Directed by: Manish Mundra
Written by: Manish Mundra
Cast: Pooja Pandey, Vineet Kumar Singh
17-year-old Siya (Pooja Pandey), a girl from a poor, lower caste family, gets abducted. The police refuse to file an FIR or help find the girl. Days pass by. It is only after the news gets leaked in the media, that local politician, Arunoday Singh (Rohit Pathak) steps in, and the police spring into action. The girl is found after almost a week. It comes to light that while held captive, she was brutally tortured and repeatedly gang-raped, and the perpetrators were none other than the brother of the politician.
Of course, the police are in cahoots with the politician and there is no justice for the survivor. Siya, with the help of Mahender (Vineet Kumar Singh), a family friend who works as a notary in the big city, tries to fight back. But, the rich and the powerful keep winning until the survivor is completely reduced to a victim. And it is a call the debutant director Manish Mundra takes. He takes the trusting audience on a ride through a dark tunnel but mercilessly stubs away the light they were expecting at the end of it. It is a world that gets progressively darker, until one starts to feel claustrophobic.
The best part about Siya undoubtedly is Siya. Pooja Pandey (sister of Shalini Pandey of Arjun Reddy fame) makes an impactful debut and the close-ups of her face will haunt you even after you have left the theatre. Vineet Kumar Singh once again proves his quiet brilliance as the supportive but powerless lawyer, Mahendra.
One can’t sit through the movie without getting engulfed by the deeply disturbing memories of the news articles on the Unnao tragedy. But Mundra, who helms Drishyam Films — the production house that has been instrumental in spearheading the recent content-driven cinema boom and creating a throbbing indie scene with films like Ankhon Dekhi, Masaan, Kadvi Hawa, and Newton — knows the business of cinema. He cautiously steers clear from putting any mention of the 2017 rape case. Instead, he builds stark parallels which are impossible to overlook — it is a village in Uttar Pradesh where a 17-year-old girl was gang raped (her age is crucial as it makes it a POCSO case), and the local MLA is the main accused, according to the victim, he had raped previously to her gang rape when she had gone to his house to discuss an employment opportunity, victim’s father is killed after the victim decides to fight the system and demands justice, the rape victim along with her lawyer and two other family members fall prey to an ‘accident’ when their car is hit by a truck. The similarities between the real and reel are just too many to dismiss them as mere coincidence. It doesn’t take much to draw parallels between the story Sita, who was abducted by Ravan and asked to give agnipariksha on her return, and the fate that Mundra writes for his Siya or Sita Singh either.
What is more commendable, however, is that Mundra also steers clear from showing the actual rapes, which our cinema loves to fetishise, steadfastly focusing his camera on the nauseating physical filth that serves as the setting instead. The mood, lighting, and setting don’t allow even an ounce of hope to seep in. Each scene is beautifully shot and cinematographers Raffey Mahmood and Subhranshu Das create poetry out of the poignant and the dark. Neel Adhikari’s background score adds profundity. The writing by Mundra, Haider Rizvi and Samah (additional dialogues by Rashmi Somvanshi) packs a punch, but only in parts. Manendra Singh Lodhi’s editing isn’t that sharp and the slow pace makes it difficult to stay invested in the goings-on. And it doesn’t help that the story unfolds in an unbelievably predictable way ticking all boxes of clichés along the way.
We all know that life is not a movie and in reality, justice is seldom served, and Mundra tells a poignant story without being pungent or provocative. But, this IS a movie. Instead, it feels like an over-simplistic, observational documentary on a news item. It is gloom piled on upon gloom with zero respites, and that weighs down the movie. Without light, darkness can’t shine, and it doesn’t. However, the real problem isn’t that it is too real or that there is no light at the end of this dark tunnel, but the fact that nothing that happens in this raw and stark saga of exploitation of the poor by the rich (or the lower caste by the upper caste) that is fresh, remarkable, or surprising.
Images: Drishyam Films