EK HASINA THI. Director: Sriram Raghavan. Players: Urmila Matondkar, Saif Ali Khan, Seema Biswas. DVD (Video Sound).

Stacked high in the Ram Gopal Varma school of filmmaking, (produced by Varma), Ek Hasina Thi, at its core, is a jump-started urban survivalist tale. Cut from the same cloth that has served edgy one-person-against-the machine sagas that Varma has been successful with (Bhoot, Company), Ek Ladki Thi leaps ahead of the pack.

What makes Ek Hasina Thi so immediately captivating is how quickly, efficiently, and hopelessly the meek Delhi office-worker Sarika (Matondkar) falls into the spider’s web in the guise of the dashing playboy Karan (Khan). Eager to impress Karan, Sarika realizes only too late that she has been duped into carrying contraband, a charge that lands her in a hardcore inner-city women’s prison.

What follows is Sarika’s story—and it is her story to tell (this is from the Ram Gopal Varma camp, after all). Instead of accepting a one-way ticket into indefinite purgatory behind prison walls, Sarika finds courage to fight back—sometimes with her bare hands—to overcome more than just a few obstacles.

Tightly edited and wonderfully directed, Ek Hasina Thi tosses juicy script morsels to the principals. The always-interesting Biswas comes on strong as the all-powerful, sometimes sadistic, police inspector assigned to the case. Khan, who continues improving, is a shrewd lover with a dastardly streak who risks becoming prey to his own primordial fears.

It’s Matondkar’s Sarika, however, that cleverly exploits Ek Hasina Thi at many different levels. A mousy white-collar office hireling one minute and would-be prison escapee and avenger the next, Sarika is a black widow who will not accept being ensnared by a seemingly prettier, larger spider. Matondkar’s Sarika is the definitive cook-your-rabbit anti-angel that men of power fear dating. As a noteworthy directorial debut for Raghavan and a showpiece for Matondkar, Ek Hasina Thi hits the mark. Approach this babe with caution!

Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.