Guilty (2020) Review!!

Synopsis – When a college heartthrob is accused of rape by a less popular student, his girlfriend navigates various versions of the story in search of the truth.

My Take – With Harvey Weinstein sentenced to 23 years in prison, this latest Netflix Original (released on 6th March), their second film with Karan Johar‘s Dharma Productions (the first being last year’s deplorable Drive), seems to be right film to put its audience on the spot and asks them pertinent questions about why despite all the big talk, our mostly educated social media savvy generation don’t hold a great opinion when it comes to judging a girl’s character.

Here, the film attempts to challenge the societal hegemony concerning rape, its ugly aftermath and why a woman should not be slut-shamed or victim-blamed for a sexual assault or rape on her, no matter what. A theme also brilliantly underlined in director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury‘s 2016 film, Pink, which emphasized on the element that when a woman says no, it means no.

Touted as the brainchild of an all-women creative, director Ruchi Narain‘s film aims to take the conversation forward by throwing in public opinion, privilege, media trial, and internet convictions to nail the impact, but despite an intriguing premise, the half-baked writing ends up playing spoilsport.

Instead of charting a new course, it looked like the makers seem to be happy in attempting just another ordinary film based around the #MeToo world, and without the necessary creative edge and earnestness, the whole execution falters. Nevertheless, the film does possess exceptional performances from Kiara Advani and the relatively new cast to at least keep you hooked till the end.

The story follows Nanki Dutta (Kiara Advani), a bright student of St. Martin’s college, who is known for her song writing skills, rebel streak, her outlandish make-up, tattoos and the preternatural amount of hair colors she wears. While the cool girl tag and her band’s popularity always keeps her on the college counselor’s radar, her world is turned upside down when Vijay Pratap Singh aka VJ (Gurfateh Singh Pirzada), her boyfriend, the band’s lead singer and the college heartthrob gets accused of rape by their batch mate Tanu Kumar (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor), a girl from Dhanbad, who is mainly known for her hostel fights and her loud sense of fashion.

While VJ does admit to having sex with her on Valentine Day, he claims it was consensual, as Tanu was quite open about her sexual desires towards him. But in the wake of the #MeToo movement, Tanu’s posts on social media begin to garner heat, with everyone around Nanki finding themselves divided on their opinion upon whom to believe. Making matters worse, Danish Ali Baig (Taher Shabbir), one of the lawyer’s hired to defend VJ, is determined to get to the bottom on the incident that took place on the alleged night.

The film is set up as a whodunit, so right at the start of the film we’re told of the situation and the rest of the course of the film is spent in investigating it. The premise is actually ripe with potential because this was a question that was raised during the #MeToo movement – should the survivor be believed until the accused has been convicted? Is a social media trial enough or should we wait for the court of law to declare the judgement? Who is really guilty?

The film also makes a refreshing change in the regard where most Bollywood films show rape victims hide their faces, here, Tanu doesn’t dial down and doesn’t hide her face after the incident. In fact, she jumps back and arrives at the college fest in a shimmery mini dress. Here, the writers also cleverly weave in privilege and the lack of it to show us how both sides misuse it. While the film is made with all the right intentions and a good heart, it is unfortunately overshadowed by its patchy work, which is pity because the story had potential.

The film wants to be so many things that after a point one would surely wonder which way it was going to go, however, in the end it all just ends up being incoherent. A big reason why the film fails to sustain the initial element of intrigue is because, if you pay attention, you won’t have problems figuring out which way the story is headed, and who is actually lying.

The problem with the film is not the topic or the idea of the film. But the portrayal of the characters which manipulates you to judge them, believing you know the end of the story and not feel any empathy for any of the characters. Especially Nanki, who is crafted as a nuanced, conflicted character but in the end comes across as one quintessential helpless Bollywood heroine. In such times, it is the norm for audiences to expect a female character to be clad in attire that is completely unrelatable. And of course, she is the stand out for the costume designers chose to clad the rest of the cast in regular attire. Was this to ensure that the audience notices the lead character? Her bizarre hair color would have sufficed.

However, the film does boast of some fine performances from the cast. While Kiara Advani deserves the highest amount of praise for her portrayal, Akansha Ranjan, Taher Shabbir and Gurfateh Singh Pirzada also bring in some exceptional turns. In supporting roles, Kunal Vijaykar, Dalip Tahil, Manu Rishi Chaddha, and Chayan Chopra are also quite good. On the whole, ‘Guilty’ is an important film failed by its half-baked writing and underwhelming narrative.

Directed – Ruchi Narain

Starring – Kiara Advani, Taher Shabbir, Akansha Ranjan Kapoor

Rated – PG15

Run Time – 119 minutes

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