Ek Hasina Thi (2004)

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Sriram Raghavan's debut feature, Ek Hasina Thi, has all the earmarks of a thriller, but despite its snappy editing and blood-drenched narrative, it plays more like a melodrama. This is partly due to the overemphatic score by Amar Mohile, and partly due to Urmila Matondkar's engaging but slightly over-the-top performance in the lead role of Sarika. Saif Ali Khan does an excellent job as Karan, the film's heavy, managing to mix his usual charm with an edge of enigmatic disreputability. Sarika, like the heroine of a classic "women's picture" of the 1940s, is quite naïve as the film opens, and for the first 40 minutes or so, despite a couple of irritating red herrings (for example, the needlessly sinister neighbor), there's little indication that the story will take us to a dark, violent place. The story progresses fairly convincingly, but there are a couple of relatively minor plot holes along the way. While Sarika's transformation to a purveyor of deadly vengeance is passably convincing psychologically, there's no indication as to how this initially helpless woman marshals the allies she does in prison. Her skills as an assassin are also surprising, but by then you've either bought into the film's enjoyably overwrought scenario or not. Her ability seems derived not from years of training but from an undeniable psychological need to get back at Karan. Ek Hasina Thi is not quite the revelation that its champions would like to think it is, but for the most part, it hits its marks. Like much of producer Ram Gopal Varma's work, the film eschews many Bollywood conventions in favor of a Western approach to genre. This makes for a darkly entertaining and potent blend.