Guilty movie review: Netflix and Dharmatic present a flawed but important take on the #MeToo movement
As you sink deeper into the narrative of Guilty, you realise writers Ruchi Narain and Kanika Dhillon almost want to manipulate you into believing you know the outcome of the story, only to squash it as you reach the dramatic climax.
castKiara Advani, Gurfateh Singh Pirzada, Akansha Ranjan Kapoor, Taher Shabbir, Manu Rishi, Niki Walia,
It's Valentine's Day 2017. There's a music concert going on in a Delhi college, but the most popular kids on campus — who have a band named Doobydo — are on the terrace of the hostel building using drugs. Tanu (Akanksha Ranjan Kapoor), a Hindi-speaking girl from Dhanbad, is trying her best to woo the most popular guy in St Martin's College, VJ or Vijay Prathap Singh (Gurfateh Singh Pirzada), while his girlfriend, Nanki (Kiara Advani) looks on with disgust.
The vibe of this scene sets the tone of the kind of college life that Dharmatic is keen on portraying in the Netflix film Guilty — which is quite the opposite of Dharma Productions' candy-floss version of student life. The boys and girls swear freely, flaunt their tattoos and their bodies, and the drugs are free-flowing — because this is a web film, there are (predictably) no holds barred.
Almost a year later, in 2018 during the peak of the #MeToo movement, Tanu accuses VJ of raping her as his friends watched on, via a tell-all tweet. This leads to a media trial and a social media storm. The college students are divided: some judge Tanu for being an attention seeker and want to believe VJ is innocent, while some students stand by Tanu and nudge her on to fight the case. VJ's parents — powerful politicians and socialites played by Niki Walia and Manu Rishi — in a bid to control the matter, bribe her on the night of the incident and successfully stop her from filing a police complaint. When she tweets about it a year later, they file a defamation case against her.
The film begins with the perspective of the lawyers fighting the case for VJ and his powerful parents, as they interview the college students and band members present at the scene of the incident. Through this, we are taken into flashbacks that fit in the missing pieces of this puzzle — who is friends with whom, who has motive to lie, what kind of classism and sexism is at play here, and what's the college vibe like.
The Delhi representation is strong in Guilty, with authentic DU lingo which is a mix of "scene ho gaya bro" variants and also references to Foucault and Virginia Woolf (common in intellectual DU corridors). Nanki is a song writer, and through her we are gifted with some beautiful poetry, courtesy Kausir Maunir (some originally written, and some Faiz Ahmed Faiz thrown around). Snide remarks are made about the #MeToo movement in the first 10 minutes of the film, and there's ample slut-shaming between the two main women in Guilty: Nanki and Tanu. In fact, for a large part of the film, it is the two women who are pitted against each other, with the man in question — guilty or not guilty — getting away with the least spotlight.
But as you sink deeper into the narrative of Guilty, you realise writers Ruchi Narain and Kanika Dhillon almost want to manipulate you into judging characters and believing you know the outcome of the story, only to squash it as you reach the dramatic climax.
There's enough to engage you through the two hour run-time of Guilty — a pace-y procedural that unveils details in meticulous deliberation, a melodious soundtrack that doesn't overpower the storytelling and important dialogues that attempt to bring out the nuance of a power struggle like the #MeToo movement.
But unfortunately, this isn't enough to distract us from the histrionics and uneven gaze of the film. Even as the two actors — Kiara Advani and Akanksha Ranjan Kapoor — make the most of their parts by giving believable and arresting performances, some of the most dramatic and over-the-top lines are relegated to them, bringing the authenticity of their parts down. Don't even get me started on the climax of the film, which is written, directed and performed like a street play, with Kiara Advani getting a Kartik Aaryan-type monologue that kills the importance of what's being said.
For a film that plays out like a he-said-she-said narrative, there isn't much focus on Tanu's point of view as the rape survivor in this story. Too much time is spent in manipulating the viewer into a Gone Girl-esque narrative chase, and too little time is spent in giving us a balance of both the accused and the survivor's points of view. As a result, I found myself not really that invested in finding out the truth. This is perhaps Guilty's biggest flaw.
Nonetheless, Guilty is an interesting watch, and props to Dharmatic for putting together a nuanced film helmed mostly by women. I guess we should be thankful that we finally have a Bollywood film on the #MeToo movement that's not Section 375.
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