Murders she wrote

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By Vishal Bhardwaj's 7 Khoon Maaf is adventurous but over-indulgent Pratim D. Gupta Did you like/not like 7 Khoon Maaf? Tell
  • Published 19.02.11

... but if I do not find her, this man will surely die... And when I’m dead and buried, Susanna don’t you cry.

But she cries. Susanna cries. And she goes and rings the churchbell, swinging as she latches on to the rope. Her eyes torn between tears and disbelief. She didn’t want him, er them, dead. She knows that in her heart. And somewhere she hopes her Yeshu knows it too.

As Ruskin Bond spells it out himself in one scene from his two-scene cameo: “It all comes down to love, sweetheart.”

Working from Bond’s short story-turned-novella called Susanna’s Seven Husbands, director Vishal Bhardwaj turns 7 Khoon Maaf (script co-written with Matthew Robbins) into an intellectual discourse on love, passion, spirituality and redemption. The murders are excuses to delve deeper and deeper into the realms of a lovelorn human mind and how it can twist and turn with injurious consequences.

But that also makes the film, unveiled with a Japanese anime-inspired Priyanka Chopra close-up poster and pitched as a gruesome orgy of blood and gore, a somewhat dull celluloid treatise on unfulfilled love. The subject — a woman slaying her seven husbands — screams out for a visceral romp of rage and revenge but Bhardwaj chooses to justify, reason and melo-dramatise Susanna’s actions.

There is a difference between The Bride killing Bill and Bill being dead thanks to The Bride. You want to see the murders but all you get is half-a-dozen dead bodies and a woman in the quest for love standing over them.

So there she is... ishq mein mayoos Susanna, joh tamaam umra sachche pyaar ke talaash mein guzaar di. Over a period of more than four decades she encounters all kinds of men from different regions and religions. She falls in love with most of them but incredibly, they all turn out to be bad eggs destined to end up in the same basket.

First up is Major Edwin Rodriques (Neil Nitin Mukesh) who lost a leg for a bravery award but not his big army ego. “Titli banna bandh karo,” he orders a young Susanna, crushing her dreams and forcing a change of heart.

Jimmy Stetson (John Abraham) sings to Susie songs he claims dil se phoote hain but the original creators soon arrive at her door. That’s not the problem. Heroin is. And despite her best efforts, drugs get the better of the man.

In Kashmir, Susanna dives into the poetry of Wasiullah Khan (Irrfan Khan) and even though she doesn’t understand his Urdu fully, there’s just too much love on offer. Not at night, though, when the poet’s physical fetish takes over.

Moscow man Nicolai Vronsky (Aleksandr Dyachenko) charms Susanna with Amitabh Bachchan impersonations and broken Hindi lines but this ‘amar prem’ was always headed for a Russian wreck.

With so many bodies blooming in Susanna’s backyard, she needs a cop in confidence. Crime banch officer Keemat Lal (Annu Kapoor) is an old man but Viagra can do wonders. Sometimes for both parties involved.

A suicidal Susanna lands in the lap of Dr Modhusudhan Tarafdar (Naseeruddin Shah) who can heal almost anything with mushroom. But he has more than banger chhata on his mind.

Then there’s Susanna’s prem pujaari Arun (Vivaan Shah), her ‘sugar’ boy, the kid who grew up in her home madly in love with his Sahib and who goes on to narrate her story. But he isn’t another Mr Susanna. And if you have been counting right, we are still one short, aren’t we?

Without being a husband, Arun does explain the dead husbands, though, and is the full-circle release for Susanna’s Electra complex cycle. Because she has been searching for her father in her man all her life and she explains to Arun that the reason she never wanted a kid of her own was because he was always around. The same Arun she had tried to seduce one night.

If the space remains largely unchanged, the vagaries of time play a role in 7 Khoon Maaf. From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, from India’s nuclear self-sufficiency to the terrorist attack on the Taj hotel, history is inextricably linked to the many moods — and men — of Susanna.

But why don’t those myriad emotions find their way on to Priyanka Chopra’s face as easily as the chalky make-up does? She is there in almost every scene and she overcooks almost each one of them. If the maker indulges himself with many an unnecessary patch, the muse also doesn’t believe in restraint. You do not sympathise with Susanna and she doesn’t take any joy in her killings leaving you strangely dissatisfied about the whole exercise.

What you are guaranteed, though, are memorable performances by Irrfan Khan and Annu Kapoor and the arrival of some serious talent in Vivaan (Naseer’s younger son).

You only get bits and pieces of the terrific Vishal-Gulzar soundtrack. Sadly Tere liye is given a miss while both the not-so-great rock songs find place in the John strand. Even in the film Darling is the knockout number.

Ranjan Palit, take a bow! He shoots 7 Khoon Maaf gloriously in dark — and not underlit, like Kaminey — tones and despite the different nature of the episodes, he manages to bestow the film with a uniformly sinister look.

Vishal Bhardwaj is one of the most exciting and adventurous filmmakers around but in his last two films he seems to have traded economy for mainstream acceptance. The result? Great ideas khoon-ed by over-indulgence.

The best reason to watch 7 Khoon Maaf is to discover Susanna’s seventh husband. It’s a killer twist in the end, perhaps hinted at by Wasiullah’s lines early on in the film. Ek baar toh yun hoga... thoda sa sukoon hoga... naa dil mein kasak hogi... na sar mein junoon hoga... ek baar toh yun hoga.