7 Khoon Maaf: Hubby's Dead Right!
By MovieTalkies.com, 18 February 2011
Bond with the best. And no one's talking suave James 007 here. Rather, it's time to forge a cinematic link with Anglo Indian writer Ruskin Bond via '7 Khoon Maaf', helmed by Vishal Bhardwaj and based on Bond's short story 'Susanna's Seven Husbands' Ruskin Bond, 76, enjoys an iconic status among the community of Indian writers in English and is as much a raconteur of romances as he is a master of the macabre. With Vishal Bhardwaj holding the directorial reins of '7 Khoon Maaf' and Priyanka Chopra frontlining the protagonist, there is little doubt that it's going to be a show of unadulterated brilliance.
Pretty much everyone knows about the premise of the film by now. '7 Khoon Maaf' revolves around Susanna Anna Marie Johannes and her many husbands, each of whose lives she ends for their various indiscretions. There's the arrogant and suspicious Captain Edwin Rodrigues, the two timing rockstar junkie Jamshed 'Jimmy' Rathore, the chauvinist poet Wasiullah Khan, the Russian double agent Nicolai Vronsky, the opportunistic letch Inspector Keematlal and the deadly naturopath Dr Madhusudhan Tarafdar. Helping her along the way are her three servants, Khan, who looks like a '70s villain himself, Goonga, a mute stable boy and Maggie Auntie, her estate's caretaker who has practically raised her. Tying the narrative together is Arun, an orphan whose education Susanna pays for, and shares an oddly Oedipal equation with. The thing about story here is that one is never quite sure whether Susanna's really a woman scorned, a serial killer, or quite simply a psychopath. In a back story related by one of the characters, we are told that a younger Susanna choose to shoot a mad dog in her path, rather than change the route she walked to school from. The idea is that she'd rather get rid of the problem than change the situation. So, while her first few murders happen out of a sense of being scorned, as Susanna ages, you actually wonder whether she isn't actually enjoying the bloodshed. But while the wrongs that her husbands commit are there for all to see, one is liable to ask why each of their errors is punished with death?
In typical Bond fashion, that is left for the reader, or rather, the viewer here, to decide. Working with a piece of modern literature, Vishal Bhardwaj, partnering Matthew Robbins on the screenplay, virtually creates a book out of 7 Khoon Maaf too, with each of Susanna's marriages playing out like a new chapter in the novel. But while an author's canvas is large enough to elaborate on all his characters, Bhardwaj finds space in his film to focus on just one, our protagonist Susanna. While husbands come and go, Bhardwaj never lets the audience forget who the star of the show here is. Telling us just enough about the husbands to know of their indiscretions, he reveals a new facet of Susanna's with every story. On the visual side of things, Bhardwaj shoots his latest film as exquisitely as always, using a fantastic play between light and colours to convey a sense of story. While lighting scenes of Susanna's joy in vibrant colours, every murder of hers takes place in an ambiguous darkness of sorts, laying a grey pale on her acts and hinting at the morality of what she does. Given the time period that the film takes place over, Vishal also consciously stays away from any efforts to shoot the film in a period film manner, instead simply using news events like the Babri Masjid demolition and the 26/11 attacks to establish a timeline instead.
Priyanka Chopra has for long been considered one of Hindi cinema's best actresses, and with 7 Khoon Maaf, she is ready to claim her crown. Spellbinding in every moment she spends on screen, she conveys a sense of vicious danger and desperation, helplessness and vulnerability, all at once, as Susanna. Her portrayal of character's internal evolution over the years is only matched by the external metamorphosis that her Susanna goes through, with some stunning make up work by 'Benjamin Button' artist Greg Cannom.
Amongst the husbands, Neil Nitin Mukesh as Captain Rodrigues, sets the bar for acting. While John Abraham is also superb as the junkie Jamshed, Aleksandr Dyachenko as the Russian brings in a hint of humour with his Bollywood inspired Hindi. Annu Kapoor as Inspector Keemat is also quite funny. While Irrfan Khan is deadly in his violent bedroom scenes, both he and Naseeruddin Shah seem a bit wasted as Wasiullah and Dr. Tarafdar respectively, especially for a Vishal Bhardwaj film. The latter, however, can take heart, as his son Vivaan is possibly the dark horse of the film. His performance as the pining narrator Arun, the only constant in Susanna's life, comes close to rivalling that of Chopra herself, though he doesn't get quite the same amount of stage time. Given that it is a Vishal Bhardwaj film, the music in '7 Khoon Maaf' is expectedly top notch. His brilliant take on the Russian marching song 'kalinka', 'darrling', has already been spoken for. But the way he uses tracks like 'bekaran', 'o mama' and 'yeshu' also need applauding, the last one especially so for the symbolism it brings to the film. With mentor Gulzar on the lyrics, Bhardwaj crafts another brilliant score for the film.
7 Khoon Maaf does superbly to carry off all the expectations riding on it, with Vishal Bhardwaj staying true to his form, once again, in film and music, both. The film is Priyanka Chopra's assertion of her acting brilliance, that is on display here for all to see. But in the end, 7 Khoon Maaf is a story that belongs to one man, and one man only, who could have created a character as complex, dangerous and enticing as Susanna. And that is one Mr Ruskin Bond.