HATHYAR (1989)

Hathyar is a typical JP Dutta film but unlike its predecessors, it unfolds in a town and is a gangster film at heart. It has every element that is synonymous with a J P Dutta film like rivalry, angst, injustice, betrayal and above all two protagonists whose lives come full circle through the runtime of the film. All of the above mentioned elements are used to conjure up a potent mix of drama and intrigue that is hard to miss.

Hathyar has two primary storylines. Avinash (Sanjay Dutt) is the son of Ajay Singh (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), a Thakur whose family is involved in a bitter feud with another family of their village. They are known to constantly hack each other off without any pity or remorse. The twist in the tale is Avinash is in love with Suman (who is crazy about him) who happens to be from the family of their enemies. Ajay Singh finally has enough of the bloodshed and decides to move his family to the city. Avinash doesn’t want to go as he believes that the move will brand them as weak and afraid of their enemies but his parents are able to convince him to move.

Khushal Khan (Dharmendra) and his bother Samiulla (Rishi Kapoor) are minor cogs in the machinery of the city. Khushal works as a security guard at a bank which gets robbed and he gets implicated for it. Once out of punitive custody, he becomes an overseer of the town and then the biggest don in town. His Brother Samiulla, who is an honest man and earns his living by playing music, walks away from Khushal’s life turning his face permanently from him as he can’t put up with his criminal ways.

It is at this juncture that Avinash and his family enter the picture. Ajay Singh shares an immediate bond with Samiulla and when he is wrongly implicated in a robbery, he finally comes into contact with Khushal Khan who saves him by rounding up the actual culprits in a hurry. Post that, Ajay Singh becomes a friend of Khushal (who gets some great news from him). Tragedy soon strikes and Ajay Singh is killed leaving Avinash and his wife alone and destitute in a city where it’s easier to die then find employment. After many attempts at finding respectful employment, Avinash lands up in a gang of petty thieves that finally leads him to come in contact with Khushal Khan and finally becoming his henchman or as it is referred in the film, “Hathyar”.

Hathyar is a departure from the rest of the J P Dutta films of this type in many ways. First and foremost the film isn’t brimming with action. While the rest of the films like Ghulami, Yateem, Batwara and even Kshatriya (that came after Hathyar) had elaborate and rousing action sequences, here the emphasis is on the character-driven drama and dialog. I was surprised by the utter lack of action and the number of dialogues that the film had on offer. At many junctures, I felt the characters involved would finally break into an elaborate action sequence but that didn’t happen. This helped the film to attain a kind of realism and authenticity that none of his previous films could achieve. Hathyar is a character-driven film. It roots in the performance of Sanjay Dutt, Dharmendra and Rishi Kapoor and thankfully all the three actors oblige by turning in sensational essays.

Sanjay Dutt looks the part. From the very beginning, he shows a trait for violence. The first time we see him, he is out hunting deer and at the same time, he doesn’t seem to have any problems with romancing Amrita Singh knowing fully well that she is from the rival family. When his father wants him to shift, he almost refuses. This shows his courage and audacity to do anything that he feels like doing. These parts are key to understanding his psyche and getting us ready for what he does next. Being the son of a moral person like Ajay Singh, Avinash is a far cry from honest and innocent even though he tries up to some extent to be. This is something that JP Dutta carried in from his previous film where the hero was always not necessarily squeaky clean.

Khushal Singh, on the other hand, was a moral man to start with but quickly gave in to his lust for power and a better existence. Even though he is at crossroads with his brother, he chooses the life of crime over co-existing with his brother. He does love him but he loves a plush and dictating lifestyle even more. Towards the end of the film, when he stands face to face with Avinash, he has no qualms about kidnapping Avinash’s wife which shows his moral bankruptcy. Dutta does wonderfully well by showing Samiulla saving Avinash’s wife when his child was kidnapped and still held for ransom in the first place and Avinash was an aid in the heinous act. By doing this, he is able draws a wonderful contrast between the moral differences of the two Khan Brothers. This was a masterstroke.

