‘Siya’ Shows Caste, Corruption, And Sexual Assault In A Village, But It’s Still Generic

Siya (Pooja Pandey), a 17-year-old girl from a North Indian village, Devganj, wants to work. Her mother disapproves, wanting to marry her off. Her father, a peripheral figure in her household, is not supportive. A family friend of hers, Mahender (Vineet Singh), a sympathetic lawyer from Delhi, doesn’t understand her either.

And then one morning, Siya disappears. In most movies focused on gruesome sexual violence, the crime functions as an inciting incident. But in Manish Mundra Yeah I know, the tension begins to simmer, even if it’s not obvious, with something so basic that many would not even think about it: Siya wanting to work. Because the desire of a young woman, her audacity to dream, is unacceptable in Devganj.

Without spilling spoilers, I must say that Yeah I knowThe plot of features two crimes and two sets of perpetrators. We meet one of them early on, a group of guys who kidnap and sexually assault her for days. When she doesn’t come home, Mahender and her father, Shankar (Ambarish Saxena), approach a police officer to file a First Information Report (FIR). But in Devganj, not to mention filing an FIR, people like Mahender and Shankar, belonging to a marginalized caste, also have to enter the police station barefoot.

Sexual violence, insensitive police officers, failed investigation: these facets have marked Indian society and Indian cinema for a long time. Just its mere mention causes narrative fatigue. Yeah I know, however, quickly dispels a common misgiving about this subgenre: the exploitative gaze. Cinematographer Subhransu shoots the film with admirable thought and care. This is not the kind of drama that amplifies shocks, for example through tight close-ups. Marked by a consistent cinematographic language, Yeah I know it comprises many wide shots, even during haunting scenes, that set it apart from its lesser peers.

Aided by a relaxed editing style, it seems like a drama driven more by examination than declaration.

Even the caste angle is largely implied, not directly stated. Such a choice works because it corresponds to a place like Devganj, where castism is so pervasive that it ceases to be noticeable. and although Yeah I know introduces a relatively popular actor, Singh, who plays a lawyer, the film does not make him a savior. Mahender does not dominate the narrative or preempt Siya’s decisions.

This is very much his story. These choices indicate a conscious and considered film, aware of the carelessness so common in a subject like this.

However, these merits alone cannot make Yeah I know convincing or remarkable. Because the main problem here is another: the lack of striking specifics.

Take, for example, Siya. We know very little about her as a person from her. Her harrowing life situation drowns out almost everything else about her. When she doesn’t see her as a victim, the movie gives her flat, generic scenes: bonding with her brother and her cousin, sitting by a lake, riding a bike. The general sensitivity of the film and the impressive composition of it make us empathize with it, but empathy cannot replace affinity. We need to get to know Siya in much more detail to be with her.

This problem is repeated in all the characters. Whether it’s Mahender, cops, or perpetrators, we’re never quite inside their heads, most of the time, not at all. It also limits the potential of two lead actors, Pandey and Singh. This Long Shot Screenwriting Approach Hurts Yeah I know even more so because it’s inspired by real-life events, sharing some crucial commonalities with the 2017 Unnao rape case, which means the plot isn’t particularly novel.

So a movie like this can’t afford to do a synopsis of real life without adding anything substantial: a feudal politician, corrupt cops, helpless victims, etc. Otherwise, after a point, the film begins to resemble a synopsis, sinking under the weight of ‘then-this-happened-then-this-happened’.

An impressive film draws meanings from the real-life story itself. Movies that simply highlight social ills don’t have the same potency anymore, since we’re surrounded by terrible events almost daily anyway.

That’s where Yeah I know he hesitates, because he is so attached to a macro approach – a bird’s-eye view of a feudal interior – that he hardly questions the micro. Quite a few movies have shown the nexus between corrupt cops and powerful politicians; we want to know what is so special about that relationship in a place like Devganj. Or a rape victim and her family increasingly victimized. Or a callous investigation that rivals the transgression itself.

Yeah I know tells us all this, and more, but fails to make us feel.

This article was first published on The wire.

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