Mayank Shekhar's review: 7 Khoon Maaf

By Hindustan Times

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Actors: Priyanka Chopra, Neil Mitin Mukesh, Irrfan
Rating: ***

It's quite a 'David Lincher' (Zodiac, Se7en) sort of scene, if you will. A frustrated army major points his half broken leg towards his wife -- half-circling it to the right of the screen, calmly sipping on whisky from his couch.

The wife's patiently taken his Jaipur foot off. The sight's a bit gross. She's also just pissed him off, having danced provocatively with another young man at a party before. He's a violent dude. There's an uneasy chill in the air. You know something will happen. But the moment stays somewhat frozen in the anticipation alone!

This officer (Neil Nitin Mukesh), who lost his leg to Punjab's Operation Bluestar in '84, we're told, would make for the most typical Indian husband: boring, possessive, insecure, maha shakki (super suspicious). This could well be true for the typical Indian wife. But that's another matter.

The friendless, wealthy wife in this film is atypical in every way. For one, she's had more than a few husbands, serially addicted, as she seems, to men and marriages. For a woman, she's also unusually good at keeping secrets. She eventually confesses, "Humans haven't known an accident worse than a wedding." I think they have: it's called getting murdered for it, maybe!

The film's title suggests, so you figure, the heroine will have blood in her fingers each time she ties the proverbial knot. You still remain glued to the screen. For Priyanka Chopra, who plays the Anglo-Indian protagonist, this is unquestionably a role of a lifetime. She has you by the eyeballs. So does most of the movie.

The husband Susanna picks up after the lame major is the sort of boy "Hindustani girls fall for quite easily: Someone who plays the guitar! This one sings well too (John Abraham)." He's a desi 'Axl Rose' in his delusions, with Scottish kilt around his waist, lost to a harem of female fans, and doses of heroin. He calls himself Jimmy. The only rock-star Jimmy you're likely to know from the '80s is Mithun from Disco Dancer! You're aware this dubious fellow will follow the last one to the grave. As would the others lined up after him.

Each husband of Susanna's, it turns out, is sick in the head (and bed) in uniquely separate ways. She adopts each one nonetheless, sometimes trusting hope over experience. Few things remain constant in her life thence, besides a poor boy she raises in her stud farm (Vivaan; remarkably understated), who narrates this film; a few house helps, who still stand by her; and that obedient bottle of potent alcohol.

Her Victorian bungalow is a loner's den. India plays out as the larger backdrop of this claustrophobic story. We watch subtle and major events, both in politics and popular culture, unfold through the mid-80s, up until almost the present. This is also the period India herself openly swapped her global partners in bed.

I don't know if the metaphor's intended: One of the husbands Susanna bumps off is an Indophile Russian spy, who helps with secrets for '98 nuclear tests! She was the loved Anna (Karenina) to his hopelessly shady, useless Vronsky. Daarrling, he had to go!

So many murders, and with such little concern for investigation, verification, let alone redemption, you could argue, 'normalises' killings no end. But that's usually a pop philosopher's concern -- never the filmgoer's.

This movie, in some ways, is the complete, exact opposite of the popular, American 'fem-jep' ('females in jeopardy') genre. Wherein a woman silently goes through male hell. She seeks sympathy (or secret delight) from her audiences. Eventually she comes of age (look up Madhur Bhandarkar movies closer home!).

Vishal Bhardwaj's directed, produced, written, and composed both soundtrack and background score for this film, revealing himself yet again as that rare Renaissance man in an art form that deserves more. Bhardwaj's screenplay is admittedly based on a reworked Ruskin Bond short story.

The author and filmmaker had referred to Quentin Tarantino's female fight fest Kill Bill in their last film together (Blue Umbrella, 2007). Not sure if that should now be listed as premonition, or promise for things to come.

But this ain't no Kill Bill. There is no underworld blood-thirst or pornographically gruesome revenge to extract. It's in fact impossible to figure why the serial bride here prefers deaths to simple divorce, jumps into marriage over casual relationships instead.

It's hard to tell if she's plain unlucky in love, or deliberately attracts males of the worst kind. This isn't entirely a closer look at the baser side of women either -- you could like that, given every other film explores the natural instincts of men (violence, sex etc).

The story line, the main character's motivations, or her mental state, are not the picture's prime concerns. The movie is clearly crafted around strong, effective scenes alone: a lot of it, cleanly cut and clinical, a whole lot immediately compelling.

The other time you will feel instantly queasy from your seat is when Irrfan's character (husband no 4?), a Kashmiri poet, soft in his verse, shockingly turns out as dangerously sadomasochistic in bed. He slaps her, pushes himself again. His kurta hangs loosely over his thigh. His eyes haunt you. He goes after the wife. You cringe. Huff.

I know, the next time you miss your husband: you'd unlock the gun. Reload the bullets. Aim again! Sorry for that poor Internet joke. But yeah, you needn't miss this partly captivating movie either.

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