Rishi Kapoor is not only the more moral Khan but possibly the only clean man in the film apart from Ajay Singh. Not only does he have nothing to do with his brother or his clout in the town, he has successfully built a world for himself and has gradually mustered up enough power and respect to be of use and help to others. He is a romantic and a good father. If that was not enough, he has the courage to stand up and risk his life for even a person who was instrumental in harming him. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Samiulla might be one of the most positive characters that J P Dutta films have ever given us.

The climax of the film is electrifying. Just before the climax, we have the only elaborate (if one may call it so) action sequence and it works well. The character of Rajan Anna (Paresh Rawal) is built primarily to instigate a feud between Avinash and Khushal and the manner in which it is done is quite commendable. When I look at Rajan Anna’s character, I fully understand his actions. It was one of Khushal’s men who killed his brother when the orders were not to. Avinash informed Khushal about it but his words fell on deaf ears. This catalyzed two things, Rajan vying for Samiulla’s blood and Avinash detaching from Khushal. I just loved the way this whole episode was envisioned. It feels great when a filmmaker takes you seriously and feeds you intrigue wrapped in a well-written screenplay.

Hathyar culminates in the death of Khushal and Avinash in separate encounters as they are trying to escape. The film couldn’t have ended any better. The scenes are milked to the last ounce of drama and as a viewer, I really felt for the two men. While Khushal couldn’t let go of his vanity and false pride by surrendering to the police, Avinash just couldn’t control his angst. As the words of his father played on his mind in the final moments of his life, Avinash could finally see through the fact that his father was not a coward but was just smart enough to see that feud and violence could never be solutions to problems. His angst was primarily a result of being so wrong and committing the same mistake that his father warned him against more than anything else.

Hathyar’s only major folly is its treatment of the female characters. They are the most generic and cliché rendering of Indian women that you can imagine. I have felt this to be a major issue with many of J P Dutta films. His women are not much. In Ghulami and Batwara he gave us two extremely strong women characters in a princess played by Smita Patil (Ghulami) and Dimple Kapadia’s Jigna (Batwara), who was not afraid to throw punches and stones at anyone. But that has been it. There was some semblance of strength in the characters of the mothers in Kshatriya but that too comes very late.

Hathyar has attained a cult-classic status in the Bollywood folklore. It’s impossible to imagine that this film never got a proper DVD release. The only version of it available is a BIT VCD which is of extremely poor quality. A classic like this deserves at least a DVD release. J P Dutta fans will treasure this film without a single shred of doubt. For everyone else, it is easily one of the best gangster films to have come out in the 80s. It is stark, it is dark, it is gritty and it is devoid of the tropes that Bollywood doesn’t fail to engage even in a realistic film. Forgive the songs though (chuckle! chuckle!).

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars) 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. ahmdahc says:

    This movie is a masterpiece. It was way ahead of its time and Sunjay Dutt’s best ever performance.
    The movie flopped as Indian audiences could only relate to run of the mill garbage that are dished out regularly.
    JP Dutta made 4 masterpieces in Ghulami, Yateem, Hatyhar and Batwara.
    Kshatriya could’ve been a masterpiece but was let down by corny UK scenes and a terrible climax. But still way better than most of the movies at that time.
    How I wish JP Dutta returns to this type of films.
    He lost his touch with the OTT Border and its been downhill since.
    Yet, he remains to me one of the greatest film makers in Hindi Cinema.

  2. while i disagree with your view on Border, that i loved…i pretty much agree with you on everything else. wonderful knowing the thoughts of a fellow film enthusiast…eloquently put.

  3. ahmdahc says:

    I’m not saying Border is rubbish. Far from it. Its a good film.
    But not a masterpiece like his first 4 films.
    I found Border to be unrealistic in some of the war scenes, thus I said OTT.
    My gripe with Border, that Dutta is remembered for this and not his masterpieces.

    I think your scoring for his first 4 films need revisiting! Its way to Low! LOL

    My scoring for his films:

    Ghulami (4.9)
    Yateem (4.8)
    Hathyar (4.9)
    Batwara (4.8)
    Kshatriya (4.5)
    Border (4.4)
    Refugee (4.0)
    Umrao Jaan (2.5)
    Paltan (3.5)

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