7 Khoon Maaf comes with solid baggage. After all, it is made by a man (Vishal Bhardwaj) whose track record as a director is undoubtedly impressive enough having succeeded well with Makdeeand Maqbool, somewhat so with Omkara (a tad too contrived an adaptation of Othello) and Blue Umbrella and even though his last film Kaminey disappointed, it still had its odd moments. So naturally, expectations of his adaptation of Ruskin Bond’s Susanna’s Seven Husbands in quality starved Bollywood are sky high. Sadly, the film fails to deliver. Some good acting, a few interesting and well-staged scenes and fine camerawork, do not a film make.
For what it’s worth, the film looks at the romantic misadventures of Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes (Priyanka Chopra), a beautiful lass who over the course of thirty-five odd years, gets married seven times due to the untimely and mysterious deaths of half a dozen of her hapless husbands (Neil Nitin Mukesh, John Abraham, Irrfan Khan, Aleksander Dyachenko, Annu Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah). The strange circumstances of their deaths, makes Susanna a prime accused. Did the husbands deserve to die? Were the murders out of necessity or pure blood-lust? Does Susanna ever find her one true love?
The film is extremely, extremely weakly written. Touted as a black comedy (?), first things first – that it is certainly not. There is really no bite or comedy. Neither is it a thriller or a full fledged drama falling in no man’s land. The film fails to engage you and since the film is largely episodic as we follow Susanna’s married life with each husband and we know their ultimate fate, it was all the more challenging for the makers to see to it that the stories with the various life partners are engaging. However, the film fails big time here as not all the chapters work and this makes chunks of the film highly boring. And that gets you thinking about various loopholes – is it so simple to commit 6 murders and get away with it so easily; surely Susanna would have been in the police files; what was stopping Susanna from walking out on any of her failed marriages – she clearly is not the compulsive sort in that she must marry and then kill the husbands, how did – oh well you get the point…
In fact, the biggest casualty in the writing department is the central character of Susanna. She is simply not fleshed out well. You would think she would evolve out of her experiences with her various husbands and grow as a character with each experince but she doesn’t. The film gives the token justification for her as we see how much of a cad each of her husbands really were to her but that still doesn’t make you go along with her. Priyanka Chopra tries and really tries hard working on her body language as she ages and there are the odd scenes where she is not bad at all. But ultimately she is defeated by both – the way her character is written and her inability to rise above the sketchily written role and give it some complexity. Her obvious and tackily done make up as she ages during the course of the film doesn’t help either. And the cop-out ending didn’t work for me at all.
Of the rest, Irrfan Khan as the tender poet who cannot get a hard-on without violence, Annu Kapoor as the slimy Intelligence Officer and ‘mushroom expert’ Naseeruddin Shah manage to bring some of their scenes to life on the strength and experience of their acting ability but Neil and John are yet to learn even the basics of acting. Vivaan Shah is so-so while Konkana’s special appearance adds nothing except reminding you how repetitive she always has been the minute she opens her mouth and speaks her dialogues in that same sing-song manner. The casting of the trio of faithful servants is really nice but they are wasted. The one scene they have to themselves with Vronsky is easily the nadir of the film.
Ranjan Palit’s evocative and controlled camerawork lifts the film somewhat. Special mention has to made of the lighting and framings, which are exemplary. Some scenes are staged well – the back and forth passing of the soup for one – and in interesting locations with innovative shot taking but even here, they are more often than not lifted more by the technicalities or fine acting rather than their actual content. Of the songs, Darrrling works best and its lively picturization gives some energy to the film. The rest of the songs including Bekaraan fail to make an impact and needed far more imaginative picturisations. The background score though ‘different’ is over the top and overused. The dialogue too lacks bite and often tells us things instead of showing them (yes, the tell-don’t-show syndrome yet again!) and Arun’s voice overs – like all our films – have nothing to add beyond what you already see in the frame. The recreation of the various time periods could have been dealt with better than merely dropping references to events in dialogue or the odd newspaper heading or TV clip. You certainly don’t feel it in the look and clothes of the characters. The less said about the black panther CG the better.
All in all, the film is a major, major disappointment from the man who gave us Makdee and Maqbool.
Hindi, Black Comedy, Color