Guilty Movie Review: Love in the times of MeToo
This procedural is less about the protagonists and more about us
When the MeToo movement first reached India, words like 'enablers' became commonplace on social media. Standing in solidarity, outing accusers in public forums, and trending hashtags in support of survivors were the right things to do... unless we were acquainted with the perpetrator. Every survivor's retelling of an ordeal was countered by people calling them liars, attention-wh***s, sl**s, and what-not. While this selective acceptance of testimonials might seem demonic on the surface, a bit of introspection would go a long way in seeing how we would have reacted if one of our friends or family members were outed by the movement.
This is the premise of Ruchi Narain's Guilty. This procedural is less about the protagonists and more about us. What would we do if we came to know our spouse/partner/parent/friend raped someone? Would we immediately believe it? Even the most progressive among us would suddenly put the burden of proof on the accuser. This is what Nanki Dutta (Kiara Advani) does when she comes to know her boyfriend Vijay Pratap Singh (Gurfateh Singh Pirzada) has been accused of rape by Tanu Kumar (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor). Nanki, who talks about Foucalt and Kafka, has Rabindranath Tagore's iconic verse, 'Ekla cholo re' tattoed on her chest, and calls Faiz her inspiration, doesn't think twice before saying Tanu did all this for attention. Nanki talks about how Tanu, an underprivileged girl who "raped Vijay", is using the MeToo movement to rejoin a 'meritorious' college after flunking her exams. We have stray voices commenting on Tanu's choice of dress, her go-getter attitude being painted as "she wanted it", and how "women like Tanu Kumar bring out the worst in men." Interestingly, Guilty doesn't deify the women in the film. They are as flawed as they come, and even Tanu is no exception. She wants to seduce a guy, irrespective of his relationship status. She makes it very clear that her heart desires Vijay. So, we have the dilemma of figuring out if what happened to her was consensual or not. The weightage of her alleged ordeal is based on believing whether this time she said 'No'.
Cast: Kiara Advani, Akansha Ranjan Singh, Gurfateh Singh Pirzada, Taher Shabbir
Director: Ruchi Narain
Producer: Dharmatic Entertainment
While entire narratives are built around Tanu Kumar, we, unfortunately, see very little of her, and this is where faultlines appear in Guilty. Our empathy is forced to continuously jump ship due to the multiple threads. One moment, we root for Tanu, the next, we root for Nanki, and in between, you empathize with the righteous lawyer Danish Ali Baig (Taher Shabbir) stuck in the wrong end of things. Sudden surprises are sprung about the efficacies of the college's ICC. Revelations about the past of important characters make their way out of the blue. Unfortunately, most of these are crammed into the final act and these stretches are too forced to be effective. The scenes of violence too, on some level, feel gratuitous. Just like its spiritual predecessor Pink, Guilty has its share of expository dialogues, which are a bit too didactic. That one person says most of these things is also a major downer
Since the film aims to focus more on Nanki's reactions to Vijay's allegations, we spend time delving into her psyche and Kiara acquits herself impressively, almost challenging directors to write better roles for her. But, unfortunately, it is only Nanki who gets some sort of character arc. For a film, that aims to be a commentary about our reaction to MeToo when we know the perpetrator, the focus is too specific. Despite such demerits, the assured performances and inspired writing, albeit in spurts, keep Guilty afloat despite hitting a number of obstacles throughout its rocky course.
While there can be stray miscommunication or misjudged intentions, social media is the only fair and equal space for survivors to call out the harassers and abusers, especially ones with exceeding amounts of privilege. So it is no wonder that social media was used to mount the MeToo movement. I don't for a second doubt that there will soon be a Section 375 equivalent based on social media and the MeToo movement. However, it is heartening that Guilty, one of the better collaborations between Karan Johar and Netflix, has come out first. Pink coming out before Section 375 was important. And Guilty, though not flawless, is important because it has beaten other films to the punch to set the course for forthcoming narratives.