15 July 2009 | Peter_Young
"Once There Was a Beauty" - Fantastic film, fantastic Urmila!
Ek Hasina Thi is a wonderfully absorbing film. It is gritty, realistic, gripping, and it successfully adopts the style of Ram Gopal Varma's film-making. This thriller develops at a taut pace, starting as a simple romance and later gradually growing in suspense with its shocking proceedings. It is about a young independent woman, Sarika (Urmila Matondkar), who falls for a young suave man, Karan (Saif Ali Khan) who is actually not the one he appears to be. Unexpectedly, her world is turned upside down when she finds herself jailed because of him. That's how the story of her hardening begins, when, toughened by prison life, she gets determined to take revenge. The film does not have any unnecessary subplots, it avoids melodrama, it is relatively short, it has no songs, and all these elements contribute to its authenticity and suspenseful mood, also aided by its fantastic background score, brilliant dialogues, and superb cast.
Urmila Matondkar is one of the finest and most versatile actresses in India. But, in spite of having attained nationwide fame, she is still extremely underrated. It may be because she stepped into a new kind of cinema in order to satisfy her artistic hunger and show her exceptional acting abilities. In Ek Hasina Thi, Urmila stars as Sarika Vartak, but although she plays one character, she actually plays two different women. She is first a gentle and simple class-working woman who, after being deceived by a man, turns into a merciless, calculating and almost sadistic avenger. The complexity of this challenging character arc is astounding, and there is not a single false note in the way Matondkar portrays this deeply troubling transformation. She is thoroughly relatable, real and compelling, handling the toughest and most brutal moments with depth, authenticity and unsettling intensity. This is a performance to remember.
Quite obviously, the rest of the cast are here only to support Urmila, but they include a host of talented actors, all of whom do well. Saif Ali Khan is very impressive in this villainous turn. This is one of his most restrained acts, and his serious character comes as a pleasant surprise after all the comic, lighthearted and womanising characters he had played before. Seema Biswas can always be counted on to deliver a credible performance, and that's what she does as Malti. She creates a tough screen persona which is appropriately intimidating. Pratima Kazmi is superb as the powerful yet compassionate prisoner Pramila. In conclusion, Ek Hasina Thi is a great dramatic thriller, which is enjoyable, unconventional and thoroughly fascinating. The film has some disturbing moments and many moments of relief and joy. The ending is also one of the most unusual you will see in a Hindi film. One of the best Indian films of 2004.