BOTTOM LINE: A Powerful, Compelling Take on Sexual Assault
|Platform: Netflix||Genre: Thriller/Drama|
What Is the Story About?
Guilty is a part-thriller, part-drama staged amid the backdrop of St. Martin’s College, an institution in a plush metropolis that takes pride in its meritorious students passing out every year. Vijay Pratap Singh (VJ), Nanki, their bunch of friends stick together by their thick and thin while in college. VJ and Nanki make it obvious to their college mates that they are a couple.
Tanu, another student in the college, has the hots for VJ and has been vocal about her interest in him until all hell breaks loose on a concert night in the college premises. Tanu confesses that she was raped by VJ on the concert night. Is the rape charge fake? Is the girl playing the victim card in a case of consensual sex? The odds are stacked against her. Will Nanki stand up for VJ? The case takes murkier turns by the day.
In what’s easily Kiara Advani’s best role in her brief career, the actor is a revelation and bares her heart and soul in the act. It helps that the character she plays comes with several layers. Nanki is a writer, has her share of insecurities, secrets, scarred by a personal tragedy in her younger days and is unapologetic about taking a stance against a woman in a probable incident of rape. The reasons behind her every trait are spelt out so well. Kiara’s honesty and spontaneity in her portrayal empower the character so much beyond her flaws and Ruchi Narain has captured a sensitive dimension of the actor that no director has managed to, in the recent past.
Akanksha Ranjan Kapoor gets a cheeky role that’s not instantaneously likeable, but her superb performance grows on you gradually when you alienate yourself from the biases that the narrative creates. Taher Shabbir, as an advocate with a sense of morality, comes up with a sharp performance, while playing the film’s most assured character. Gurfateh Pirzada is another debutant who warrants your attention despite the character’s problematic stance.
Guilty is a rare film that understands merely weaving a story around a socially relevant issue cannot alone help it qualify as pathbreaking cinema. Especially in a story surrounding the #MeToo movement where one is tempted to dole out messages one after the other and there’s every danger that the craft may take a backseat, Guilty’s director Ruchi Narain is clear about her priorities and doesn’t get overly sentimental about the issue. She constructs a delectable thriller (and drama) in the wake of the #MeToo movement around two flawed protagonists, where the narrative makes it doubly complicated for a viewer to take his/her stance, at least until the truth emerges.
Guilty, revolving around a rape charge by a female student in a popular college, keeps you guessing about the characters’ core identity till the last moment. Though it keeps throwing hints about the reality surrounding the rape charge, it’s the treatment and the verbal battles between the characters (sometimes internal) that are compelling enough to hold the narrative together. To begin with, the narrative gives a fair chance for both sides in the incident to present their take on the incident. It doesn’t try to take sides.
Tanu is positioned as an attention-seeking scholarship (read unprivileged) student who hails from Dhanbad, while VJ is portrayed as an aggressive man from an elite family, who is many a time blinded by the privileges that he enjoys. Nanki, VJ’s girlfriend is the alter-ego of the viewer here – it’s through her lens that we try to understand Tanu and VJ. Alike Pink, it bares the prejudices and judgements that men (and women) make about women but never tries to lecture about it. It just holds a mirror to society.
The film takes note of the gamut of opinions that were prevalent among the public during the #MeToo movement – reducing the debate to a casual act of revenge, a woman using her gender to her advantage, and dismissing the allegation for unavailability of proof, all of which that discredited the victim more and gave more power to the perpetrator.
Another interesting layer to the film is how it’s subtly suggestive about women letting their own counterparts down in the need of the hour. Guilty is thus never portrayed to be this battle between genders but lays more emphasis on how privilege and power can be a breeding ground for harassment at many levels. Nanki’s internal struggle, emotional breakdowns while trying to defend her boyfriend in reference to a rape charge, are sensitively portrayed. The climactic monologue is a moment of narrative triumph, that’s deeply etched in your mind long after the film ends.
As a director, Ruchi Narain is best when things are left unsaid – the frames are packed with so much detailing and little nuances that lend power to the story and take it forward sans fuss. Her minute observations about the everyday hypocrisy that exists within our society make all the difference to the film.
Music and Other Departments?
The only issue with Guilty is the indifference with which it deals with its music (not the background score). In a film that discusses the power of art highly, it’s a shame that the songs and the amateurish lyrics barely make an impression. The cinematography, the visual aesthetics of the film work around its story aptly though. The dialogues and the powerful word-play among many characters lay a strong foundation to several powerful sequences.
Kiara Advani’s superb performance
Terrific screenplay on a relevant issue
The verbal battles between various characters
The mediocre songs
Turns intermittently repetitive/redundant
Did I Enjoy It?
Will You Recommend It?
Review by Srivathsan Naddadhur