CHENNAI: The #MeToo movement has led to a spate of films on sexual harassment and assault, with works such as “Pink” and “Section 375” underlining the enormous significance of consent.
However, much earlier, in 2017, director Avinash Das came out with “Anarkali of Arrah,” a film featuring a dancer in a small Indian town who fights against a powerful politician out to sexually harass her.
In this context, Netflix’s latest campus drama, “Guilty,” may not appear novel. However, the film does step into new territory with its exploration of consent and sexual assault allegations in a university setting.
With his good looks and confident demeanor, college musician VJ (Gurfateh Singh Pirzada) is every girl’s idea of a dream man. His girlfriend, Nanki (Kiara Advani), is a songwriter with a taste for designer clothes. All this is unfamiliar to Tanu Sharma (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor), a small-town girl who feels completely out of place in the college, totally lost among the elite, English-speaking crowd.
Eventually, the unsettling plot nears its climax when the new student accuses VJ of rape. What ensues is an all-too-typical abuse of power so often seen in these horrific cases, with VJ’s wealthy politician father engaging the best law firm in town to defend his son. Lawyer Danish (Taher Shabbir) takes charge of the case, which unfolds on screen in the form of flashbacks.
The script is a bit clumsy, with the lawyer speaking to multiple students in a complex timeline that can become confusing and dilutes the sharpness of the director’s attack on the pervasive lack of respect for consent among some students. But the movie takes a balanced approach to just about everybody, including the college administration and the police.
The director, Ruchi Narain, refuses to take sides or pass judgment, and gently nudges the viewer toward a conclusion that is hard to imagine.
However, the film’s crowning glory is Advani, who delivers an extraordinary performance, playing her character with allure, and cleverly hiding her own doubts and dilemmas.
“Guilty” is a brave, progressive film about the power of speaking out that succeeds despite the limitations of its script.