I cannot count the number of times I've seen Hatya -- so many that I'm thinking I may get a second copy of it, just in case one day my DVD stops working and, frankly, that's not a moment I really want to contemplate. And I do have a complaint: my DVD of the film claims a running time of 160 minutes, and the DVD clearly runs 150, and there are obvious cuts, so I want to know what those missing 10 minutes consist of.
Because until I know that, I have to tell you that Hatya is an interesting and mostly-well-constructed and slightly untidy thriller, and I cannot tell if it was made that way, or the result of some ham-fisted editing after the fact. What I do know, thanks to Nicki, is that Hatya is actually the Hindi remake of a Malayalam film, Poovinnu Puthiya Poonthenna that features the great Malayalam star Mammootty, and its director and writer Fazil is also given a story credit on Hatya.
(Aside: I am fascinated by Malayalam cinema, and although I've not seen a lot of films, I've seen enough to make me think that it's one of the gems of south Indian cinema, and given enough time and resources, I can see myself becoming obsessed by it. I already own a dozen films or so, and when I can track down this one and the Tamil remake that was also made of it, I'd love to do a comparison of all three films.)
So that's rather a long-winded way of saying that Hatya in the form I've seen it has a few flaws (including an extremely abrupt ending), but so much wonderful going for it that I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt.
In Hatya, a small boy (the adorable Baby Sujitha, who I believe was in all three versions of the film) and his mother are witnesses to a murder in the film's opening moments.
In the meantime, we meet Sagar (Govinda), drunkenly dancing at a wedding:
...and later, drunk and picking a fight in a restaurant in order to defend a lowly waiter. He's a poor man, argues Sagar, he's already being kicked by fate, why should he have to suffer any more at the hands of louts? Sagar is a lonely man, trying to drown his sorrows, and picking fights with one wish in mind:
On his way home, Sagar finds the little boy laying in a pile of garbage at the side of the road, and takes him home. He sets out to figure out who this boy -- whom he names Raja -- is, and why he's alone.
If Hatya has a message, it's outlined in its opening song ("Ghunghat Ke Pat Khol", which I dearly wish I could find online): "Every crime will be punished, and every secret will be out."
The mystery we're meant to unravel in Hatya, though, is not the mystery we might first think it is. We know who the murderers are, and of course, we are meant to believe that Sagar must figure out who they are so he can protect Raja from them. Then there's also the mystery of the little boy: where does he come from, and why does he never speak? And there is also Sagar's mystery to unravel, as well: why is he alone? Why does the 18th of November cause him such grief? Why does such a good man have no will to live?
All of these questions are answered, gradually, as the film progresses, and as the murderers come ever closer to finding Raja.
Hatya's central theme is, though, one of redemption: Sagar believes the fates are against him, but in rescuing Raja, in caring for him, in protecting him, in loving him like his own child, Sagar finds the courage and the desire to turn his fate around.
Through Raja he also meets Sapna (Neelam) and falls in love with her, a romance conducted through sidelong glances and which is so sweet and tender that it is probably my favorite Govinda/Neelam moment ever in film.
Neelam, too, is terrific here as the chatty Sapna -- she is bright and positive and cheerful, but she's also determined and resourceful and when the going gets tough, she does not crumble, knowing that she, too, needs to protect Raja and help Sagar when it seems that he is going to be implicated in the murder.
I love Hatya for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Govinda's performance. I'd almost be willing to place money on the fact that when he was looking for someone to play Raju Taxiwala, director Nikhil Advani had seen Hatya and thought of Govinda, because I am convinced that in Sagar, we see the seeds of what will become Raju.
So many moments in Hatya stand out for me, not the least of which is one brilliant scene, when Sagar finally reveals the story behind all his sadness. At one point, he grabs his whiskey bottle and starts taking swigs from it, and as his story progresses and he takes more and more swigs, he gets progressively more and more drunk, until he finally passes out on the floor. It has to be amongst the most challenging things an actor can do, I think, and he does it almost effortlessly.
Sagar is not a perfect performance -- but Govinda brings a reserve, a melancholy, a toughness, a tenderness to the role that is at times breathtaking.