Fails to titillate, fails to thrill, fails overall

In the 1980s and 90s, porn was peddled into our theatres using a deceptively simple mechanism: few minutes into a B-grade film, the prints of the original film were replaced by that of a pornographic film. So right in the middle of a spooky film, which could only be as brazen as the censors permitted, the audience were finally shown what they had originally come to the theatre for. They weren’t worried about the context; neither were they worried about the impact those scenes would have on the film. For them this was the film. Heck, they didn’t even know for how long this impromptu segment would last for. It is 2014, but not much has changed. Hate Story 2’s first few minutes post-interval introduces us to its female lead’s new avatar, who is fixated on extracting revenge from her tormentors. She goes about vanquishing them methodically, and then quite literally out of nowhere Sunny Leone appears on the screen, writhing on a satin sheet. You are taken aback. Surely, it’s an item song, you tell yourself. But then even item songs have some context, generally shot in a goon’s den, showcasing how the “bad” guys like to have fun. But here, the song hasn’t been placed; it has been planted. It’s only a little later that the antagonist’s acolyte sporadically appears on the screen, enjoying the performance. But we never see him or Leone in the same frame. How different is the intent of this “item song” from the smuggled porno from the ’80s or the ’90s?

It’s quite clear what Hate Story 2 aspires to be: It wants to titillate the audience in the garb of a “revenge thriller”. And really, there’s nothing blatantly wrong with that. These kinds of films have a universe of their own and their cinematic joys are unparalleled — you know you are watching a sub-standard fare but you are still hooked. Maybe the paper-thin plot keeps springing surprises every now and then or because it’s erotica done right. So the question that we must ask ourselves after coming out of a film like Hate Story 2 is not “how good was the film?” but “did the film keep us intrigued despite knowing its obvious shortcomings?”

Hate Story 2 opens to its female lead (Sonika) struggling in a hospital room. She manages to orchestrate an escape and from there on through flashbacks we understand what she’s really grappling with. It’s the kind of narrative style that looks stylish on paper but never really works on screen because the constant cutting between the past and present tires you, especially because there’s not much of a plot to be unearthed in any case. The flashbacks take us to the film’s antagonist, Mhatre (Sushant Singh), a powerful politician and an unabashed misogynist, who dictates terms to Sonika as and when he likes (she is his mistress). But instead of examining — or even subtly commenting on — his disturbing misogyny, the film just lets him be. The sloppy writing reduces him to a caricature and he doesn’t evoke any response. We are constantly shown the kind of fear he inspires in Sonika, but we don’t really feel that fear. It’s also the reason the vengeance sequences later on in the film fail to reach out to us.

By the time the film trundles towards the climax, a cop tells Mhatre: “How do you fight someone who is oblivious to the very definition of fear? Her boyfriend’s death has made her inert.” And it’s a rare aha moment because for the fleeting moment you understand what the film could have been. Hate Story 2 also lured the audience at the pretext of an erotic thriller, but it doesn’t even live up to that promise. It’s a strange film, really: one that is sheepish about lust and clueless about hate.

An edited version of this review appeared at The Sunday Guardian
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