Business Rating: 1.5 stars
Star cast: Priyanka Chopra, Naseeruddin Shah, Irrfan Khan, John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Annu Kapoor, Vivaan Shah, Alexsandr Dyachenko, Usha Uthup.
What’s Good: The acting; the ‘Dar-r-r-r-ling’ song; the dialogues; the background music.
What’s Bad: The weird script; the screenplay glitches; the un-Indian sentiments in the drama; the slow pace.
Verdict: 7 Khoon Maaf alright… but will the audience pardon Vishal Bhardwaj? Not likely!
Loo break: Occasionally, in the second half.
Watch or Not? If you are a Vishal Bhardwaj fan, yes!
UTV Spotboy and Vishal Bhardwaj Pictures’ 7 Khoon Maaf (A), based on Ruskin Bond’s story, Susanna’s Seven Husbands, is about Susanna Anne Marie Johannes (Priyanka Chopra) who feels betrayed after each of her seven marriages and, therefore, kills each of her seven husbands. It is about Susanna’s search for true love and marital bliss.
Susanna alias Saheb is a wealthy woman whose Christian father and Hindu mother are no more. Her caretakers and guardians are Maggie aunty (Usha Uthup), Ghalib uncle (Harish Khanna) and Goonga (Shashi Malviya) who cannot speak. She dotes on Arun (master Ayush Tandon) who is the adopted son of Goonga. Her first husband, Edwin Rodriques (Neil Nitin Mukesh), is an armyman who is over-possessive and extremely suspicious. One day, he accepts a challenge from Goonga and engages in a hunter-fight with him to decide who is supreme. In the fight, he injures one eye of Goonga with his hunter so mercilessly that he is left with just one eye. Susanna kills him because she treats Goonga as a trusted servant.
She then marries guitarist Jamshed Rathod alias Jimmy (John Abraham) but soon kills him too when she learns that he is on drugs and has kinky sex with other girls. She next marries Wasiullah Khan alias Musafir (Irrfan Khan) who is an Urdu poet. He has weird ideas about sex and brutally beats up Susanna every night. Tired, Susanna kills him too.
Her fourth husband is a Russian, Nikolai Vronsky (Alexsandr Dyachenko), whom she murders once she learns that he had married her in spite of having a wife and kids in Russia. He had professed his undying love for her and had, in fact, fooled her into believing that he was a one-woman man. The murder case becomes high-profile as it involves a foreign national, but the one who saves Susanna from going behind bars, by twisting facts, is intelligence officer Keemat Lal (Annu Kapoor) who she had met in an earlier murder case when he was a police inspector.
Keemat Lal marries Susanna and has sex with her but even this marriage doesn’t last as he becomes the fifth husband to be murdered by her. Dr. Modhusudan Tarafdar (Naseeruddin Shah) enters the scene when Susanna, frustrated and bitter, consumes sleeping pills to end her life. He saves her and even gets married to her, only to get killed by her when she realises that he himself was a murderer and had killed Ghalib.
After killing Dr. Tarafdar, Susanna burns her palatial house so that the police is led to believe that she herself had committed suicide. Her childhood friend, Arun, has now become a doctor (Vivaan Shah) and he is asked to carry out the post-mortem on the body found in the house as he is a forensic expert. He realises that Susanna is still alive and he goes in search of her and finally meets her. Incidentally, he had had a crush on her since childhood but had spurned her advances when she had tried to seduce him years back.
Anyway, Susanna gets married for the seventh time. What is the fate of her seventh husband? Does Arun give a report to nail her? What about Arun’s wife, Nandini (Konkona Sen Sharma)?
