The very thought of watching a Vishal Bhardwaj film excites a movie buff no end. Right from Makdee to Kaminey, Bhardwaj's body of work stands out from the rest. The forward-thinking film-maker's fixation for adapting novels and plays is known to all and sundry by now. Continuing with his practice of adapting from the written form, the supremely talented storyteller now adapts Ruskin Bond's short story 'Susanna's Seven Husbands' for his new outing 7 Khoon Maaf. Known for walking the unusual path, Bhardwaj narrates an unconventional story yet again - of a woman who marries multiple times, following the untimely death of her husbands.
Till a few years ago, no one would've ever thought of making a film on a woman who marries, remarries, weds again, ties the knot yet again... in fact, she walks down the aisle multiple times. That's not all, the woman, we are told, kills each of her husbands subsequently. The theme might come as a jolt to the trditional moviegoers, since the wives on the Hindi screen are either depicted as docile and dutiful or fiercely independent and ambitious. The question is, will the orthodox Indian audience absorb a theme like this? It's blasphemous, some may opine. Imagine a murderous bride, some may rant.
There's talk that 7 Khoon Maaf is also loosely inspired from an Italian movie by the name Sette Volte Donna aka Woman Times Seven , helmed by Vittorio De Sica. That one depicted seven short stories with adultery as the focal point [Shirley MacLaine, the protagonist, knits these stories together]. However, the resemblance could be coincidental and not an attempt to plagiarize that film.
Now let me come to the point! 7 Khoon Maaf works in parts. A few stories - involving Neil Nitin Mukesh, John Abraham, Irrfan Khan and Annu Kapoor - are absorbing, while at least two could've been better narrated - Naseeruddin Shah and Aleksandr Dyachenko. The unfortunate part is that the uninteresting ones come in the latter half and coupled with its excessive length, the impact generated by a captivating first hour gets diluted in the process. Even the culmination doesn't sweep you off your feet.
Not just the unconventional plot, even the execution of the subject material is offbeat and quirky. There are several instances in the narrative where the viewer has to stay very, very attentive. Unlike other films, Bhardwaj wants his viewer to stay attentive and use his mind while watching the various stories in 7 Khoon Maaf. In one sequence, the camera zooms and the funeral transforms into a marriage, while another sequence depicts the marriage transforming into a funeral. Also, the mystery of the killer with five fingers and one toe is disentangled towards the end, but the sequence doesn't register as effectively thanks to the way it has been depicted.
Susanna [Priyanka Chopra] is unlucky in love. Her first husband, Major Edwin [Neil Nitin Mukesh], is overtly possessive and suspicious. After his demise, Susanna marries Jimmy [John Abraham] as she is floored by his musical talent. Jimmy becomes successful, but with success comes girls and drugs. He dies of drug overdose.
Enter Wasiullah aka Musafir [Irrfan Khan]. Impressed by his poetry, Susanna marries him, but discovers that he's a romantic in daytime, but a beast at night. He too gets eliminated. Susanna falls for the suave Nicolai [Aleksandr Dyachenko] from Moscow, but this marriage doesn't last long as Susanna discovers that Vronsky has a wife in Russia.
Following the death of a foreign national, the police start taking keen interest in the case. The officer Keemat Lal [Annu Kapoor] enters Susanna's life. Initially, he asks for sexual favors and later, persuades her to marry him. He dies due to cardiac arrest. After the death of Keemat Lal, Susanna marries Dr. Modhusudon [Naseeruddin Shah]. Susanne is depressed and he puts her on a mushroom only diet. But he's the first guy in her life who wants to get rid of her. Instead, she murders him.
In the end, Susanna marries yet again... for the seventh time. This time, to someone who knows she has committed the murders and sins. What happens next?
Though Priyanka is shown killing her husbands with the help of her ever-faithful staff, let this be told that it's not a scary or frightful experience. Sure, it's intense, but at the same time Bhardwaj injects humor in the narrative and that's the prime reason why the narrative never gets heavy or serious. I'd like to say this film is in a space of its own.
Also, though the protagonist marries and remarries, you don't feel any kind of animosity or hatred for the character. On the contrary, one empathizes with her never-ending pursuit for true love. One feels the pain, loneliness and tragedy that she goes through and that's what makes her the woman that she eventually turns out to be. Wicked, she is, but Bhardwaj offers reasons for her to get rid of those men. The reasons, in most cases, are convincing. But the transition from one man/husband to another is so sudden that Susanna comes across as a desperate lady hankering for yet another marriage.
Bhardwaj, the writer, leaves the viewer clueless about the two stories in the second hour. Fine, Susanna had learnt that her Russian husband had a wife and two kids tucked away in Russia, but the manner in which the entire case is solved leaves you baffled. In fact, one often wonders if it was so easy to murder a person and move on in life. How could the law enforcement remain a silent spectator despite multiple murders/mysterious deaths involving the same woman? The writing didn't appear foolproof and convincing to me.
Bhardwaj shares yet another responsibility in his films - handling the music department. One is assured that Bhardwaj would come up with lilting and high quality compositions, but the soundtrack of7 Khoon Maaf is strictly okay. The Indian version of the Russian song 'Kalinka', 'Darling', is already a rage and it goes without saying that it's the best track of the enterprise. Rendered brilliantly, the song is sure to be one of the reasons why people will be tempted to watch the film.
Always ready to accept challenges in her career [Aitraaz, Yakeen, Fashion] and raising the bar with her performances, Priyanka accepts the challenge to portray ages from 21 to 65 in 7 Khoon Maaf. It must've been an arduous task to get the different age-groups right, but she proves her infinite acting potential yet again. Known to be an actress who stays true to every character that she is portraying, Priyanka delivers yet another sparkling, award worthy performance this time. There are several love-making sequences with her husbands and Priyanka has handled those [bold] sequences without inhibitions.
Amongst the remaining cast, Annu Kapoor leaves the maximum impact. He's simply outstanding! John doesn't really get much scope, Neil is effective, Irrfan is wonderfully restrained, Naseer is believable and Aleksandr is passable. Vivaan Shah, who narrates the story of Susanna, is a talent to watch out for. Though it's his maiden film as an actor, it doesn't seem like one. He is not your regular debutant and that's what makes his character appear so real. Konkona Sen Sharma does well. Usha Uthup and the two male helps are good.
On the whole, 7 Khoon Maaf is a dark film that has its share of positives and negatives. However, the film will meet with diverse reactions - some will fancy it, while some will abhor it. The film will appeal more to the critics/columnists and the festival circuit. However, it is not the kind of cinema that will set the box-office ablaze. Ideally, I would've given a two star rating for this film, but I am going ahead with an extra star for Priyanka Chopra's sterling performance!