‘Guilty’ Perfectly Captures the #MeToo Language of Today
‘Guilty’ stars Kiara Advani in the lead and is streaming on Netflix.
On 6 March, Netflix dropped another original, hoping to break away from its recent history of disappointments. Guilty, starring mainstream Bollywood actor Kiara Advani in the lead, takes a fresh gaze at a plot that’s quite unoriginal. Privileged, entitled son of a politician is accused of raping a woman who hails from small-town India? Nothing new about that. But take that incident and place it in a post #MeToo setting.. suddenly sounds good, right?
Guilty’s trailer left us in anticipation of a pacy whodunit that addresses sexual assault in a post #MeToo India. Unfortunately, the two-hour-long journey did not deliver even half of what the trailer seemed to promise. Kiara’s acting is a mess that takes away from the seriousness of the film and the mystery aspect of Guilty never really takes off. Guilty is hardly our The Morning Show or Bombshell. But it does do an important (not necessarily good) job of capturing the language that has emerged in a post #MeToo India.
Guilty’s setting is that of a modern India plagued by social media. In the first 15-20 minutes of the film, we’re made aware of not just the tension around the emerging movement but also just how easily people trivialise it. While Nanki (Kiara Advani) sits in one corner and quietly works on her music, one of her friends looks up from his phone screen and humorously announces as a certain celebrity has been “MeToo-ed.” Everyone in the room is nonchalantly surprised; their detachment to the movement is palpable. However, this changes just a few seconds later when another college student enters the room to announce that Nanki’s boyfriend VJ has been called out. Suddenly, the weight of the situation collectively descends onto everyone in the room.
Unfortunately, even in a post #MeToo world, our victim-shaming habits haven’t died and Guilty gives us an insight into just how that has evolved. Right after Tanu (Akanksha Ranjan Kapoor) posts a series of tweets about being sexually assaulted by VJ, we’re shown how people’s immediate reaction is to start scrutinising the victim/survivor’s identity. People scroll through her social media profile, pass judgemental comments on not just her social media identity but also her real-life dressing sense and more.
When Tanu comes back to the hostel, one of the girls says, “The girl has guts. It hasn’t even been a week since she MeToo’d.”
The World of Hashtags
The story of Guilty very tightly revolves around social media. At least that’s what the makers have tried to show. There is constant chatter about the tweets and questions regarding the authenticity of it. As strange as it may seem, hashtags become an important ‘clue’ in the larger ‘mystery’ of whether or not the rape was committed. While that does seem a little far-fetched and unbelievable, it makes an excellent point. Guilty reminds us that social media is an important part of the #MeToo movement. The latter would probably not exist if it weren’t for the freedom that comes with social media. At one point, one of VJ’s lawyers even exclaims, “I am not going to lose this case to social media!”
Guilty doesn’t always succeed in what it sets out to achieve but it does do a decent job of portraying the evolution of the incident. After Tanu publically blasts her alleged rapist on social media, the incident no longer belongs just to her. It is suddenly a big part of other people’s lives as well. As they collectively march, hold rallies, and speak out in public spaces, there is a sense of false victory. The public outrage can easily be mistaken for justice but everyone knows that it isn’t enough in the court of law. While some see the public support for Tanu as a landmark in the overall fight for justice, others are quick to point out just how fickle it can be. During a public gathering for Akanksha’s character, Tanu stands up on a table and talks about how she deserves justice. However, it’s how she ends the speech that makes some people uncomfortable. She says, “Please attend the rally! Please retweet my tweet!”
Guilty’s script might be extremely underwhelming with no definite endpoint. But despite its flaws, it is an important reflection of how the #MeToo movement has progressed. It has the potential to be the starting point of more nuanced cinema that will hopefully do justice to the movement. Although for now, this is all we get.
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