Director: Sailesh Kolanu
Writer: Sailesh Kolanu
Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Sanya Malhotra, Milind Gunaji, Shilpa Shukla, Dalip Tahil, Jatin Goswami
Mortals like James Bond have no time to die. But legends like Vikram Jaisingh (Rajkummar Rao) have no time to cry, think, breathe, walk, talk, waste, chill and kill. The Jaipur-based inspector is so terse that the film he occupies – a Hindi remake of the 2020 Telugu original of the same name – looks like a six-episode crime series streaming at 2.5x speed on an OTT platform. There are no pauses in HIT: The First Case – not between action and reaction, motion and emotion, idea and execution, question and answer, love and loss. Characters speak like they're memorising lines: robotic, brisk, unfeeling. The establishing shots look like blink-or-miss Easter eggs. When the parents of a missing girl request the police chief to find her, the very next shot reveals Vikram getting a phone call two months later that his partner is missing. Half a nanosecond later, he takes up the girl's case on discovering that the two are linked. Most police procedurals take too long to come to the point. But HIT hurtles towards the end of every scene in such a tearing hurry that it overshoots the point, reaches outer space and makes the final twist of a whodunit look like a speck of campy nothingness.
This style is the film's (literal) reading of pace and tension. If a narrative isn't compact enough, just remove the transitions. If a plot isn't breathless enough, just remove its lungs. If the script reads too long, just read it faster. Maybe it's designed to make the viewer feel like the cop chasing clues – constantly one step behind, struggling to keep up with the case. Or maybe I'm just intellectualising a tone that left me gasping for breath. Once you get past this no-nonsense treatment (you most likely won't), HIT is still incredibly strange. It opens with Vikram as the classic haunted cop; the memory of losing a loved one has left him petrified of fire. His pyrophobia comes handy every time he's close to cracking the mystery. At one point, lightning strikes a tree so that it goes up in flames and brings Vikram to his knees in the middle of the climactic chase.
One of the first scenes shows Vikram being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by a psychologist friend. After a sad song shows him drinking alone at home every night while listening to Billie Holiday, it's abruptly revealed that he isn't a loner after all. His girlfriend, Neha (Sanya Malhotra), works in forensics – which means she walks around urgently in a lab and proposes cutting-edge DNA tests whose results must arrive in one hour and not two. Everything needs to be quicker. A romantic song shows the local couple visiting every exotic tourist spot in Jaipur, because how else do we see the palaces and forts? Neha then comes up with the bright idea of Vikram taking three months off from his job to recover from his trauma – by retreating to his childhood home in the mountains, which is exactly where his tragedy occurred. And that's that. Once Neha disappears during Vikram's break, he returns to find her in the most unprofessional way possible. We only see Neha in flashbacks after this, most of which are amorous in nature.
For a while in the second half, HIT (which incidentally isn't a projection of the film's box-office chances; it stands for Homicide Intervention Team) does some interesting things with the investigation. Vikram's hunches reflect his prejudices as an upper-caste Hindu man – his first suspect is a suspended Muslim cop (Milind Gunaji), and his main suspect is a divorced woman (Shilpa Shukla) who smokes a lot. The intent is to show a man evolving during the course of the case. But very little of this actually comes through. He randomly drops a punchline about moral policing after interrogating a sexist college principal. He randomly drops a disclaimer about how same-sex attraction isn't abnormal – ironic, given that HIT is the third Hindi thriller in recent memory that demonises queerness with the homophobic petulance of a schoolchild. Vikram's wokeness is window dressing for a premise that collapses into its own regressive black hole.
His deadpan dialogue delivery – which has more to do with the film's physical speed than the character's mental numbness – does a disservice to Rajkummar Rao, who looks like he's aching to have at least one non-scowling moment. Or at least one scene where the camera just lingers on him for more than two seconds. Rao is good enough to frame the film's constraints as Vikram's brooding persona, but there's only so much he can do before the writing outruns its own characters. Sanya Malhotra, too, deserves better than a premise that compelled a fellow film critic to wonder if perhaps Neha is elaborately staging the entire investigation – with a little help from her (Rajasthani) friends – to cure Vikram of his PTSD. The way this film unfurls, this theory seemed horrifying plausible, especially considering the suspicious body language of Vikram's allies – a boss (the evergreen Dalip Tahil) who keeps lurking at the edge of every frame, and a subordinate-cum-friend named Rohit who exists solely to answer grave phone calls and receive Vikram's complicated instructions. Everyone is just about incompetent enough to make us doubt their integrity.
But when an actual killer emerges, I felt torn between heaving a sigh of relief and being freshly aghast. You shouldn't judge a film by its twist, but you should judge a film if it chooses the third best option in a two-horse race. This is also when I remembered, for some reason, that Vikram Jaisingh was Farhan Akhtar's name in Luck By Chance and Neil Bhoopalam's name in No One Killed Jessica. This trivia is of no use to anyone except myself. If nothing, it distracts me from the threat of HIT: The Second Case, which, according to the makers, is "coming soon".