A straightforward account of crime and the fight for justice

Siya Story: A 17-year-old woman from Devganj village in Uttar Pradesh is repeatedly brutalised and kept in captivity for more than a week by a group of men. She decides to fight for justice with her lawyer and family friend’s help when rescued. The perpetrators are powerful, and there’s another culprit whom she wants to bring to the book, but he is more influential and revered.

Siya Review: With films depicting atrocities and crimes against women, you need to tread with caution. How you handle the subject and the film’s treatment can determine whether its purpose is to reflect reality or sensationalise. ‘Siya’ aims to do the former and is a fine example of realistic cinema. It recounts what being a gang rape survivor can mean for a young woman from a poor rural family through Seeta (Pooja Pandey), aka Siya. Only after her family friend, a conscientious lawyer Mahendra (Vineet Kumar Singh), posts about her on social media that the case gets any attention, and the corrupt police are forced to rescue Siya. However, the nightmare for her and her family is far from over.

What follows is something we are only too familiar with through the Unnao and Hathras cases that shook the nation in 2017 and 2020, respectively. The film talks about the police and politicians being in cahoots and wielding their power to suppress the truth and oppress the oppressed. The young woman does not cower as evidence is tampered with, and witnesses are intimidated and attacked. She fights for justice, even if it jeopardises her and her family’s lives. Will her tenacity help her emerge victorious?

Pooja Pandey, as the protagonist, plays her role of a simple and dutiful yet brave woman splendidly. She doesn’t turn into a firebrand warrior overnight; her plight is palpable even when bravely fighting for justice. Vineet Kumar Singh shines as a humble lawyer who does notary work but won’t be bullied by the cops and Siya’s greatest supporter. The supporting cast also does a great job.

Debutant director Manish Mundra, who has produced some of the finest films, such as Aankhon Dekhi, Masaan, Newton, etc., delivers a hard-hitting film. It recounts crimes against women and what power games can do to the weaker segments of society. And Manish does it with great sensitivity and sensibility. You get to witness the barbarity without seeing it in graphic detail. Also, depicting a supportive and kind family despite being helpless and scared is heartrending. It gives a positive message that one can and should normalise things for a survivor — Siya revises lessons with her brother, as her mother cooks her favourite food and her grandmother massages her hurting legs. The film does touch upon the elders’ usual worry about a violated girl’s marriage prospects, but even when heated up, reactions are sans victim blaming, shaming or patronising.

Marvelling at the cinematography feels unfitting while viewing a gut-wrenching saga. Still, you cannot miss Rafey Mahmood and Subhransu Kumar Das’s flair that oscillates between picturesque, realistic and moving at the right moments. Manoj M Goswami’s sound design rounds off the narrative suitably.

‘Siya’ has powerful performances, direction, cinematography and the intent to elicit thought. It is a straightforward account of a crime, the fight for justice, and nothing more.

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