Ek Hasina Thi, Sriram Raghavan’s debut feature, had all the elements of a good Hollywood thriller, only with authentic Indian tropes.
Last Updated: 04.17 PM, Jan 10, 2022
Sriram Raghavan’s brilliance as a filmmaker was at display years before his works shot to uber-fame with Ayushmann Khurrana’s Andhadhun. Raghavan had proved with his 2004 debut feature Ek Hasina Thi, that he had a keen penchant for disconcerting stories that unnerved the weak heart.
Starring Urmila Matondkar and Saif Ali Khan, the film was a hat-tip to a space inhabited by the Pycho’s, The Double Jeopardy’s and The Bone Collector’s – all in fact, instrumental in making up Ek Hasina Thi’s universe.
A self-confessed obsessor of Alfred Hitchcock, Raghavan stitched his characters Karan Singh Rathod (Khan) and Sarika Vartak (Matondkar) with enough meat for viewers to invest in them throughout this fast-paced plot.
Karan and Sarika’s intense love affair bodes well for the narrative twist that Raghavan clearly wants to deploy from the film’s get-go. That Karan is a notorious criminal, Raghavan is clear to communicate. Yet, Sarika’s predictable naivete and consequent betrayal are heart-wrenching.
Matondkar, who at the time, was belting out one horror/thriller after another, ensured that she pumped Sarika’s persona with as much conviction as a Swati (in 2003’s Bhoot).
For Matondkar, Ek Hasina Thi was a double narrative – she was part of a jailbreak as well as a revenge narrative that entailed her to showcase vulnerability and strength both with aplomb. The actress, already making a mark in the genre, had a smooth ride throughout the film.
Raghavan, on his part, ensured that the plot was authentically Indian. So, even though the premise may be something out of a Hollywood flick, the treatment was raw and local.
Sarika’s experiences in the dingy cells of the jail were rife with beautifully crafted women characters whose backstories are steeped within our milieu.
Hence, an inimitable Seema Biswas took up the role of ACP Malti Vaidya, an unforgiving and no-nonsense cop trying to earn an honest living in a misogynistic world. Her stance towards Sarika is never unjustifiably rude, even though it may appear to be in the beginning.
When Malti realises Sarika’s counter plan, a part of her feels empathetic even though she if forced to go after Sarika for breaking the law. Similarly, Raghavan ensured that Gomati (played by Rasika Joshi) is repulsive and Sarika is likeable.
Gomati’s constant harassment and bullying never feel contrived or unnecessary, despite Joshi’s heavy hand at acting. That she was extra cautious of playing a butch character, Joshi’s attempt at something that outside of her comfort zone needs special commendation.
Raghavan even succeeded in bringing out the smart, suave and even subtle moments of poignance in Khan long before Vishal Bhardwaj reinvented the actor with Omkara. Karan was devilishly handsome and well aware of his charms on the women around. His ruthlessness is so unapologetic that he wears it with elan, almost to say, “well…can’t help it.”
Karan’s obvious nonchalance with Sarika is only a stepping stone to his greater heinousness. Time and again, Karan proves that empathy only takes up considerable amount of time, which he prizes more than anything. His willingness to succeed and achieve his goals, morality notwithstanding, is a crucial behavioural symptom in a sociopath.
In Raghavan’s universe, each character has an obsessive streak. Sarika’s untamed rage against Karan makes her turn her life around and tread uncharted territories. She consciously embraces the sinful side and ensures that she carve her own destiny. Raghavan’s use of the vindication ploy to emancipate Sarika is a rather hackneyed trope and yet, feels natural and almost therapeutic for invested audiences by the climax of Ek Hasina Thi.
Fortunately, Raghavan equips his cast with adequate motivation to drive the plot in the direction of a counter ploy. The second half of the film is as action-packed and fast-paced as the first half is helplessly languid and excruciating in detail.
Ek Hasina Thi was smart filmmaking, one that required the entire team to step up and create an ambience of dread and brutal score-settling. Raghavan’s sincerity behind the camera shone in the performances and earned Matondkar a nomination for the year’s Best Actress Filmfare.
The film paved the way for many such slick action thrillers that were completely homegrown but had the pizzazz and sensible scriptwriting of a Hollywood production.
Watch the film here .