Directed by Ruchi Narain
Rating: *** ½ (3 and a half stars)
31 years ago in Jonathan Kaplan’s The Accused, Jodie Foster played a girl who is gang-raped in a bar because…well…she asked for it.
Now it’s debutant Akansha Ranjan, impressively in-character, playing a campus libertine from Jharkhand who comes on too strongly with our rape-accused hero the popular Vijay Pratap Singh (Gurfateh Singh Pirzada) during a rock concert that rocks the gender boat violently. Did the aggressively in-your-face Tanu “ask for it”?
Director Ruchi Narain, returning to feature –film direction after 2005’s interesting but fractured Kal, Yesterday & Tomorrow, offers no easy solutions, as there are none. That rape has indeed been committed is unclear until the devastating finale where, during a live concert, we finally get to know the truth because…well…there was an eyewitness. Luckily it was a male. Because as Kiara Advani’s traumatized character Nanki points out, if a woman said she saw a woman being sexually violated, no one would believe her.
There are times in this gripping gritty whodunit (or rather, anyonedunnit?) when Narain’s grip over the reality of a vast assortment of characters groping in the dark, seems to loosen. Perhaps the screenplay which Narain co-wrote with Atika Chouhan and Kania Dhillon, needed to focus more on the central conflict rather than allow so many extraneous perceptions to seep into a septic situation.
I also felt the quest to simulate suspense is slightly self-conscious. Did he do it? Is she lying? The viewers are seduced into an investigative drama with Taher Shabbir as the accused defense lawyer Dalip Tahil’s assistant, playing almost the traditional detective’s role. For a film that shows such a high level of commitment to a cause, the cinematic embellishments ought to have been minimized.
Some from the torrent of characters, like the rape accused’s ‘privileged, empowered’ parents, appear to be stereotypical characters. Ruchi Narain largely avoids predictable options and doesn’t shy away from the uglier aspects of the situation. Interestingly the protagonist is neither the rape victim nor the alleged rapist but his girlfriend who, by dint of being a woman and close to the perpetrator, open up an entire vista of discussions in the plot.
Kiara Advani is just about successful in shouldering the responsibility. But the role needed an actor of Shabana Azmi’s stature. 20 years ago Shabana would have ripped the screen apart with her interpretation of Nanki’s brutally imbalanced childhood and life. But then 20 years ago there would have been no Nanki, no film like Guilty. At least something worthwhile has emerged from the MeToo movement. Otherwise, as the director points at the end, the accused have gone back to their work. It’s business as usual for women. Groping in the dark.