Directed by: #SourbhDoke
Written by: Sourbh Doke
The first thing that stands out—and to an extent, causes a schism between emersion and the aesthetic eye—is obviously the budget. ‘Cheap production’ is an ugly term when dealing with independent films, it implies that the quality is lacking, so I will forgo using it. Instead, I’ll use the term ‘ambitious’.
There is more to a film than the mise-en-scene or steady cam work. And despite the amateurish acting, and the technical aspects of sound design and lighting not being the film’s strong points, ‘The Guilty’ makes for a great think piece.
The plot seems straight forward: a businessman, named Neeraj (portrayed by Ashish Bisht), who has the luxury of affording a commodity that many need for survival (water), gets imprisoned together with the lower-class, minimum wage water transporter he bribed, Gautam (portrayed by Sanjay Balote). The stakes are raised when they are each given a limited supply of water to last the month while in incarceration. It’s the classic two-survivors-one-bullet conundrum, but with social commentary to boot.
Water becomes a character all its own as it juggles the roles of priceless commodity, eco-centric narrative device, tension builder, and survival tool. Greed, thereafter, becomes the second greater presence. So, when the expected happens, and Neeraj, the wealthy man who feels undeserving of being imprisoned for as ‘small’ a crime as taking only 20litres more than his permit agreed to, begins stealing from fellow cellmate Gautam’s water bottle, we aren’t surprised. Neither are we surprised when he accidentally kills Gautam in ‘self-defence’ knowing that it was his greed that pushed Gautam to violence; or the fact he had connections in high enough places to get him released from incarceration—a play never in Gautam’s cards. Rather, it is the film’s discourse around the nature of crime that piques interest.
Crime has many ties to go with its shirts—whether blue-collar or white-collar. ‘The Guilty’ asks which character is guilty of the greater crime: is it the father wanting nothing short of the best for his daughter’s wedding—turning a blind eye to the consequences that could arise from his selfishness; or the father-to-be who was tempted into thinking he could provide a more comfortable life for his unborn child if he turned a blind eye? It’s a domino effect. If the first domino doesn’t topple, the last won’t fall, but that doesn’t mean a wind can’t stir between either end.
Intent and execution may not be on equal playing fields, but writer-director Sourbh Doke gives audiences plenty of food for thought about today’s society, man’s sense of self-deserved privilege, and classist institutions. In this case, ‘The Guilty’ is a strong reminder that first impressions can sometimes be outdone by the last.