The phrase ‘Me Too’, as a popular website points out, was used on the social networking site Myspace in the year 2006 by activist Tarana Burke who was a victim of sexual harassment. She decided to use the social networking site, the most popular one out of the few which existed at that point of time, to talk about the harrowing experience she went through and how it affected her. The phrase ‘Me Too’ attained prominence almost a decade later when Harvey Weinstein, an American film producer, was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women working in the American film industry. A little later, the ‘Me Too’ movement broke out in India, specifically in Bollywood and a couple of other regional film industries, in a huge way. A lot of names came up, several powerful people were exposed and yet, if you study the turn of events carefully, you will realise that though the movement lasted for a good amount of time, nothing significant really came out of it. People, who were accused of committing heinous crimes molestation and even rape, continued to walk around freely without facing any serious repercussion. Few faced the heat of the law but came out it unscathed. Most got back to work after keeping a low profile for some time. Director Ruchi Narain’s (‘Kal – Yesterday And Tomorrow’ and ‘Hanuman Da Damdaar’) new film ‘Guilty’, which was made for and has got a digital-only release, touches upon the ‘Me Too’ movement, not in Bollywood but in the corridors of a prestigious college in the national capital.
Nanki Dutta (Kiara Advani) is a lyricist in the college band. Everything about her personality screams rebellion. She is in a relationship with college heartthrob Vijay Pratap Singh (Gurfateh Pirzada), who does not like his name and insists on being referred to as ‘VJ’. VJ also happens to be the face of his band and exercises a lot of control and influence over a large number of students in the college owing to his lineage – he is the son of a powerful politician with deep pockets. Tanu (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor) is a young woman from Dhanbad (Bihar) who has come to the college on a scholarship. Her merits, however, are eclipsed by her seemingly loud personality and the fact that she has been dubbed as an attention seeker by most. Thus, when she accuses VJ of raping her, there are a few who stand by her but many who believe she is lying.
The inciting incident, or rather, the aftermath of the said incident is comes around in the film pretty quickly. Ruchi and co-writers Kanika Dhillon and Atika Chohan do not take a lot of time in building up the events leading to the incident (Tanu accusing VJ of rape) and come to the point fast. After this juncture, you remain transfixed to your seat, shifting sides at regular intervals as you see the drama unfold. The screenplay written by the trio is taut and consistently engaging. They are wonderfully aided by Andrew Boulter and Antoine Parker who give the film a soft, grim texture and capture the aloofness of Delhi well. The technique adopted by the late Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa in his film ‘Rashomon’ (1950) has inspired several filmmakers to use a similar trope while telling their stories – present the viewers with multiple perspectives to a particular incident and keep them guessing till the end. Sometimes, the filmmaker turns neutral and implores the audience to decide which side they want to be on. In the recent times, Meghna Gulzar used this trope very effectively in ‘Talvar’ (2015). What Ruchi uses here is not exactly the ‘Rashomon’ trick – unlike the aforementioned films, viewers are not served with alternate visuals of one incident – but she does something similar. You see Danish (Taher Shabbir), who serves as an assistant to the lawyer (Dalip Tahil) hired by VJ’s powerful parents to defend him, speaking to VJ’s friends and asking to share their part of the story with him, truthfully. While Danish’s job is the same as that of his boss – defending VJ and seeing to it that he does not go to jail – he is a man who believes in justice and wants to be sure that he is defending the right man. His boss’s interest, though, lies only in making his client happy by getting him out of this mess, regardless of whether he is guilty of committing the crime or not.
Kiara Advani showed a lot of promise right from the time she made her debut in ‘Fugly’ (2014). Her sincerity and earnestness as a performer was evident even in that forgettable film. She has been given a good account of herself in films in which she got ample opportunity to shine (‘Lust Stories’ – 2018) or even in the ones in which she had briefer roles (‘MS Dhoni The Untold Story’ (2016) and ‘Kabir Singh’ (2019). In ‘Guilty’, she delivers a stellar performance. She brings out the various shades of Nanki – her strength as well as vulnerability – to the fore effectively. Watch out for her performance in the climatic sequence. Taher Shabbir puts across the conflict – fulfilling a job assigned to him or being the righteous man he is – which his character is facing wonderfully. He delivers an assured and a wonderfully immersive performance. Here is an actor who needs to be seen much, much more often. Akansha Ranjan Kapoor makes a very confident debut. She has a good presence and the confidence with which she essays the complex part given to her in her debut film shows that she has honed her craft well. Gurfateh Pirzada is very good as VJ. Tenxin Dralha pitches in with a fine performance as Tashi. Dalip Tahil, Kunal Vijayakar, Manu Rishi Chadha and Niki Aneja leave a mark in brief roles.
‘Guilty’ works as well as a mystery thriller as the social film it is also designed to be. The suspense keeps you on the edge of your seats and by the time, the big reveal happens, you cannot help but question yourself whether you suffer from the same prejudices and social conditioning which the film aims to question. I would not want to elaborate more on this as that would act as a spoiler. When you do watch the film, you will realise why I have written the aforementioned statement.