Saat Khoon Maaf (Vishal Bhardwaj, 2011)
I’m not at all familiar with the short story this film is adapted from, and thus I went into viewing 7 Khoon Maaf (7 Sins Forgiven) as the ideal filmgoer – open to what the director was going to show me. I had the idea, based on the promotional blitkrieg surrounding its release, that it was something of a dark, disturbing thriller about a woman who becomes a Black Widow figure when her string of husbands die in mysterious, suspicious circumstances.
And that’s KIND of what 7 Khoon Maaf is. The “Black Widow” figure of the tale is Susanna Anna Marie Johannes (Priyanka Chopra), a woman who, we are told, lost her mother as a young child, and her father when she was a young adult, and who spends the rest of her life trying to marry a man who would measure up to her daddy.
The problem with Susanna is that when her husbands DON’T measure up, because she has an unfortunate knack – like so many of us do, of picking PRECISELY THE WRONG PERSON to give her love to - instead of leaving them (the film isn’t set in a society, as far as I can tell, where divorce isn’t an option) she engineers their deaths, with the help of her loyal, trusted, loving staff. MURDER, but it looks like an accident. And through skillfully using her feminine wiles just enough to get around any pesky suspicious police on the scene (because of course, there are no female police officers) she gets away with it.
We've all been there, Susie. We're not all murderers, though.
That’s pretty much it. And I wanted SO MUCH MORE than I got from this film.
FIVE THINGS ABOUT SAAT KHOON MAAF BECAUSE I COULDN’T THINK OF SEVEN
1. With the film so obviously focused on the central figure of Susanna, I expected to feel something for her – to glimpse some insight into why she was so desirable to these various men; why she kept getting married; some inkling that each failed relationship had some impact on her. Or even that being implicated in multiple murders had some impact on her. Or not.
I FELT NOTHING. Honestly – yeah, there are themes or whatever in the film I could think about but the film itself is so annoying I never want to think about it again.
I don’t know if it’s the awkward episodic structure of the film, breaking thing up into weird chunks WITH NARRATION (and also, in a film you’re not particularly enjoying filmmakers: KISS OF DEATH. I knew how many more husbands there were yet to come, and waiting for each new segment felt like an eternity); or Piggy Chops - I actually do sometimes like PC, BUT NOT IN THIS FILM. There was no…light or shade in her performance, just two notes: crazy-glam and crazy-drab; the public over the top doll-face versus Miss Havisham.
Morning after face
I feel like the role was too big for PC to take on, so we get the MEH version, aided distractingly with special effects aging hair and makeup (Priyanka ages from 30 to 65 in the film; I honestly sometimes couldn’t tell the difference). It was a mistake, Vishal Bhardwaj, putting Konkona Sen Sharma in this film for the 3 minutes screentime she had, because she emoted more heartbreakingly, believably and effectively in her pathetic, unjust screentime than Piggy Chops did the entire film.
2. It’s true, there’s an abundance of heavy symbolism – AN ABUNDANCE – and imagery running through the film – by the end, the common thread is abundantly clear, and is a huge, unsubtle let-down, like being hit over the head with a brick repeatedly.
3. The film actually is quite dark and disturbing at points – one of the only moments I actually felt anything for Susanna, prompting me to wonder more about her actual motivations for being with and staying with these men (I guess that’s the point of the film though – and it is answered STUPIDLY by Susanna herself at the end, so don’t hold your breath for an awesome satisfying answer) was during her marriage to a poet who turns out to be a sadomasochist.
Luscious Irrfan has hidden darkness in his soul.
The film gets very graphic for Hindi cinema and it’s immensely troubling to watch what Susanna will subject herself to.
Also: if you have warm squishy feelings for Irrfan you want to eliminate, this scene will probably help. He is...not a very sympathetic character.
But then Susanna gets no further deeper character exploration following this nasty, violent sexual episode, (and nor does Irrfan's character) so it (and another part in the film, Susanna baring her body to the person she regards as a son) comes off as being there for the shock value. Which is kind of horrible, because both episodes raise a lot of questions in terms of the narrative, and are interesting in terms of being unusual for recent mainstream Hindi fare, and have larger repercussions in terms of representation of women and sexuality on film.
4. When John Abraham looks like this:
why would you turn him into this?
Definition of WTF?
Sadly, poor Johnny, who I have praised elsewhere on this blog – I AM a fan – is saddled with the WORST role in this film. I think he was BADLY miscast. And that his whole segment is pretty much London Dreams: Redux. Look at his freaking arms too?
Like, seriously? Someone's been spending WAY too much time at the gym.
Johhny, lay off the weights a bit. I don’t like men with TOO many muscles.
5. You know who actually stood out in this film, giving a really surprising, impressive performance? NEIL NITIN MUKESH. He plays Susanna’s insecure, domineering first husband, an Army guy whose leg gets blown off in battle (or something, I don’t know).
Whatever, it's gross.
I always think of Neil as slightly…effeminate – he’s so pale, and kind of slight, and would be the last person I would think to cast as a domineering, controlling husband. If anything about this film made a lasting impression, it was Neil’s intimidating performance – bulked up and snarling, he’s nearly unrecognizable as that sweet kid from New York or the goonda with the heart of gold from Lafangey Parindey.
SHUT UP PEOPLE WHO SAY THAT NEIL CAN’T ACT BECAUSE NEIL CAN ACT.