Hate Story is a distressing allegory about revenge. In an attempt to create an erotic thriller with an empowered female lead character, writer-producer Vikram Bhatt instead reinforces a belief system that blames women for the sexual violence committed against them.
The story begins as up-and-coming newspaper reporter Kaavya (Paoli Dam) is tipped off to a secret meeting between a judge and the CEO of a construction firm. The tip comes at dinnertime, and Kaavya’s mom is miffed that her adult daughter won’t be able to help set the table. That Kaavya’s parents treat her job as a cute hobby and not the profession it is indicates where Hate Story falls on the gender-equity continuum.
Kaavya breaks the bribery scandal with the help of her male photographer/best friend Vicky (Nikhil Dwivedi). The son of the construction firm’s owner, Sid (Gulshan Devaiya), offers Kaavya a job in order to keep her from reporting such stories in the future. Kaavya chucks her journalistic ethics and takes the job.
A lot of stuff happens in the first forty minutes of the film. Kaavya falls for Sid and sleeps with him, only to learn that the job and romance were a ruse. Sid fires Kaavya, shoves her to the ground, and points a gun at her, telling her, “I fuck the people who fuck with me.” Kaavya learns that she’s pregnant and tells Sid she’ll get half his money anyway. So he has her kidnapped and taken to an illicit country clinic for an abortion. For good measure, Sid has the doctor permanently sterilize her.
Kaavya’s natural response to this horrific violation is to want revenge. Gelding Sid seems like the most equivalent form of retribution, but it’s never mentioned. Neither is murder. Instead, Kaavya wants to ruin Sid’s business. Somehow, that doesn’t seem comparable to being raped, impregnated, and forcibly sterilized.
Even stupider is Kaavya’s plan to ruin Sid by becoming Delhi’s most sought-after prostitute. Wouldn’t her skills as a journalist be more valuable than her ability to turn tricks? Given that she directly tells a couple of male characters, “I’m sleeping with you to get info to use against Sid,” only for them to have sex with her and give her the info anyway, maybe it’s not such a dumb plan after all.
What the plan highlights is the appalling idea that a woman who’s been sexually assaulted is damaged goods, only useful for yet more sexual acts. Bhatt tries to write a few lines to explain that this was Kaavya’s choice, but I don’t buy it. First of all, the plot moves along too quickly for any meaningful character development that could explain Kaavya’s abrupt transition from innocent young woman to jaded sex worker.
More importantly, Kaavya doesn’t have any other options. After nearly dying as a result of the forced abortion, her parents disown her and leave town to avoid their gossipy neighbors. Even Vicky blames Kaavya for the rape, since she did fall in love with Sid. Vicky, who loves Kaavya, never offers to marry her and build a new life with her.
The theme of Hate Story is that revenge is a dangerous game, but the counterpart of revenge is justice. There’s never any mention of Sid going to jail for his crimes against Kaavya, and no one pursues justice on her behalf. If revenge isn’t an option either, how is Kaavya supposed to respond to her sexual assault? I’d like to know Vikram Bhatt’s response.