Movie Review: SIYA by FENIL SETA

Manish Mundra made a niche for himself as he backed some out-of-the-box films like Ankhon Dekhi, Masaan, Newton, Kaamyaab, Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi etc. He has now turned director with the hard-hitting Siya and it can be said without doubt that he has made a confident directorial debut!

The story of the movie: Sita Singh aka Siya (Pooja Pandey), aged 17, lives in Bichaura village, Devganj, Uttar Pradesh with her father Shankar Singh (Ambrish Saxena), mother Sudha, younger brother Suraj (Rudra Chaudhary) and grandmother (Lajjawati Mishra). She desires to leave the village, shift to Delhi for work purposes and reside with her chacha and chachi (Nidhi Mishra) reside. Her parents, however, don’t allow it. Her desire persists, especially when Bachchan Singh (Ansh Pandey) and Deepak Tiwari (Shubham Kumar) eve-tease and misbehave with her. Mahender (Vineet Kumar Singh), who works as a notary in Delhi, and who’s a family friend of Siya, is in Bichaura. Siya goes to meet her and asks him to help her escape to Delhi. Mahender refuses. She leaves from his place and this is when Deepak, Bachchan and his friends abduct Siya. Siya’s family gets tensed when she doesn’t return home. Mahender and her parents approach the police. But Inspector Pandey (Dev Chauhan) refuses to file the FIR.

Siya doesn’t start on a great note. The conversation between the brother and sister looks superficial, although it’s clear that the makers are drawing parallels with what was going to happen with the family in the days to come. The film picks up when Siya is chased by the goons while she’s on the bicycle. The abduction scene is chilling while the manner in which the cops refuse to even entertain Siya’s folks will boil the blood of the viewers. A scene that stands out in the first half is the police raid. The courtroom sequence is very disturbing; it is intended to be. The second half is unexpected in places. A few scenes are shocking. However, a few developments are bewildering and coupled with slow pace, the impact gets diluted to an extent.

Speaking of performances, Pooja Pandey makes a superb debut. She puts up a very confident act and it’s difficult to believe that this is her first film. Also, she brings out the horrors of a rape survivor very convincingly. Her dialogue delivery is topnotch but watch out for how she performs merely through her eyes. Vineet Kumar Singh, as expected, is lovely and his presence and talent contribute a lot to the film. Rohit Pathak (MLA Arunoday Singh) is fine and typical as the antagonist and the same goes for Ansh Pandey, Shubham Kumar and Dev Chauhan. Ambrish Saxena, Rudra Chaudhary, Lajjawati Mishra, Nidhi Mishra and Dhirendra Tiwari (Prasad; journalist) lend able support. The actors playing Siya’s mother and Siya’s chacha also do well.

The songs are relegated to the background and don’t have recall value. Neel Adhikari‘s background score is subtle and highly effective. Rafey Mahmood and Subhransu Kumar Das‘s cinematography is splendid. The police raid sequence especially stands out. Vikram Dahiya‘s action is quite real. Ravi Srivastava‘s production design and costumes are straight out of life. Manendra Singh Lodhi‘s editing could have been sharper.

Manish Mundra, Haider Rizvi and Samah‘s story is the need of the hour. Manish Mundra, Haider Rizvi and Samah‘s screenplay is not mainstream at all but yet, it works as it does justice to the subject in hand. However, the writing falters in the second half. Manish Mundra, Haider Rizvi and Samah‘s dialogues (additional dialogues by Rashmi Somvanshi) are hard-hitting.

Manish Mundra‘s direction is effective. The introduction scene might make one believe that he has not handled the film well. But all doubts get cleared once the tension levels increase in the narrative. He gets several things right – the way Siya’s mother doesn’t even ask why she returned with the wheat and if she’s fine, the apathy of the police, the power of social media, how Siya gets back to her routine after the incident, bond between Siya and Mahender etc.

On the flipside, the film moves at a slow pace. Despite being just 1 hour and 49 minutes long, it seems like a lengthy affair. While the first half is powerful, certain developments in the second half, especially with regards to the Arms Act case, are not explained. In a film where every detail was laid in a simple manner till a point, it becomes odd when that doesn’t happen in the last act.

On the whole, Siya is a hard-hitting drama that deserves to be seen for its treatment and performances by Pooja Pandey and Vineet Kumar Singh. The film is sure to make waves at the National Awards next year. It deserves tax-exemption to pull more audiences into cinemas.

My rating – *** out of 5!

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