‘Siya’ movie review: The anguish behind the silence of the lambs 

The shadow of the Unnao and Hathras rape cases are unmistakable, but director Manish Mundra opts to look beyond the nuts and bolts of the crime to paint the larger picture

September 16, 2022 05:05 pm | Updated 05:10 pm IST

A still from ‘Siya’

A still from ‘Siya’

An honest take on the state of rape survivors in the country, for whom the pursuit for justice is often more tortuous than the crime itself, Siya opens a window to a disturbing space that is not covered by government data and news headlines.

The film marks the directorial debut of Manish Mundra who has produced a string of powerful independent films. The shadow of the Unnao and Hathras rape cases are unmistakable, but Manish opts to look beyond the nuts and bolts of the crime to paint the larger picture.

Shunning the exploitative gaze and easy sensationalism, he addresses the scourge of casteism in new India and how the criminal justice system in Indian villages and small towns is still skewed in favour of those who hold political and social power. A lot of it has to be felt rather than the visuals and dialogues feeding the audience.

Set in Uttar Pradesh, the narrative follows Siya (Pooja Pandey), a spirited Dalit girl who wants to make the best use of her limited means. Teased by village boys who owe allegiance to the local MLA, one day Siya gets kidnapped and is brutalised for days. Shattered, she finds support in Mahender (Vineet Kumar Singh), a lawyer who works as a notary in Noida. But, is she telling the complete truth? Do they stand a chance against the wily MLA who initially supports Siya to hide something murkier?

Siya is a keenly observed cinematic study of the life of the poor in the villages and small towns of India, where infrastructure development is palpable, but getting an FIR registered for a crime is still an onerous task for the marginalised. The village has mobile phones, electricity, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles... but when a Dalit enters the police station, he has to remove his slippers.

Siya is not just a female body for her parents to protect; she teaches her brother, rides a bicycle, and aspires for a job, but once something goes wrong with her, the equation changes. It is not just the society, even the local system bows down to the MLA. The wheels of justice move so slowly that the powerful have all the time at their disposal to crush the spirit of the victim.

Instead of being loud and clear, the film wants us to experience the emotions of the characters and nudges us to stand by the side of Siya and Mahender and understand what it takes when they take on the mighty. Like in real life, it doesn’t aspire to fit into a genre; it simply captures the dilemmas of David when pitted against Goliath.

Muting the shrill mode, Manish employs the camera as a silent spectator as events unfold. It reflects in the aesthetics of the frames that capture Siya’s space from a distance. In the scene of her torture, the shadow of her hands generates disturbing imagery that scars the soul. Watching the struggle of Siya, her uncle, and Mahender, one gets a sense of the anxiety of villagers to migrate to the margins of the metropolis. Far from the open fields, perhaps they are seeking a small space where their identity doesn’t matter.

Debutante Pooja gives a measured performance. Matching Manish’s style, she doesn’t underline any of the range of emotions she gets to express. Vineet, once again, effortlessly slips into a role without making any noise. Some might find it muted, but none could leave Siya without getting affected.

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