Guilty opens with a young college student being questioned about the night of an alleged rape. He finishes his statement by saying “apna bhai shareef hai aur woh s***i ek number ki r***d hai” (our friend is a decent guy and that b****h is a w***e). Just two scenes later, the same boy continues to talk about how the rape accusation are senseless because the accused is already dating “the coolest girl in the college” and how the alleged victim is a “f***k girl.” You get the tone of the film.
The film is told from the perspective of Nanki (Kiara Advani) who is distressed to learn that her boyfriend is accused of raping a fellow student. Nanki and her boyfriend VJ Pratap (Gurfateh Singh Pirzada) are the ‘it’ couple of their college, and VJ is the college heartthrob. He and his college group’s cool quotient comes under the scanner when a small-town, flamboyant, forthcoming, confident newbie, Tanu (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor) who is always ‘throwing herself on VJ’ accuses him of raping her. What follows is a series of interrogations, revelations and conversations that lead the viewers to decide and see whether is this a genuine case of #MeToo or is the girl taking advantage of the ongoing movement and its sentiments.
Time to pause and reflect
Right from its opening scenes till the very end, director Ruchi Narain’s Guilty makes you uncomfortable. It makes you think what would have happened that night? It even gives you the time and instances to decide who could be ‘guilty.’ It also makes us pause and reflect on how all of us are ‘guilty’ of years and years of flawed conditioning. And that is the real win of the film.
In the film’s climatic moment, Nanki goes to explain how VJ and Tanu have the exact same personalities and even then, its Tanu who is always under the radar and is labelled with statements like “she is that type, an easy rider” … “she kept coming on to him” … “she has trouble written all over her.”
Characterisation of Tanu stands out too. Writers Atika Chohan, Kanika Dhillon, and Ruchi Narain, have given her an unabashed attitude. She is very comfortable with her sexuality and is open about her feelings for VJ. She is never seen hiding her face or change her dressing style or behaviour. In a scene after the alleged rape, when she turns up at a college event in a shimmery mini dress, students especially girls are quick to comment “yeh abhi bhi aise kapde pehen ke aayi hai (she is still dressed up in a questionable manner).” However, no one ever is seen calling out VJ on his decision of sleeping with Tanu despite being in a relationship with someone else. Everyone, including VJ, is quick to blame everything on alcohol, drugs, and Tanu’s “inviting behaviour.”
Guilty also puts forth the fact that our years of flawed conditioning and patriarchy is deep rooted in almost everyone, and has little to do with their gender, educational or family background.
An overloaded but important film
Guilty highlights a lot of things – consent, patriarchal mindsets, privilege, conditioning, drug abuse, victim shaming, and a lot more. And, while it’s about time we put focus on these issues, the movie gets caught up in talking about lots of things at the same time. At some point, it comes across as being burdened by its own whodunit storyline.
Guilty is no Pink (2016), but is a commendable attempt. Kiara Advani deserves a special mention for her portrayal of a conflicted young girl who herself has been a victim of sexual assault and was asked to “keep it a secret” and “get over it” by her guardian who is also a professor in her college.
The film closes with a status report on the #MeToo movement and rape conviction in India. It reminds us that most of the men who were called out during #MeToo are back at work, and how we as a society has been failing to put more attention and seriousness on the issue of sexual assault and its consequences. Though the film’s verbose and dramatic climax comes across as more of a hinderance in making the film reach its full potential, it is laudable and refreshing to see that one the country’s biggest and highly celebrated production house (Guilty is the first production venture of Dharmatic, the digital arm of Karan Johar's Dharma Productions) is putting the spotlight on these issues.