The six-part dystopian drama starts off with a family huddled around a hologram projection watching the demolition of the great Taj Mahal in India. The clock is set in 2047, exactly 100 years after India’s independence. The series is based on Journalist Prayaag Akbar’s 2017 novel Leila and falls under the larger category of Dystopian Fiction.
Dystopian Fiction & Why It’s Important
Dystopian fiction is a wide genre in literature that studies sociopolitical events in the past and the present to look for possible futures, most of which are dark and tragic.
“The term dystopia is defined as a society characterized by poverty, squalor or oppression and the theme is most commonly used in science fiction and speculative fiction genres”, according to Questia.
In a world of globalization and its evident effects – terrorism, job insecurity, currency fluctuation, and price instability, it’s not only important to study and consume dystopian fiction rather it serves as an exercise to think and reflect on our actions and their results in the future.
What Is Leila About?
Leila on Netflix explores the future delving into the realms of possibilities of future machinery. In the future state of Aryavarta, Shalini (Huma Qureshi) is dragged away as her Muslim husband Rizwan is murdered in front of her eyes and their daughter, Leila is taken away. Their crime: theft of water.
The state of Aryavata is hyper-militarized and divided into sections, on the basis of caste, creed, and purity. The concept of purity is an interesting one (and drives majority of the plot) in the fictitious state of Aryavarta. Shalini, for example, is married to a Muslim and now has a mixed-race child. At the purity camp where she’s been sent, similar stories such as marrying lower caste Hindus, marrying out of faith, etc. have caused the state to abduct and “purify” these women after a series of tests.
The series is Shalini’s journey to find her daughter Leila however; it does much more than that.
A Glimpse Into The Future
In an era of lingering horrors of climate change and an impending fascist regime, Leila imposes important questions.
The “weaker gender”; with heavy undertones of Margret Attwood’s “The Handmaiden’s Tale”, the color red, the slogans, the constant surveillance, all point towards a society built on the oppression of women. There are no such purity camps for men, hell, the privilege is so overpowering that normal men (who are not a part of Aryavarta) lead a normal life. I see similarities of such acts with the Hajiab ban in France and the Abortion Bill in Arizona where women are not in control of their own bodies, instead the state is.
The state of Aryavarta strategizes to build the very revolutionary “Sky Dome”, a type of dome cover for the state with vacuums which suck out polluted warm air from inside the structure. It is later that we get to know that the mastermind of Sky Dome had been forcefully harassed to work for Aryavata and not only that but air pushed outwards would literally kill the population outside the territory. The Sky Dome project seems like a very well placed critique of the exclusion of poor folk the rich of every country thrive on.
The resistance is also something that makes the plot intriguing. For me, the message cleared stated that resistance is within us. Later in the series, we’re made aware of a group working to take down the government, of whom Shalini also becomes a part. The fact, that standing up to repressive regimes is not an easy task and yet people put their lives at stake for mere strangers of a future democratic state is radical. One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is punishment. We’ve witnessed public hangings, the constant silencing of people who speak against the state and folk who dare to ask for their own freedom and yet nobody, I mean nobody has it in them to condemn the actions of the state.
Laments & Loopholes
Shalini somehow manages to escape every time. She also manages to collect information just in time. Her last employer despite knowing her plans of escape lets her go and my personal favorite -a terrible attempt at romanticizing totalitarian regimes, when one of the prominent leaders of Aryavarta expresses his dire love for Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the famous Urdu Marxist poet, known and celebrated for his rebellion.
But then there are moments like the one with Roop, a girl of Leila’s age. Shalini and her help each other and quickly foster an undying love for one another alongside numerous other moments of sparkling hope.
Season one ends on a cliff-hanger and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t waiting for Season 2. However, the fact remains, a series that started off as a dystopian fiction during the first two episodes spiraled into a disgraceful political drama. But who knows, the producers might just come back to the plot they originally set out to surprise us with.
Maryam’s a Communication and Design major and an English and Comparative Literature minor at Habib University. She thoroughly enjoys reading South Asian Literature and is a Partition Literature enthusiast, who is often found admiring the origins of cultural theory.
While one may occasionally find her at events catering to art and culture in Karachi, she would much rather be home binge-watching British comedy.
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