Saturday, February 19, 2011

REVIEW 16: SAAT KHOON MAAF


Release date: February 18, 2011
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Neil Nitin Mukesh, John Abraham, Irrfan Khan, Aleksandr Dyachenko, Annu Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Usha Uthup, Vivaan Shah, Konkona Sensharma, Ruskin Bond

I don’t know about you, but I’ve met people like Susanna – men and women who seem incapable of being single. Even before the ink dries on the end of one relationship, they’re on to another … and then another … Perhaps dreading the prospect of attending that next party without a companion? ... Perhaps dreading being alone more than the loneliness in a bad relationship?
But Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes is also unlike anyone I’ve met. She doesn’t simply flit from one partner to another, she kills one husband to merrily move on to the next … and the next...
Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf is based on Ruskin Bond’s short story Susanna’s Seven Husbands. And though the quirkiness of Bond’s tale gets very well translated into celluloid here, SKM lacks the depth that you’d expect from a Vishal project that turns a merely-seven-page literary work into a two-and-a-half-hour film.
It begins really well. Susanna is married to Major Edwin Rodriques, a brave soldier who is a dour control freak at home. He has just lost a leg in war. She’s young, wealthy, beautiful, desirable. His insecurity leads to repeated assaults on his wife and those around her. Until one day, she conspires with her crazily loyal band of servants to put an end to her own misery. Rodriques dies in a hunting “accident” and the mourning widow spots Husband No. 2 in the choir at the funeral. You get the picture? 
The beauty of Susanna’s character is that she seems not to have a personality or identity of her own. She is who her husband is or wants her to be, sometimes to comical effect. For Rodriques, she’s a cowering, servile army wife. With her singer husband Jamshed Singh Rathore a.k.a. Jimmy Stetson, she becomes a rock chick in mini-skirts. For the poet Mohammed Wasiullah Khan she converts to Islam and becomes Sultana who loves Urdu verse herself. When she recites some lines to him and he responds with “muqarrar”, she asks innocently, “woh kaun hai?” To the Russian Andre she introduces herself as Anna, not Susanna, announces that she loves Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, speaks the language, sings and dances to Russian tunes. Since we already know she’s going to knock off each of her men, it was her own metamorphosis into a new creature with every marriage that I started looking forward to and enjoying.  
But it was not enough. So okay, I got the point that each husband had a nasty side to him. But as Susanna’s foster child asks her mid-way through the film: why did you have to kill a man when you could have just left him? Why indeed?

Was Susanna merely a maniac? That certainly doesn’t come across in the first half of the film in which I found myself sympathising with her. Besides, her voiceover tells us that she’s a woman seeking true love. But as we all know, it takes a lot for a human being to kill another. What is it that made her commit that first crime when she could just as well have walked out on the man? And what insecurities led her to mould herself to each man, never seeking herself as a person?
It was the answer to that last question and an insight into the complexities of Susanna’s character that could have made SKM a great film. What I got instead was an exciting, eerie and amusing first half in which I thought I’d get my answers in Part 2; but the predictable string of murders in the second half told me nothing new about the woman.
There’s also a disappointing literalness to Bhardwaj’s storytelling in places. Where is the director whose Omkara gave us one of the most sinister Iagos that any Shakespearean interpretation in the world has delivered? At one point in Saat Khoon Maaf, we’re shown a spider (I guess a black widow?) crawling across a table in Susanna’s room. Really, Vishal! The policeman seeking sexual favours from Susanna in exchange for a cover-up bears the name Keemat Lal. Keemat, get it?!! And the dance with Jesus in the end is downright silly. Vishal!!!
Priyanka Chopra as Susanna is sufficiently cute, lively, terrified, hurt, angry, cruel and penitent by turns. But the script doesn’t give her enough meat to dig her teeth into and deliver any measure of brilliance on screen. Worse, her ageing make-up is terrible! If she shines at any point, it is as the wife of the sexually obsessed cop who is the only husband she marries out of practical compulsions, not choice. Her revulsion for him is unspoken. She also brings a delightfully maniacal tone to her final relationship. “I’m going to drink his blood,” she yells. Oh mama!
Annu Kapoor is my pick of the men: as the lustful, opportunistic policeman obsessed with this lethal woman, he is manipulative and helpless in equal measure. Neil Nitin Mukesh comes a close second as the mean Major.
The intricacies that are sorely missing in Susanna’s characterisation show up wonderfully elsewhere in SKM. In an industry obsessed with perfect bodies, Vishal inspires his stars to shed their fears with their clothes. When Neil takes off his shirt for a duel, we actually see tyres on his torso. When Priyanka drops her top for a younger man, what we get is not the tiny waist of a gym-fixated actress but a very nice body belonging to a real woman. And John Abraham blithely risks his macho image when he puts on a woman’s slip.
As for the music, well Darrrrling, it is infectious! And the Christian hymns are impeccably researched! Churches in Hindi films are usually accompanied by the clich├ęd sounds of the pipe organ and voices always resembling Mother Superior from Sound of Music. In SKM, Vishal (also the music director) picks precisely the right hymn for every occasion. So it’s Lord I’m Coming Home and Nearer My God To Thee at funerals and O Perfect Love at a wedding. Beautiful!
So despite SKM’s disappointing second half, I’ll recommend it to you for the quirky first half, for Priyanka Chopra and Annu Kapoor, and for the wonderful detailing in the music. Like Susanna the serial marry-er, I entered the preview theatre hoping to fall in love. I came away liking much about Saat Khoon Maaf, but am I passionate about it? Sadly, no.
Rating (out of five): **9/10

