Guilty Review: Has A Promise Which Is Not Fully Realised
The setting is St. Martin’s, an elite Delhi University college where the basis for admission is more merit than the quota. Needless to say, this is a point of fiction. But unlike any other representation of student life given to us by the Dharma Productions’ banner, the tone is not. There’s been a crime and through a series of testimonies by the film’s key players, we patch together what may have happened. There are no students competing in half-cocked competitions, no Archie comic-style love triangle, but there are angst and a realistic socio-economic divide which puts themes of class and privilege into perspective. Tanu, a small-town girl with big ambitions, seduces VJ, the headliner of Doobydoo Crew, during a music concert on Valentine’s Day, much to the annoyance of his Urdu-aficionado songwriter girlfriend Nanki. Almost a year later, at the height of the ongoing #MeToo movement, Tanu releases a tweet claiming she was raped. In the form of investigative interviews and flashbacks, Guilty attempts to delve into the conversation surrounding sexual assault, consent, and victim-shaming.
While it’s not the first film to take on sexual harassment, Guilty has the unique disposition of setting itself up in a world from where the movement has gained steady momentum but hardly been represented in popular media. In the vein of most films based on social causes, this one ends with a disclaimer with facts and numbers as well but has not utilised its runtime to look at how much Indian society has changed from before to after #MeToo. Instead, it bases the thrill on a cliche – suspense that rides on uncovering whether the accused is really the perpetrator. This is especially hackneyed since Pink, which came out a while ago, masterfully put together a high-adrenaline courtroom drama which established that the details of the crime and accepted notions of morality were simply irrelevant when looking at consent.
It is a good time to be Kiara Advani as the rising star has some plum projects in the bag, and it isn’t without reason. As Nanki, she brings a certain vulnerability to her performance as a woman conflicted by being so intimately connected with the accused and also dealing with her personal demons. That being said, it is the lack of depth to her character which lets her down. It is as easy to be disconnected from her overdone tattoo-ridden gothic rebel who spouts Faiz and mentions Kafka and Woolf in the same breath, as it is to stop paying attention when her big monologue wraps up the film at the end. It is little to elicit empathy from the viewer A similarly raw deal is given to Akanksha Ranjan Kapoor as Tanu, who is stereotyped as the forced vernacular who is trying hard to stand out, but at least she performs it with sincerity.
For a film about rape and slut-shaming, little to no emphasis is put in giving us Tanu’s side of the story, which is perhaps Guilty’s biggest flaw. There is too much time spent on establishing a whodunnit sort-of goose chase which is predictable from miles away. The first ten minutes make some pertinent points to add to the #MeToo conversation, but soon enough the writers start manipulating you with harangued terminology. Privilege is mentioned multiple times but the repercussions hardly explored. What role does a social media trial play in such a case? How will Tanu cope in the aftermath of the hearing? What does this mean for the relationship between VJ and Nanki? What binds the band together in loyalty? How to deal with everyday classism, sexism and harassment? How does it affect mental health in young people? How can women help other women speak out? These are just dialogues here and there, and nothing really reaches its potential.
Credit due to Ruchi Narain’s direction and accurate production design sensibilities which presents a mostly authentic version of Delhi and university life. Take a stroll around the campus and there are enough specimens to be found who are bunking classes, sitting in the corner, getting stoned, and pouring out their angst in poetry and performance. The dialogues also reflect the setting. For all its writing flaws, Guilty also deserves some credit for very early on subverting the Bollywood notion of popularity as being positive and hence, desirable. VJ and Nanki may be the college’s ‘it’ couple but they are hardly role models of goodness and virtue.
Music and Other Departments
Nanki plays a songwriter so we do have some nuanced poetry from Kausar Munir (and Faiz) to work with. Unfortunately, the song placement does little to move the plot forward.
Did I enjoy it?
Partly. Not as a whole package, but there are smaller moments in Guilty – in the form of an investigative technique, or a news headline, or a production element, or a subtly snide observation here and there which are my main take-aways. Other than that, it has little recall value
Do I recommend it?
Once, but with a disclaimer. At one point in the film, Nanki claims that she is ready to speak up now, but is anyone ready to listen. Guilty could have said a lot at a time when almost the entire world is ready to listen. The #MeToo canon needs more representation and this one has women at its helm. While it may be unsuccessful in radically deploying the conversation regarding sexual harassment, there is no downside to having such a film make even the tiniest impact.