Posted by: gdevi | May 15, 2011

Movie Review: 7 Khoon Maaf (2011)

When we lived in Dallas, it was possible to see all kinds of strange movies from India because Dallas has a sizable Indian immigrant community and there are plenty of Indian video stores around. I cannot bear to watch Hindi movies since the mid-1980s in general; mostly musicals with barely clothed male and female leads in permanent heat; it is hard to watch soft-porn with slithering men and women for nearly three hours–how many hours can you stare at a woman’s navel?–5 seconds is my best offer;–only to find that the soft porn grind ends in a romantic marriage fix. It is a complete genre-confusion and I feel fatigued just thinking about it. In Lock Haven, Pennsylvania it is hard to find Indian movies, so I was pleasantly ready to watch this new movie by Vishal Bharadwaj 7 Khoon Maaf; I had really enjoyed Bharadwaj’s Hindi adaptation of Othello, Omkara. That was a good movie. But this 7 Khoon Maaf was so bizarre that I felt like writing to Vishal Bharadwaj immediately and telling him that this has got to stop.

The movie has an implausible plot line, a mangled gender-inversion of the legend of Bluebeard shaken and stirred with the Anglo-Indian author Ruskin Bond’s novella Susanna’s Seven Husbands. This is the plot; Susanna (Priyanka Chopra) is a beautiful–what else?–wealthy, young Anglo-Indian woman married to a series of husbands–seven in fact–whose husbands all die in suspicious circumstances. Now you might immediately ask, is she a Black Widow, the spider who eats her mate? Yes and no. The plot says she is, but Bharadwaj also wants us to feel sympathy for her in a banal attempt at empathizing with her. After all, she knocks back one husband after the other, because they are all flawed lovers and husbands. But we are also told that she keeps snakes for pets. The snakes slide and slither over her and she lovingly looks into their eyes. It is Susanna’s search for love that makes her kill.

Start empathizing, nation. The movie begins with a young forensic scientist receiving news and the remains of a woman who has died in a suicide-fire accident. The scientist recognizes the woman as Susanna, his former employer and a crush from his youth. He reminisces with his wife about the woman and her life in a long drawn-out flashback. The plot moves forward with Susanna meeting each husband, marrying him, then discovering something terrible about him, then killing him. There is really no character development for either character outside of this repeated structure. The first husband is an Anglo-Indian colonel suspicious of Susanna, who is given to dancing provocatively draped against other men even though she is very faithful to him. The husband is terribly suspicious and given to cruel and unusual punishments–the acting is very bad here–they snarl at each other and then Susanna cries–in anticipation of the real panther who will eventually eat the colonel. Susanna on a hunting safari pushes the colonel down from the hunting outpost and the panther leaps at the colonel and makes a good dinner of him. Meanwhile, like in southern Gothic fiction, there are three house staff that help Susanna in her husband-disposing: an ayah (played surprisingly by the singer Usha Uthup), an ADC kind of person, and a mute horse jockey–they stick by her because they can see how she is longing to be loved by some nice man, and do not mind the killings.

Enter second husband, the rock musician Jimmy Stetson who Susanna meets at the church funeral of the first husband; Jimmy Stetson sings in the funeral choir; they exchange seductive glances at each other while singing funeral hymns for the dead husband. ( God, who comes up with these plot elements is what I want to know.) Anyway, Jimmy and Susanna get married in the same church and everything is absolutely peachy at first. They grope around in the bed singing to each other. Then those of us who know John Abraham who plays Jimmy Stetson know that he is an actor who likes to show his bare body,  so here we have a totally gratuitous scene where Jimmy sits on a chair, naked, we have to assume, with his legs apart and a guitar covering his genitalia–I am not making any of this up; you have to see this to believe this–and anyway he sings a romantic song to Susanna flagrante delicto. Turns out, Jimmy’s character flaw is not sitting with a guitar covering his genitals; it is that he steals from other musicians. The song he sings flagrante delicto for instance was ripped off from a college friend. Meanwhile Jimmy becomes a singing sensation; he starts dressing like Axel Rose and doing strange antics on stage in a kilt. Women in the mosh-pit scream at him offering their hearts to him and throw their bras to him on stage; the heart is obviously between their breasts must be the logic of this act.  I cannot see any other explanation. Anyway, Jimmy starts hanging out with two, three women at a time–Vietnamese or Nepali women–Indian women are too pure for such acts must be the director’s logic here–the alleged Rock star life–and starts mainlining cocaine, while his loving wife Susanna is accosted by various musicians who claim that Jimmy stole their songs. Susanna writes checks, Jimmy snorts more cocaine. It is an ugly scene. But Susanna will do anything for love, and brings Jimmy back and tries to take care of him. But once a rock star always a rock star and Jimmy continues his drug habit under her care. One day we find that Jimmy has died of a drug overdose. The sneaky smirky smile on Susanna and her Gothic underlings tells us that it was no accident; she overdosed him.

