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Ronjita Kulkarni | January 15, 2004 13:26 IST

Ram Gopal Varma claimed that Ek Hasina Thi would be Urmila Matondkar's best performance yet. Not too far-fetched, because she is just out of credible performances in Bhoot and Pinjar.

And after watching the film, I couldn't have agreed with him more.

Her journey from a naïve and gullible girl to a hardened woman is well done. We see her as Sarika, who lives alone in Mumbai and works in a travel agency. She meets Karan (Saif Ali Khan) at the agency. While he hits on her immediately, she holds him at bay.

After he nabs a thief who steals her purse, she invites Karan home. Seems highly unlikely that a girl who lives alone in a city like Mumbai, would invite strangers home for coffee. When Karan asks her for a kiss, he gets thrown out. Again, he just has to save her from a gang of drunken men to make her fall in love with him.

Saif excels in his attempts to woo Urmila. One of the well-done scenes includes a game that the two play. The rules require one to ask questions to the other while the other has to give only wrong answers. When she asks what he does for a living, he replies he is a gangster. This is the first insight we get into his negative background.

Back to the story, Karan, who often travels on work, asks Sarika to entertain one of his friends who comes to Mumbai for the first time. After offering tea, the 'friend' leaves his suitcase behind with her. Later in the day, he gets killed and Sarika gets framed for the murder.

A still from Ek Hasina Thi

While she gives Karan's lawyer a free hand, Karan manipulates her decisions. He even convinces her to admit her 'guilt' in court. Watch out for Urmila's expressions in this scene as they change from forlorn looks to knowing that something is amiss.

Her admittance lands her in jail for seven years. The jail sequences are not overtly gory but they show the gradual change in her. Like the time when she gets over her fear of rats or when she stands up to the regular bully.

Though it is unclear why a gangster (Pratima Kazmi), who operates from the prison, takes a liking for her. She even helps Sarika throughout her stay and aids her on her jailbreak.

And there begins Sarika's revenge plans.

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The film is done very realistically, with slick editing to keep the pace. But one aspect that seemed to stick out is Urmila's daily change of clothes. Even while in jail, the actress manages to wear her regular clothes, without repeating them at all.

It would be unfair to say that the film belongs to Urmila. Saif, in his second negative outing after Kya Kehna!, does a remarkable job -- no gritting of teeth or villainish eyes, just a simple conveying of emotions. The actor seems to be getting better with each film. Notice the way he beats up some gangsters, while trying to find out why they were sent to kill him.

At no point in the film does Urmila overshadow Saif. In fact, he is able to carry a film entirely on his shoulders.

Seema Biswas, playing a cop, emotes mostly with her eyes and her strong personality. In fact, the actress barely has any dialogues.

Urmila Matondkar, Saif Ali Khan in Ek Hasina ThiThe presence of only one song keeps the tempo up while the sound (by Dwarak Warrier) enhances the tension.

Ek Hasina Thi is loosely based on the Hollywood film Double Jeopardy, but is adapted to the Indian palate. The film also adapts a scene from The Bone Collector. But then again, we are going through this phase where even remakes are rehashed disastrously (Plan and Tehzeeb, to name a few).

By that dint, Ek Hasina Thi emerges a winner.

Whether this movie will work remains to been seen, as Ram Gopal Varma's earlier productions, Darna Mana Hai and Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon did not gel well with the audiences.

But whether or not the film works, one thing is a given: Saif Ali Khan is going to be one busy man.

Cast: Urmila Matondkar, Saif Ali Khan, Seema Biswas, Pratima Kazmi
Director: Sriram Raghavan
Music: Amar Mohile
Producers: Ram Gopal Varma, K Sera Sera

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