Story and Screenplay – 7 Khoon Maaf Review
Ruskin Bond’s story may be interesting and intriguing but the takers for this kind of subject among the Hindi film-going audience won’t be too many. There are a lot of questions that remain unanswered by the story writer and the screenplay writers viz. Matthew Robbins and Vishal Bhardwaj. For example, how does Susanna keep falling in love with men with such alarming regularity when she has had bitter and chilling experiences in her married life in the past? The natural way for a lady in such a situation would be to be put off marriage forever. The writers have sought to explain Susanna’s quest for the perfect life partner by establishing her character as one who is headstrong and doesn’t accept defeat – but this doesn’t impress the layman. Besides, why does she simply not walk out of the bad marriages? Why does she take law into her own hands each time she feels cheated by the husband? Who has given her the right to take people’s lives one after the other simply because the husbands were not to her liking? What is also puzzling is why man after man is keen on marrying Susanna when her earlier husband/s has/have died under mysterious circumstances. Even if the new suitor is unaware that Susanna had killed her husbands, wouldn’t he consider her jinxed and keep away from her? At least, that’s how the majority of the Indians would think when it comes to selecting a life partner.
Frankly, the biggest flaw of the script is that it doesn’t evoke the audience’s sympathy for Susanna. She smokes, she consumes alcohol, she sleeps with so many different men (so what if they are her husbands) – and all these are taboo as far as the Indian audience is concerned. Given these characteristics of Susanna, it is not likely that too many people would sympathise with her. Since the husbands have been shown as wrong men, the viewers’ sympathy would also not go to them. So, whom is the audience supposed to side with in the film? Susanna? No chance! One or all of the seven husbands? No chance! When that happens (the viewers are unable to sympathise with even one character in the film), there’s not much left in this drama to enjoy except, perhaps, the intrigue value which also loses charm after a few murders. The film becomes monotonous after a point of time because the title and the graph of the story keep nothing in the drama as a surprise element. To make matters worse, the pace of some portions of the drama is very slow and boring. Otherwise also, it is a depressing tale of a woman who doesn’t win the viewers’ sympathy, not the majority of the viewers, at least. Vishal Bhardwaj’s dialogues are exceptionally good and have a lot of weight.
Star Performances – 7 Khoon Maaf Review
Priyanka Chopra excels as Susanna. She does the fullest justice to her role and plays her character wonderfully. Showing Priyanka ugly when her character has aged is not a wise thing to do even if it is done in the name of realism, because she is, after all, the heroine of the film. Naseeruddin Shah is very natural in a brief role. Irrfan Khan acts with effortless ease but his track is the weakest (of course, for no fault of his). John Abraham does well. Neil Nitin Mukesh springs a pleasant surprise with a sterling performance. Annu Kapoor is just too fantastic and deserves distinction marks for a memorable show of talent. Alexsandr Dyachenko leaves a mark and his dialogue delivery in Hindi is cute. Ruskin Bond is okay. Vivaan Shah has his moments. Konkona Sen Sharma is brilliant in a special appearance. Usha Uthup makes her presence felt. Harish Khanna and Shashi Malviya act ably. Master Ayush Tandon is very good.
Direction, Music and Editing – 7 Khoon Maaf Review
Vishal Bhardwaj’s direction is very fine. He has done justice to the script but it must be added that the film would be appreciated by a section of the class audience only. Music (Vishal Bhardwaj) is a mixed bag. The Dar-r-r-r-ling song is a mass-appealing hit number and its choreography is beautiful. The O mama and Dil songs also hold appeal. The Bekaraan and Awara numbers will not be liked by the masses. Gulzar’s lyrics are appropriate. Vishal Bhardwaj’s background score is exceptionally wonderful. Ranjan Palit’s camerawork is beautiful. Sham Kaushal’s action scenes are of a good standard. Editing (Sreekar Prasad) is crisp. Production values are as per the demands of the subject.
The Last Word
On the whole, 7 Khoon Maaf is for the elite audience in the big cities only. The general masses will reject it. Given its good recoveries from non-theatrical sources, it may not entail huge losses but its theatrical business will be far from exciting because of its highly class appeal. Distributors who have bought the film’s rights at fancy prices would stand to lose.