, ornamental, thematic – as is expected from any of the serious adaptations.
Unlike the novel, the series takes over the story temporally. In the novel, the mother and daughter have been separated for 16 years, however, in the web series; it has shown them to be separated for two years. The novel opens with a hook of a wandering mother thinking and looking for her daughter, while the series opens with an inciting incident where a Repeater breaks into her house, murdering the husband (Rahul Khanna), and kidnapping Leila, which is inspired from a scene that comes halfway from the book. If the novel fancies itself as haleem – a delicious slow-burn – the series go with a cup noodles: too eager to be consumed.
Barring a few scenes, such as the one where Shalini (Huma Qureshi) rolls on the ground, over morsels of food, chanting, “Jai Aryavarta” or another inmate where she is getting married to a dog for violating the Aryavarta’s rules or a pyramid materialising out of thin air for purity test – the rest of the segment lacks crucialities to such a story.
However, the most disappointing thing about the series is that it hasn’t gone even half complex as compared to its source material. The novel allows one to reach to their own conclusions, but the series just like the foreboding sector walls closes its gates for the viewers’ thoughts. It’s pretty ironic that in an adaptation concerning the disappearances and regret, the most significant meeting of Leila (2017) and Leila (2019) has turned out to be of little value.