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 Ek Hasina Thi
Director :
Music :
Starring :
 Sriram Raghavan
 Amar Mohile
 Urmila Matondkar, Saif Ali Khan, Seema Biswas, Pratima Kazmi, Aditya Shrivastava.

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

After a successful 2003, Urmila Matondkar comes up with another award-worthy performance in "Ek Hasina Thi" as a working-class girl in Mumbai who commits the worst crime in the book of decorum, she falls in love with a stranger.

The basic premise of Pooja Ladha Surti's screenplay is so solid, you want to applaud first-time director Sridhar Raghavan for taking on the challenge of again reinventing Urmila's persona while telling a story that is so routine on the surface (simple, lonely vulnerable city girl taken for a ride by a suave smooth operator) one has to look closely to see the fissures in the pattern.

Raghavan is quite a storyteller. He takes you along from the first scene, where we see Urmila slouched in jail, the mice serve as a running... or shall I say scampering leitmotif in his lean, mean and menacing tale.

The narration doesn't stop to catch its breath as Karan Rathod (Saif Ali Khan) gets to work wooing and winning over Sarika Vartak. Khan is of course a born charmer. But let's not discount the value of the crisp lines that he mouths.

When Sarika is accosted by hoodlums in the dead of the night, Karan steps out of the darkness and beats the living daylights out of them.

We then hear him say: "I hired them... damn, I broke one of their hands. I'll have to pay 10,000 extra."

That whole sequence when he seduces her into bed is positively mesmerising. The little game that they play where Karan and Sarika tell each other lies as a game, is so brilliant, you want to laud Sriram Raghavan for bringing Hollywood into mainstream cinema without selling out.

Here's a relationship that grows without groaning with punctuations.

But wait. There is a problem, a huge problem in the post-interval half. Sitting riveted watching the innocent victim's shocking manipulation by the monstrous machinations of materialistic morals, we begin to take the narrative's well-oiled progression to a finale for granted.

That's where Raghavan lets us down. The entire portion from Sarika's escape from jail to her final revenge loses its audience.

The mood undergoes an incredible transformation. From exuding the horrific heat of a life plunging downhill, the plot suddenly swerves into a damn-the-deceiver roller coaster ride. The transition from Raj Santoshi to Sidney Sheldon is uneasy, to say the least.

From being a victim Sarika becomes the blessed aggressor. And our link with her heart and mind suddenly snaps. We've no idea where she's heading, and whom she's avenging: the man who deceived her, or destiny which defeated her.

There're clever cross-references to the underworld crisscrossing the second-half, a sort of "look-I've-seen-'Satya'-several-times" bravura that could've been avoided with no loss to the debutant director's vision. You wish Raghavan had used more heart than brains in constructing Sarika's revenge.

But then there's Urmila playing a large part in carrying the rough passages forward without calamity. Her look for the first "normal" half and the second devastated, potentially devastating, half again reveal her stunning commitment to creating characters through her clothes, body language and speech patterns.

In many sequences, especially in the first-half, Urmila is a powerhouse of bristling emotions. Saif Ali Khan is the perfect foil.
Not for a second does he seek the audiences' sympathy.

Instead, he delves deep into his character's amorality to construct a world of absolute self gratification that's terrifyingly cold and matter-of-fact. Here's an actor to watch. And he doesn't seem to shout for attention.

Some of the supporting performances are also beyond the ordinary. After a long time Seema Biswas emerges engaging as a vicious but well-meaning cop. Aditya Shrivastava as a seedy lawyer is also eminently in-sync with the film's mood.

Shrivastava figures in one of the film's most mood-defining ironic episodes. Right after he boasts to his benefactor Karan that he has bought a brand new vehicle, we see his body crash on its gleaming roof.

Such moments of heightened, almost in-your-face, irony are well integrated. C.K. Muraleedharan's cinematography, Sanjib Datta's editing, Amar Mohile's background music and Drawak Warrior's sound are outstanding without being demonstrative.

An overall restraint in the language (no overt use of expletives in jail) and content (the love scene between Urmila and Saif is shyly contoured), plus a deeply original vision of crime and retribution carry "Ek Hasina Thi" beyond the ordinary.

But why do we feel somewhat let down at the end? Sriram Raghavan could've gone much further down the road to perdition.

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More about Ek Hasina Thi
- Movie Stills
- Interview: Urmila Matondkar
- Interview: Ram Gopal Verma
- Interview: Sriram Raghavan