'Is a woman's integrity decided on the basis of her wardrobe and sexual confidence?'
'Guilty questions such primitive beliefs and the whole 'she asked for it' mentality,' says Sukanya Verma.
Across an elite Delhi college's campus corridor, a red-haired punk girl and soulster scribbles down the word of the day on the black board -- 'Muntazir' -- one who is waiting.
To what degree it resonates within her and thousands of other women facing a similar predicament is revealed through the course of Guilty's two hours.
Grunge and Faiz are a peculiar combination and exactly the sort of 'judging a book by its cover' prejudice Guilty means to address in its provocative, engrossing drama.
Set in the climate of #MeToo and intense social media discourse, the Netflix original directed by Ruchi Narain for Dharmatic, Karan Johar's digital offshoot, broaches on the buzzwords of the mass movement against sexual abuse and its most high-profile instances in a stark commentary on consent, gender politics and classism.
Despite incriminating evidence and vocal complaints of violation, those wielding influence and affluence notoriously get away or delay judgement.
While Guilty, co-written by Narain and Kanika Dhillon with dialogues by Atika Chohan, is unsparing towards such privilege holders, it isn't hasty in casting aspersions.
Rather than broadcast her opinion on the situation outright, Narain adopts a classic Rashomon approach wherein multiple accounts of the same event are presented before the viewer to take their pick from fact and fabrication.
While the technique isn't entirely successful, it does well to highlight society's ugly misogynistic mindset if not give it a fitting finish.
It also works in lending a sense of ambiguity to its murky mood alongside Andrew Boulter's dim lit, evocative frames and Kausar Munir and Ankur Tewari's stirring soundtrack.
The timeline travels to and fro to gain a better understanding of Tanu Kumar's (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor) rape accusation of the college band's popular frontman VJ (a charismatic, noteworthy debut by Gurafateh Singh Pirzada).
Tanu is a Dhanbad native and scholarship student, quite unlike the entitled existence of VJ, son of a politician (Manu Chadha) and ex-model (Niki Walia, solid even if it's just a handful scenes).
VJ's band of buddies, or 'these upper-class English medium people', as Tanu dubs their ilk, are too busy reaping in the benefits of keeping him company to accept they are part of the problem.
But it is Nanki (Kiara Advani) -- VJ's grungy girlfriend, full of body piercings and tattoo art and her 'I am not what I wear, I am what I write', vibes that Guilty's real focus is on.
Between her glib Rhodes scholarship aspirations and loafing with the rest of her Doobydoo (name of their rock band and weed-y play on Scoobydoo) gang over getting high and getting inked, it is Nanki's interactions around a sombre, sympathetic legal eagle (a restrained Taher Shabbir resembling a statuesque '90s model) that offer glimpses of her muddled, mysterious, paradoxical mind.
Stuck between her dilemma to speak or shut up, she frantically searches for a breakthrough to reveal what lies buried within.
The world is unkind to women who speak their mind let alone the truth, perpetuating a toxic culture of shame and silent enablers.
Guilty gently documents a dread for this rampant misogyny.
As the pseudo-intellectual, wounded artistic soul prone to panic attacks, Kiara holds fort even when Guilty fumbles over its uneven pursuits.
There is an exciting range to her work and capability for slipping under unique skins.
She may be at the centre of the storm, but Tanu's story this is not.
It appears as though Guilty is deliberately sidelining her to make its point on how any story on sexual assault invariably becomes about speculation and not suffering.
It is evident in how testimonies recorded against Tanu smack of casual sexism.
Their deeply entrenched 'anything goes' attitude is as troubling as credibility dictated by social mores.
Is a woman's integrity decided on the basis of her wardrobe and sexual confidence? Guilty questions such primitive beliefs and the whole 'she asked for it' mentality.
On the other hand, 'I am on the verge of firing all my female interns' is just the sort of ghastly, regressive, drastic preventive measure any act of feminist revolt invites that hinders the progress of such movement.
Played by a compelling actress, Tanu could have done a lot. But Akansha Ranjan Kapoor's clumsy portrayal of a complex, ambitious, attention-seeker struggling to fit in and lacking refinement is the weakest link in Guilty.
Kapoor has a shrieking presence and hams in scenes that call for edginess and sass.
The final moment of Guilty is on fledgling grounds already, but Kapoor's ineptitude singularly ruins it despite Kiara's heartfelt if entirely on-the-nose outburst. It's the brilliant end credits done in the imaginative cutout of Guilty's hopeful expectations much better than its wobbly climax.
Guilty reflects the momentum, if not clarity of #MeToo's work-in-progress crusade.
It is this confusion that makes it both intriguing and frustrating as the story moves back and forth.
The subject is too complex for two hours -- the subplots never fully develop or conclude, emotions linger on the surface and there is tons of reading in between the lines.
But it still succeeds in saying something pertinent about what we already know, but cannot hear enough until there is change in attitudes and fear of consequences.
Status Muntazir it is.