When I walked into the screening of Siya a few days ago, I felt like I had mentally prepared myself for a disturbing film. The trailer had already informed me that the Vineet Kumar Singh and Pooja Pandey starrer revolves around the delicate subject of gang rape and fighting for justice. However, director Manish Mundra surpassed my prep, leaving me thought-provoked, angry, and even hurt by the end of Siya.
To give you more context, Siya is a film revolving around a 17-year-old girl named Siya (Pooja Pandey) hailing from a small village in the north of India. The film starts off by showing her sharing a close bond with her younger brother. They share a room and it appears that every night, she tells him a bedtime story. Turns out, this is the only sight of warmth the film offers before it takes a dark, horrifying turn.
Siya’s life is filled with its share of miseries — she quits school to financially support her family, she gets most of the work done at home and while out in the village, she is tackling eve teasers who make her life hell. As she tackles this all, one day, Siya suddenly goes missing.
With no sign of her until the end of the day, her worried parents and her family’s lawyer friend Mahender (Vineet Kumar Singh) decide to file an FIR. However, the corrupt police officer shoos them away. While day after day Mahender tries his luck to report the missing girl, he meets a dead end. To his fortune, a local reporter reaches out to him and offers to publish the story of the missing Siya.
The report leads to a domino effect with a local minister swinging into action, ordering the police officer to hunt down the girl and within a few hours, she is rescued from an abandoned house with his kidnappers arrested. She is then presented in court and during her hearing, Siya tells the gut-wrenching ordeal that she goes through in the days that she goes missing.
Having been gang-raped, Siya demands justice and hopes to go back home. While the accused are locked behind bars, it doesn’t take them long to be released from jail. What follows is Siya’s fight against not only getting the accused the right amount of punishment but also a bigger secret that unfolds during the investigation.
Siya brings back memories of the horrifying 2017 Unnao rape case. While the details of it are similar, director-co-writer Manish Mundra offers a fictionalised tale about a woman’s struggle to attain justice against rape. Siya is triggering, the least to say. The film incorporates scenes that almost mirror society at large, leaving you angry.
Details such as delays in registering FIRs, prolonged court cases, and deaths of people associated with the victim are some of the many things we read in newspapers when a rape case is reported. Manish has flawlessly recreated these moments on the big screen, leaving a lasting impact.
Kudos to Manish — who has previously been a part of films such as Ankhon Dekhi (2014), Masaan (2015) and Newton (2017) as a producer — for tackling the scene of the gangrape with the utmost sensitivity. The director chooses to merely narrate the incident instead of over-dramatizing or sensationalizing the scene which elevates the film.
The film is supported by brilliant acting, especially by debutant Pooja Pandey and Vineet Kumar Singh. Pooja is silent in most parts of the films. Despite the lack of dialogue, she holds the screen with her powerful acting. Vineet supports her throughout the film with his subtle acting, ensuring that he doesn’t overshadow Pooja. They carry the film effortlessly.
The cinematography also helps pillar the film well. Cinematographers Rafey Mahmood and Subhransu Kumar Das transform Manish’s thoughts on the screen with ease, helping him get under the skin of the viewers.
While the making and acting of the film stand out, the film lacks empathy. The writing feels like a reportage, conveying the incidents being played out on screen but not allowing the viewers to get close enough to Siya to feel her pain and suffering. The film focuses on corruption, caste and class problems, and even gender problems without judgment but at the end of the day, the film is about a fictional survivor. As a viewer, the connection with Siya seemed lacking at several points in the film.
Another part that did not go down well with me was the ending. As a viewer, while watching a film that is meant to provoke one’s thoughts and help understand all that a rape victim and their family members are going through, the ending could have been a little more hopeful. The film’s end felt like all is lost in Siya and our world and that was not a feeling I was hoping to walk out of the theatre with. Having said that, it is understandable that Manish had a different perspective with which he ended the film the way he did and it solves his purpose.
Produced by Drishyam Films, Siya hits the theatres on September 16.