Ek hasina thi, ek deewana tha, went the song from the reincarnation revenge drama Karz (1980). In 2004, the movie Ek Hasina Thi flipped the characters and their motivations. This time, it was the woman who was the wronged one, seeking retribution against a malevolent male specimen in this life rather than the next.
Fifteen years after Ek Hasina Thi, order has been restored. A new student enters the hotel management institute where Sahil (Vardhan Puri) studies and steals his heart within seconds. Mittee (Shivaleeka Oberoi) reciprocates Sahil’s affections too, but something is not quite right with the picture.
Is Mittee a wronged victim or a practised gold digger for whom Sahil is only the latest mark? The 136-minute movie makes its position clear and sticks to it firmly.
Sahil’s quest to understand the truth takes him through a maze of sidesteps and blind alleys, with a part of the journey winding through an asylum whose treatment methods date back to a few decades ago. Some of the plot turns make sense and others don’t, but the screenplay, by Vardhan Puri and director Cherag Ruparel, is confident and clever, always making sure to steer its turns with dexterity.
Ruparel’s storytelling abilities are apparent, and he displays skill in handling his mostly unknown cast and stitching together the numerous plot twists (the sharp editing is by Anirban Dutta). Yeh Saali Aashiqui is made all the more effective by the fresh and untested leads. Vardhan Puri (the grandson of thespian Amrish Puri) overtips his hand on occasion, but he is very convincing as the gullible trainee who is forced to confront the dark depths of the human soul. Shivaleeka Oberoi makes a formidable debut and admirably carries off a role that sometimes isn’t written with the nuance it needs.
This tale of reverse gaslighting and righteous vengeance gets a nasty edge whenever Mittee is around. Yeh Saali Aashiqui makes its position on the gender wars all too clear in the scene in which a character declares that men are unsafe too after having hacked into an apartment’s security devices and slipped in while a woman is having a shower. The psychological thriller is resolutely old-fashioned in its devices, and very contemporary in its anxieties about the true nature of women.