Spunk comes not from defiant speech.
It can come from silent seething too.
You can see it in 17-year-old Sita (Siya) Singh (Pooja Pandey).
“What’ve you done to all the gehun (wheat)?” scolds her mother when Siya reaches home with most of it spilt.
Director Manish Mundra has just shown the viewer how Siya on a cycle narrowly escaped
molestation by the local goons. The loss of grain is a small price.
But Siya stays silent.
When the local MLA’s wife comes simpering with a job offer from her powerful husband and mother can’t help beaming, Siya throws out the offer and the messenger.
By now you know that Siya doesn’t sulk without reason.
When Manish Mundra, the producer of substantial cinema like Newton and Masaan turns director, grit without gloss is sure to be on the menu. Mundra doesn’t let you down.
In a normal low-income family somewhere in UP, all that’s always been fodder for headlines gets retold again.
When the powerful play with the underprivileged, usually, the shattered step down, cowering.
After captivity in chains, filth around her, and gangrape for days, when Siya is finally rescued, elders wisely advise, “Put it behind you.”
But Siya finally speaks and she says, “Nyay chahiye, I want justice.” Smalltime lawyer and firm family friend Mahendra (Vineet Kumar Singh) echoes what the elders have said and warns her of the tough fight ahead. She’s ready.
Pooja and Vineet power the act of the faceless underprivileged with earthy performances. What is also a step forward for Hindi cinema is that a rape survivor’s character and morals are no longer scrutinised under the scanner while the predators go free with a swagger. Mundra joins Hindi cinema in bidding goodbye to last millennium’s gender-skewered survivor-perp equation.
The setting, the lighting, the mood…it’s all pat-perfect for a cheerless recounting of all that we’ve seen, heard, and read about several times over. Count as seen the police apathy, the class discrimination at the police station (eg Mahendra asked to keep his chappals out), and the hand-in-glove endemic rot (Siya made to have a bath and wear fresh clothes which is the system’s way of washing away traces of the heinous gang rape). Seen that, done that includes the offer of marriage to the rapist as the ultimate solution, besides accidents and deaths staged by the powerful to stonewall the survivor and her fight.
So what’s new, Mundra?
It would’ve been heartening if Siya’s battle for justice bore fruit, like say Pink did to a large extent. Storytelling that’s different from merely documenting reality calls for closure of some sort, some relief, at least a flicker of hope.
But writers Mundra, Haider Rizvi, and Samah stop at mere stark retelling of unsettling truths that have been around for ages.
We’re not asking for fantasy. But even reality must show a spark of light to dispel a bit of the general darkness.
Reality bites for sure. Towards the end, Siya asks in despair, “What’s the point in getting justice if there’s no one alive to give justice to?”
She’s right. But the viewer also feels like asking, “What’s the point in telling a story we all know if there’s nothing fresh on offer?” That would sum up Mundra’s directorial debut.
Watch Siya Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYhbW4I-Lwc