Hell hath no fury like Bollywood's woman scorned

Some years ago, Urmila Matondkar played a strange cat-and-mouse game with Manoj Bajpai in Ram Gopal Varma's expertly executed horror thriller "Kaun".

Who was the victim and who the aggressor it was hard to tell.

Now in a ravishing reprise, the battle lines in the gender equation are far more clearly etched in debutant director Sriram Raghavan's "Ek Haseena Thi", which opens Friday.

While Saif hatches his grim plans, Urmila suffers the consequences and turns the tables on her tormentor.

In a 1983 family drama, "Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye", a middleclass girl played by Rati Agnihotri ganged up with a lawyer (Rekha) to fight the playboy (Mithun Chakraborty) who deserted her.

Twenty years later Urmila Matondkar takes on her tormentor played by Saif Ali Khan in a fight to finish.

Films about the woman on a warpath have fascinated filmmakers in fits and starts.

Though it isn't one of Bollywood's favourite formulas, simply because female-oriented films don't always work, there are many films on the theme of the woman scorned and her hellish fury that have made a deep impact.

In 1984, cinematographer Pravin Bhatt (Vikram Bhatt's father) turned director with "Bhavna", an emotionally cathartic tale about a woman (Shabana Azmi) who fights her own caddish husband (Marc Zuber) to bring up her son with dignity and even slaughters the spouse to ensure her son's future.

Shabana's bravura performance, reminiscent of Nargis' benchmark performance of a woman scorned in Mehboob Khan's "Mother India", won her a richly deserved Filmfare award for best actress.

In 1988, Rekha stunned audiences in Rakesh Roshan's "Khoon Bhari Maang" with her performance as a woman who's fed to the crocodiles by her gold-digging husband (Kabir Bedi).

She emerges cosmetically transformed to seek revenge. Like Shabana's "Bhavna", Rekha won a Filmfare award for her performance.

In Anil Sharma's "Shradhanjali" (1981), Raakhee took on Suresh Oberoi and defeated him in a corporate battle. More recently there was Preity Zinta in Kundan Shah's "Kya Kehna" seeking redress from her rich adversary Saif Ali Khan.

Now Saif returns to play the cool cad in "Ek Haseena Thi", taking the theme of the male oppressor beyond the rape and revenge routine.

It's interesting to see the gender battle played in these films on a more sly, subtle and damning plane than in the conventional man-woman drama.

Sex in these films isn't an issue. Morality is. And that's what makes the battle lines so contoured.

Whether the wronged woman finally rights her wrong or not, one thing is for sure: Bollywood is ready to see a change in the woman's traditional role vis-?-vis the man.

She takes it lying down. And then she gives back as good as she gets.