How do you make sense of a woman who's an incorrigible potentially-loathsome serial spouse-killer who when challenged about her weird passion for changing husbands by divine decree rather than the law of the land, turns around and says, "This heart of mine, it's to blame." Wicked laughter follows. And dammit, we are amused!
How the flock-and I do mean the flock of fumigated husbands-does one make head or 'tale' of such a woman? Well, the first thing a director with a canny sense and sensibility does is sign Priyanka Chopra to play the wretchedly unfulfilled genetically incomplete woman, a living throbbing warning against the institution of marriage!
Priyanka, not for the first time, proves she is leagues ahead of all competition. She approaches this strange and sensual creature of the night from the outside and then quietly makes inroads into the woman's heart and soul. We can actually see the character's snarled inner-world on Priyanka's face! We don't even know when and how she does it. Priyanka is that kind of a player. Always ahead of our expectations in-sync with her character's motivations no matter how twisted.
Vishal Bhardwaj has earlier made films about gangs and gangsterism. Every time the dark brooding atmospheric surface seemed to suggest a life of sinister suppressions. Those unspoken intangible thoughts and visions that often guide a human being to his or her doom are outlined in 7 Khoon Maaf with supreme poetic elegance.
This is Bhardwaj's most fluidly-narrated film to date. Of course having Gulzar on board helps. He pens Urdu-poetry for Irrfan Khan and rock-poetry for John Abraham. For Priyanka poetry is not needed. She creates a kind of indecipherable poetic statement for her deeply dysfunctional character who kills 6 husbands and moves to the 7th at the end of the film with the profound satirical grief of a woman who has discovered that this world has no true love to offer her.
True love...ah! Now that's an idea. At heart Vishal's dark elegiac film is about the search for true love. The relationship that Sussanna(Chopra) forms with a young boy (Vivaan Shah) as she goes from one husband to another remains at the core of the film. In a macabre subversion of the almost-pure love that Susanna shares with Vivaan's character at one point in the narration she tries to seduce the boy who's almost like a son. It's a dark ugly moment, almost repugnant in its incestuous resonances but in keeping with the character's insatiable appetite for destruction.
Vishal Bhardwaj brings to the storyboard a deep sense of tragic grandeur even as Susanna slips from self-gratification to delusional spirituality.
I dare any contemporary actress to play the part of the murderous wife with such passionate poignancy. Priyanka Chopra has already proved herself way ahead of her contemporaries in her earlier works notably Fashion and What's Your Raashee. In 7 Khoon Maaf she moves to another level displaying a range of emotions and age-changes (minus prosthetics) that one last saw in Shabana Azmi's performances.
Heroines, as we well know, love to emote in front of the mirror. Priyanka had done a magnificent mirror-image sequence in Fashion. In 7 Khoon Maaf she takes the cliched sequence to a new plane, as she slaps herself physically into a kind of tortured self-assertion that perhaps, just perhaps, Devdas would recognize.
Priyanka's sequences with Irrfan Khan (playing a gentle poet who transforms into a sexual pervert in bed) are stuff poetic nightmares are made of. We can clearly see the cinematographer(Ranjan Palit) is not in love with the actress, but the character. His camera searches for intransigent images in Susanna's life ,even as Priyanka's quest for the character's core takes her into areas of self-expression that are far beyond the reach of cinema acting as we know it.
A. Sreekar Prasad edits the life of Susanna with a surety that, alas, the character never comes close to achieving in her dealings with the opposite sex. Sreekar creates a symphonic seamless movement from one husband to another sometimes joining segments in Susanna's life with visuals that would otherwise seem incompatible.
The husbands are all played by actors who have no qualms in stripping away their vanity to become the kind of suave but duplicitous untrustworthy spouses who cheat and betray for the sake of the opposite emotion to love. Irrfan Khan as a wolf in poet's clothing, Naseeruddin Shah as the affable old Bengali dietician(his Bengali accent is more dead-on than any true-blue Bengalis) and John Abraham as a stereotypical rock musician gone to poppy-seed, are pitch-perfect in their creating a drama of the callous for Priyanka's character.
But it's Neil Nitin Mukesh as her first legless army-man husband whose display of clenched menace jolts you. Where was Neil hiding this powerful screen presence all this time?
As a storyteller Vishal Bhardwaj has never been more in command of his language. He punctuates Susanna's story with bouts of unexpected humour and poetry. Providentially the murders are committed in ways that appear more humorous than savage. And that's both a good and a bad thing. While admiring the director's subliminal sensitivity about his heroine's inner life you wonder if by creating an arresting alibi of humour and poetry he is trying to make a case for a woman who is clearly cuckoo in her head(and obviously insatiable in bed).
The narrative shows a rare understanding of the gender dynamics and the sexual tensions between men and women. Priyanka Chopra's interaction with the unctuous and closet-horny police officer Anu Kapoor delectably illustrates the fable of the Temptress & The Besotted. And by the way Viagara never seemed funnier.
A fable-like quality runs elegantly through the film.Structured as a homage to a woman who fits into none of the conventional images of womanhood, and also as a homage to an actress who quite magnificently fits into the tangled mess of her character's life 7 Khoon Maaf is one of those once-in-a-way out-of-the-way films which leave you with sense of having witnessed a satisfying tale of dissatisfactions.
We never become one with Susanna's appetites and cravings for self-satisfaction. We loathe her for her self-indulgent self-assertion. But we cannot help admiring her denial of all that makes a seductive woman a victim of her own beauty and vanity.
Priyanka Chopra goes from husband-to-husband with a mocking sigh of resigned surrender. She is not a victim. But neither is she the hero of the bizarre web of destruction and delusion that her character weaves around her.
7 Khoon Maaf is not an easy film to view. But it's far more lively energetic and engaging than a film about a murderous wife would suggest. Among many things it proves Priyanka Chopra to have the potential of being one of the all-time great actresses of Hindi cinema. And that, we can safely say, is a blessing proffered by the cursed woman that Priyanka plays so effectively.
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