If you take out the murders and the flashbacks, HIT: The First Case works great as a tale of an employee in a toxic workplace. In an initial sequence, Rajkummar Rao’s Vikram, a cop, is asked by his therapist to leave his job as he has a “classic case” of PTSD. In another scene, he is scolded by his boss for replying to all his texts with a thumbs-up emoji. He also has a European shirt-wearing, smooth-faced, sh*t-talking, office nemesis. Even when Vikram’s boss grants him a leave, he makes it a point to tell him it is because he never took one all these years and deserves a break. “Provided, you’ll be available over the phone,”
My meandering aside, Vikram does have other things to worry about. He has a past trauma which manifests itself in the form of panic attacks. They are almost always accompanied by flashes of a girl, possibly his sister, being engulfed in flames in the backdrop of snow-capped mountains. This has made him a pyrophobic who uses an electric lighter. His leave is cut short after his partner, Neha (Sanya Malhotra), goes missing. There is also a case of another missing girl on his table, which is linked to Neha. For Vikram, work has become personal.
If you like crime thrillers with a tormented detective who looks at slideshows of his wife, HIT: The First Case is a buffet of treats for you. Its protagonist will smoke a cigarette in the rain, drive alone at night, and play the blues on vinyl while sighing on a leather sofa with an Alsatian staring at him quizzically. There are orange glows of streetlamps and expansive dusty Rajasthan fields with buzzing shrubs. The bleakness of a world gone wrong shines in every frame. Amid all the clichés, the film commendably manages to not get its protagonist suspended. Once the audience seeps into its narrative, HIT: The First Case, like a good whodunnit, provides ample breadcrumbs to throw them off the scent. I guess being helmed by the director of the Telugu original of the same name helps in charting out narrative beats and avoiding wild creative leaps.
At the start of HIT: The First Case, Rajkummar Rao evoked a sense of exertion in me. I expected him to give his all to the character, to cry, shout, ponder, and be an actor maximus. He does all of the above and holds the viewers by the nape to make them notice. From his outbursts to his palpitations he hits every note like a drummer’s cymbal. Sanya Malhotra, on the other hand, gives an easing performance in a tense narrative. Her Neha is just a catalyst to Vikram’s conflict but leaves a small but indelible mark. In just one chase sequence, HIT: The First Case offers two homages. The moths around a lightbulb in a suspect’s lair reminded me of The Silence of the Lambs and a gun’s muzzle against the temple brought back Memories of Murder.
What requires special mention are the film’s politics and its desire to analyse and correct itself. Usually, cop thrillers are where sensitivity goes to die. Not in HIT: The First Case. In an endearing sequence, after getting a ‘character sketch’ of the missing girl from the sexist dean of her college, Vikram explains to a constable, “There are two types of police in the world. First is we, who prevent people from doing what shouldn’t be done. Second is the moral police who stop people from doing things they couldn’t do.” Notice a scene where Vikram and his colleague discuss a case outside a nightclub, unbothered by two men making out in a corner behind. Vikram won’t cut corners and asks for permission from a murder suspect before conducting her polygraph test. For hard-boiled lovers this might be too much of a soul-cleansing, but in today’s time, where being politically incorrect is the new edgy, somebody had to.
HIT: The First Case keeps you at the edge of the seat for most of its duration but stuffs a lot of information towards the end rather conveniently. In the second half, the story scrambles for a plot. The reveal also doesn’t lead to gasps. HIT: The First Case is a rollercoaster you have taken multiple times. But who doesn’t enjoy the ride?
HIT: The First Case
Director: Sailesh Kolanu
Starring: Rajkummar Rao, Sanya Malhotra, Dalip Tahil, Milind Gunaji