I want a pair of headphones that can replicate the sound from a theatre experience. I know a lot of home-theatre set-ups have speakers that surround you, but there’s still a diminishment of sound. Headphones are better. The sound doesn’t leak out. It stays locked in. Before the release of Karthik Subbaraj‘s Jigarthanda, I spoke to the film’s sound engineers about the mixing that was done according to Dolby Atmos specifications. With earlier technologies, we used to hear the sound of rain from the two sides of the theatre: the speakers on the left and those on the right. Now, because the “rain sound” can be restricted to the overhead speakers alone, we can hear the rain fall over us, the way it does in life. I want this at home.
I wanted this while watching Sailesh Kolanu’s HIT, which stands for Homicide Intervention Team. (This film is labelled “The First Case”, and the ending sets up a sequel, due in 2021.) This is not one of those thrillers where you have a scene during the night, and it’s pouring buckets, and the hero is searching for a killer in a forest, and he’s groping along because he can’t see more than two feet ahead, and the camera now moves behind the killer and we see him advancing towards the hero, and… TRUMPET BLARE! EXPLOSION OF DRUMS! No! The sounds, here, are subtler. It’s mostly the background score, and composer Vivek Sagar isn’t out to plunge a knife into your sympathetic nervous system every fifth minute. He opts for a mild throb of dread. You don’t feel scared. You feel uneasy. With those headphones, I’d have felt… uneasier.
I think this sensibility comes from the director. HIT is a classy thriller, which is both its plus and its minus. Vishwak Sen plays Vikram, a super investigator who knows everything. He can tell you where a body is buried by sniffing the wild shrubs that grow in the area. He knows “ink varnish” when he spots it at the site of a suicide. In short, if Hercule Poirot made love to Google, you’d get Vikram nine months later. His girlfriend Neha (Ruhani Sharma, who was so lovely in Chi La Sow) has a similar job profile, but she has no similar superpowers. She relies on “boring” processes like ballistics work and DNA tests. Her second job is to keep asking Vikram about his Terrible Past™, which is hinted at but never quite revealed. (See note about sequel above.)
From the first frame, Vikram’s mystery is preserved. We see him running towards us, but we don’t see his face. It’s obscured by the smoke from a fish being roasted in the foreground. (It’s a hell of an image.) We then see him in what looks like an empty warehouse — again, the focus is on the foreground, Vikram is a blur. It’s only when he reaches the person he is searching for that we really see him, and his face is twisted with pain that will stay with him till the end credits. “PTSD”, the psychologist calls it. With his panic attacks and a spiking blood pressure, how will he handle a new case that’s about someone really close to him? As HIT goes on, Vikram gets increasingly wild and deranged. We almost seem to be watching a character study. The title could stand for His Internal Trauma!
It’s a cool idea to construct a movie franchise in which the hero is slowly unpeeled like an onion. I liked the touch that his superior (Bhanuchandar) indulges him. He is not the same man with Ibrahim (Murli Sharma), a much junior cop. With Vikram, we see a father figure. With Ibrahim, we see a lion tamer. Almost every character gets small bits of personality. When Vikram sees a picture of Neha’s mother, he recalls her disapproval of him. (We don’t cut to a visual flashback. We just hear a snatch of dialogue from earlier: it’s an aural flashback.) When Vikram and Neha sit down for a chat, it doesn’t play out like a regular scene between a couple. We keep cutting to Vikram’s colleague, Rohit (Chaithanya Sagiraju) and his wife Swapna (Naveena Reddy), who’s suffering from some kind of condition. The writing and the editing hint at how intertwined these lives are.
The sophistication in filmmaking is matched by a sophisticated worldview. This is a world where a hero can be broken. (Gradually, Vikram loses his famous instincts, too. Even with the investigation, he is increasingly lost.) This is a world where no one bats an eyelid when two boys kiss in a nightclub. So what explains the divorcée, Sheela (Hari Teja), who faces “social stigma”? It’s one thing that a character seems like an alien in a film’s carefully created universe. It’s another when the subplot around her turns utterly ridiculous. I didn’t buy a microsecond of it. Vikram’s adversary at work, played by Srinath Maganti, is named Abhilash, but he could just as easily have been named Man Inserted Into the Script to Create a Sense of Conflict Because There’s Really No Other Conflict In This Movie.
But that’s exactly what’s good about HIT. It’s not after cheap thrills. But there’s an advantage with cheap thrills. They give you at least the temporary illusion that a film is working. Every time you jump out of your seat with a scream, you’re really saying, “Paisa vasool.” When a film does something more honourable and opts for the slow burn, it really has to get the Big Reveal right. The closing stretch is all it has to make us say, “Paisa vasool.” Here, I felt shortchanged. The explanation adds up when you think about it, but you don’t feel it. This portion alone warrants an entire movie, not the five measly minutes doled out to it. HIT isn’t bad, but I hope the sequel is better. I mean, if there is a sequel, with the world being what it is at present. Real life is far tenser than whatever Sailesh Kolanu is typing up right now.