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.
Very well written, Kathy! Totally agree with you. I had reviewed this one for my magazine. The way Kavya adopts to the ways of a prostitute is totally unconvincing.
“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.” This line speaks volumes about the logic behind the story. By the way, that Chinese proverb about revenge was forcefully proved true in the climax 😀
Thanks, Keyur! I admit, I’m proud of this one.
That’s good 🙂
By the way, Vikram Bhatt and Vivek Agnihotri are also proud for making Hate Story 😀 They are making a sequel to it 😛
Good grief, what kinds of torture is the poor heroine of Hate Story 2 going to be subjected to? 🙂 I can see why the filmmakers would (mistakenly) think they’d made some great feminist masterpiece with Hate Story, as it does have a female protagonist. Rape is a common, cheap trick writers use to make female characters “interesting.” The American TV show Mad Men did it to one of their female characters in season two, at which point I stopped watching. If Bhatt and Agnihotri want to know how to write an empowered heroine with depth of character, they need to study Kahaani.
Fully agree with you. Just having a female protagonist doesn’t make it a feminist masterpiece. Even I pity that heroine, whoever she will be. Yes, Kahaani is a classic example.
By the way, Vikram Bhatt is also planning a sequel to Haunted 3D, the Arif Zakaria classic 😀
Shelving projects is not uncommon in Bollywood. Hope it happens with these two films too 🙂
Haunted 3D? The one in which Arif Zakaria plays a rapist who dies and whose ghost goes on to rape the ghost of a woman he raped when they were both alive?! I didn’t finish Shaapit, but I recall that the curse is invoked after a woman leaps to her death fleeing an attempted rapist. Why is Vikram Bhatt obsessed with rape? Is it a theme in any of his other films?
Lol! Yes. the same one. And I didn’t know that even Shaapit dealt with rape and curse of a woman. Hmm he is obsessed with it. I think Raaz also dealt with the theme of a curse of a woman and now Raaz 3 is also on the same theme. Looking at Vikram Bhatt’s track record in recent times, I am not having much expectations from Raaz 3 🙂
As ever, a thoughtful review.
The Wikipedia page informs that this film received “glowing” reviews in mainstream Indian media and is even hailed as “a most riveting and aesthetic saga of a woman’s revenge against the man” !!
Boggles the mind.
Thanks, Manisha! Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s mind is boggled by the positive response to Hate Story.
I had no idea this movie received glowing reviews. Mine certainly doesn’t fall in that list 😀
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Did we even watch the same film. Where was she raped? Also when does she become a prostitute? She only goes to a high class prostitute in order to learn how to have meaning-less sex. The rest of the movie she is not a prostitute, and only has sex with one man from Sid’s company and after him the Minister, sure she’s whoring herself out to get revenge, but a man like Sid is an egotistical guy and destroying his empire is the best way to ‘sterilize’ him. Hate Story might not be the greatest movie but it follows the trend set by the 90s Cat III Hong Kong films where such plots were commonplace. It’s still an empowering role just shown in a different way. Also her parents don’t disown her, they choose to leave because people have started gossiping, Kaavya chooses to stay. Even in women-centric films the females need at least a male hero to help them out to some extent, Hate Story on the other hand regulates it’s token male character (Nikhil Dwedki) to a tiny role that could have been done away with. If anything in a funny way Hate Story in more empowering to females as the woman fights back even when it appears she has lost everything that Indian society holds dear, her innocence, reproductive ability. PS. yes the movie isn’t perfect, Kaavya’s journalistic ethic flying out the window to accept Sid’s job being one example but for an Indian B-movie, it’s one of the best!
I disagree, Pooja, but I’m glad you enjoy the movie. Obviously you are not alone, since this has already spawned two sequels.
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