Movies have been a passion for Sriram Raghavan. But it took him some time before he could translate that passion into reality.
Originally from Pune, Raghavan finished college and came to Mumbai to pursue a career in journalism. "I got a job in Stardust magazine, which I just wasn't good at. So I decided to join the Film and Television Institute of India and did a course in direction."
He struggled for two years. In the meantime, he made a short feature, Raman Raghav, with Raghuvir Yadav. A meeting with Ram Gopal Varma, one of his favourite filmmakers that changed his fortune.
Raghavan's thriller, Ek Hasina Thi, featuring Urmila Matondkar and Saif Ali Khan, released January 15. In this interview, Raghavan tells Sukanya Verma why Ek Hasina Thi is dark but not grim:
How did your big break happen?
I happened to meet Ram Gopal Varma after Satya: I loved that movie so much that I wanted to meet and talk to him. He asked me to write something and show him. I carried the VHS of Raman Raghav and showed him. He loved it. We were in touch on and off. But he was busy with a lot of films at that point.
In 2002, we began working on a script, but due to an artiste's date problems, we couldn't start shooting immediately.
Ramu showed the script of Ek Hasina Thi by Pooja Ladha to me. It had a woman protagonist, which I normally wouldn't have chosen as a first film. But I found that aspect very exciting. So I took the plunge.
What is Ek Hasina Thi about?
It is the story of a single girl [Urmila Matondkar] who is working in Mumbai. Her parents are in Pune. She meets a charming, likeable but slightly edgy guy [Saif Ali Khan]. She loves him and he likes her a lot. Then something happens because of which she is arrested. He is involved too.
But it is a non-bailable offence. Even though he tries to get her out, he cannot. How she changes from a middle-class conservative girl into this tough person is what Ek Hasina Thi is all about.
In the past, filmmakers have attempted to make jail dramas with a female protagonist like Gumrah with Sridevi and Anjaam with Madhuri Dixit. But they received a lot of flak for their gory depiction. How different is Ek Hasina Thi?
Gumrah was, of course, Bangkok Hilton. The jail part of it, I wouldn't like to comment on. As for Anjaam, it just didn't work for me. The characters were too offkey.
Without being rude, I consciously wanted to avoid an Anjaam kind of action. We went in for a much more realistic approach in Ek Hasina Thi. I did a lot of research vis-à-vis jails. Pooja and I met a couple of women who spent a few years in Arthur Road Jail and Yerawada Jail. We shot portions of the film in Arthur Road and Thane jails.
Where did you shot Ek Hasina Thi?
Basically Mumbai. The second half is set in Delhi. Traditionally, Hindi movies have used Delhi as the backdrop for love stories. We shot extensively on roads at Chandni Chowk and the Delhi railway station.
How did you manage to shoot in Chandni Chowk?
It was all thanks to Urmila. The scene required showing her in hiding. We were worried about shooting, people told us there would be mobs and stampedes. But Urmila took a lot of initiative, and by the time people realised it was her, the shot was taken. They didn't recognise her because no one expects a star to be in the middle of this throng. It was very exciting and dicey at the same time.
Tell us about the cast.
Urmila fit the role to the T. She was completely involved throughout the making of the film.
This is a different kind of role for Saif Ali Khan. He usually plays a charming and comical character. Here [in Ek Hasina Thi], he plays a much more mature character.
Initially, he had second thoughts whether he should do this kind of a role or not. But once he said okay, he went about it [the role] in an unapologetic manner. Based on the feedback I received, people have liked him a lot.
Are you saying he is the surprise package?
It is very different from what he did in Dil Chahta Hai. Even in negative shades played by other actors, there is a lot of explaining [his actions]. They like to preserve the hero. Here, we haven't tried to justify his actions.
Urmila has played a lot of emotionally disturbed characters before.
She is not emotionally disturbed here. She is very clear-cut about what happened. Initially she is a simple, sweet person, a bit naive, which disappears at some point. After that, she is as hardcore as the prisoners she interacted with.
How was it working under a filmmaker?
I love his movies. And you want to please the person whose movies you love. He was my first audience. We used to interact a lot and would get value additions from him.
But the general notion is that he is a very dominating filmmaker.
True. But then he trusted me with Rs 4-Rs 5 crore (Rs 40-Rs 50 million) to make this film. People think he comes on the sets and changes the scene. That kind of thing doesn't happen.
There was a lot of creativity. Even when there was friction [between us], it was for the betterment of the movie. Either I convince him or get convinced.
In one of his interviews, he said after this film you would be the most sought after name.
I can't comment on that. It has been a very humbling experience.
What is the USP of Ek Hasina Thi?
The actors. The basic story is very believable. It moves like a bullet. The pace is terrific. We have tried to give the film a cinematic treatment.
It is a dark film, but not grim. It is exciting. It is realistic, yet dramatic and exciting.
What kind of films do you intend to make?
It is like this. I love Manmohan Desai, Nasir Hussain and Vijay Anand as much as I like Abbas Kiarostami and Krzysztof Kieslowski. I would like to do a mixed bag of everything in a way that it fits, not crams.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a film with Ramu again. I have two subjects almost ready. We haven't zeroed in on the script.
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