Guilty: Feature Film Review
“Netflix’s Guilty, set in the backdrop of the #MeToo Movement, follows a college heartthrob being accused of sexual assault and his girlfriend’s search for the truth. Here’s our review.”
When the college heartthrob, VJ, is accused of sexual assault by the newcomer, Tanu, in a viral #MeToo tweet, VJ’s girlfriend, Nanki, navigates through fact and fiction in order to find out whether VJ is actually guilty or not.
Guilty presents a gripping narrative spread over two timelines – one that covers the events before the incident in question, and one that deals with the aftermath of the accusation. The storyline takes the form of an engaging mystery, experimenting with perspectives in such a way that even the viewers would, even if for a moment, doubt the veracity of the claim being presented. The mist over the truth only clears up at the end.
The film is bold and unapologetic in its portrayal of the ugliness surrounding the situation, holding up a mirror to society. The first half is designed to show Tanu in a bad light, demonstrating the disturbing reality of predominant attitudes in India. The film tackles not just sexual assault and #MeToo, but also the culture of slut-shaming, and issues such as gaslighting, fear, shame, societal perceptions, power dynamics, sexism, classism, prejudice, hypocrisy, judgementalism, institutional complicity, as well as victim-blaming.
By positioning neither the victim nor the perpetrator as the protagonist, Ruchi Narain moves beyond the constraint of one-sided narratives, and explores the story from the eyes of the perpetrator’s girlfriend, Nanki, played by Kiara Advani, who tries to sift fact from fiction. The mystery’s unraveling is also aided by a third-party, Danish Ali Baig (Taher Shabbir), who becomes an anchor for the audience, working on finding the truth amidst unreliable stories from witnesses.
Guilty makes you question the way you are conditioned to think, and the way society perceives such situations and passes judgements without knowing the entire truth, influenced by pre-conceived notions. The film has its intentions in the right place, even if it makes a few executional missteps.
Kiara Advani shoulders the film with a committed performance as Nanki, giving life to her character and channeling her frustrations, anger, dedication, stubbornness, and vulnerabilities with much-needed conviction.
Some of the best parts are located in the film’s small but hard-hitting moments, which it needed more of. Misogyny and mistrust popped its head out when a senior lawyer nonchalantly comments that he’s on the verge of firing all his female interns. Power and gender dynamics came into picture when Tanu was forced to keep quiet, bribed, judged, manipulated, made to feel confused about her decision, and defamed for her choices, while the man who assaulted her was protected and allowed to continue with his normal life, no questions asked on his character and his choices.
The end credits sequence deserves a point of its own, painting colors after a grim storyline, as a beautiful score coupled with flawless lyrics and visuals make their way into the background.
The film, despite all that it intends to say, suffers from a few shortcomings. There are moments where the narrative loses its grip onto the central plot and finds itself moving to the periphery. Tanu’s class element, repeatedly referred to in the plot, seemed to be unnecessarily stuffed in to merely present a new angle. Nanki’s meltdowns, too, were an underdeveloped subplot, used conveniently only to extend the suspense.
The direction and the editing seem excessively dramatic and over-the-top at some points, before coming back to track again. Several characters appear to be half-baked unidimensional creations, adding little value to the film.
The climax, which revealed the truth and then some more, played out like a highly-dramatic stage production, wrapping up with an unrealistic and too on-the-nose grandstanding event, featuring teary eyed women with monologues, a crowd chanting ‘Shame’, and the perpetrator facing some consequences.
The film gives no answers about what happens to the friends who watched, including KP, who although makes the crucial confession, knew everything yet stayed silent to protect the perpetrator, something which ends up forgotten. The shock-inducing display of sexual violence was also not necessary. The film, instead of talking to us, ends up talking at us. Thankfully, the message is something everyone needs to listen.
Guilty delivers a strong statement in the post-#MeToo era, and despite its flaws, is worth a watch.
Kiara Advani is known for her roles in M. S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, Lust Stories, and Kabir Singh. She’ll also be seen in the upcoming film, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2.
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