11 comments:

  1. Yet again, your review is right on the money!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I liked the movie. Climax was sort of disappointing though. Would have bee nicer if Ruskin or Vivaan killed her in the end.

    John looked a bit aged. Vivan acts just like Naseer in his younger days.

    Though 7 Khoon is not a patch on his earlier movies.. I still find Vishal B. easily the best director in Hindi cinema.

    ReplyDelete
  3. i think people want enjoy a movie when they're in the cinema not a movie like 7km. vishal was a great director but now i don't know what he happened. Omkara is a oscar movie and he , with his movies, didn't bring again the same magic and perfect chemistry that was with Ajay-Kareena :D

    I hope this movie will flop for make understand that for win you must not make only drama,cry,sad ecc.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Kudos...if bhardwaj had read this review before...this could have been a masterpiece....anyways....still a worth watch! Go for it guys!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anna - 9/10 is a too fine a point. 3 would be as close, somehow you were averse to that?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Bad movie. A Raavan or an Omkara were so much better. Priyanka Chopra is not a capable actress to begin with.

    Someone like Tabu or Aishwarya would have done wonders to it, despite the flawed screenplay.

    ReplyDelete
  7. 6 weddings.. 6 murders... The reason of the killings vary from self defense, revenge to simply lack of interest; providing no insight into Sussana’s stable personality characteristics whatsoever. She is a bundle of contradictions showing hints of Psychotism (no guilt killing her husband and getting a new one as many times, finding her next lover when mourning the present one’s loss) and of being affectionate and submissive at the same time. She is a child at heart but also has a very brutal and dark side to her, the reason for which has not been disclosed (like some childhood experience). We sympathize with her at times but are left asking for justification of her actions for most. Was she just in the quest of love? Or was she just in love with the idea of being in love? Did the killings give her some thrill? Or did it just turn into a habit? Why did the servants support her every single time w/out acting rationally? Was Arun like the child never had? Or just an object of interest? Was Sussana’s character cryptic or confused.. I simply cant say!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sooo totally agree with your review, I think Vishal is trying too hard to be a Quentin, when all he needs to be is Vishal. All those weird sequences of three people siting a ditch are just absurd and like you said, Susanna's real personality just doesnt come through at all, nothing like an Omkara or Maqbool. This couldve been a great film, but it remains average.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Guys, 6 khuns are fine. What abt the 7th one? Which do u consider as the 7th murder? Though, I liked the movie as its Vishal's one, I didn't understand abt the 7th murder

    ReplyDelete
  10. Dear "Anonymous", I wish I could answer your question but that would not be fair to those who've not seen the film. Here's a suggestion: why don't you make a list of the people who died as a consequence of Susanna's actions - read my words carefully. I think you'll get your answer :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hey Anna,
    I got the ans. :) I did think about that, but was confused. Gr8 to get an answer

    Thnx :)

    ReplyDelete