Enter policeman Keemat Lal (literally Price Man) who visits the estate to investigate Jimmy’s death, a groveling lewd man. He sees a specific set of footprints near Jimmy’s corpse and asks all the people in the estate to line up so he can check their feet. He does and none of them match, except for the one pair of feet he has not looked at yet. Yes, you guessed it. Susanna’s. So Susanna offers her feet to the policeman. Actually she offers more than her feet, she slides her dress to one side and offers her entire leg to him, thigh first. Keemat Lal immediately decides it was an accident; there was no foul play.

Brief interlude, while we learn that Susanna converts to Islam and temporarily moves to Kashmir where she meets a fiery intellectual poet Musafir (played by Irfan Khan). This is the third husband. They quote poetry and admire each other during the day, but the night is an entirely different story. Despite his poetry, Musafir is a sado-masochist and he likes to hurt her to get his sexual kicks. S0 we see a lot of hitting and slapping and biting and chewing and growling and howling and scarring and mutilation. There goes another romance out the window for a third time. Time for the third husband to be disposed off. One night the underlings dig a grave for him in the snow and the next thing we know husband #3 is gone.

Now it might be possible for an allegorical reading of this movie and Susanna; is Susanna, for instance, India, in bed with its English master (the first husband?) Is Susanna in bed with . . .let us see . . . what would Jimmy, the Rock musician be? Certainly not the US–India does not really have any diplomatic relations with the US. Maybe it is cultural modernity? US is drugs and rock music? Off with his head!!! What would the third sadomasochist husband be? Easy peasy there. Pakistan and Islam. And now we come to the fourth husband: the Russian spy Vronsky. India and Russia were thick once. So anyway Vronsky wines and dines Susanna and gets into bed with her, even sponsoring Arun, the young man telling the story, her ward. Vronsky arranges for Arun to attend Medical School in St. Petersberg, which was a bad idea, because one day sight-seeing in the Kremlin, who does Arun see but Vronsky with his Russian wife and kids? Arun promptly dispatches the photographs to Susanna, who hatches the plot to kill him. The underlings and Susanna push him into the deep well in which she grows her snakes. Vronsky gets bitten all over by snakes and dies a most painful death. Geez Louise!

Now comes the fifth husband–the lewd policeman Keemat Lal, remember him? He had been thinking of those slinky legs ever since she showed them to him. Now he decides to investigate the death of the Russian husband, but after being wined and dined by Susanna, the investigation goes out the window when she has sex with him, apparently incredible sex, because he thanks her from the bottom of his heart. He starts taking viagra–I am not making any of this up–and starts visiting her over and over again because as the movie crudely puts it,”he went back only to come.” I am really not making this up. Somebody got paid big bucks to write this script. It made my skin creep. But by now the movie was so repulsive that I had to finish watching it. Anyway the policeman starts getting on Susanna’s nerves with his constant demands to have sex; it is not the love she was looking for, you see. So she does what any woman under the circumstances would do apparently: overdose him on viagra in his drinks and he dies of a massive heart-attack while having sex with her. Now you might think a man dying while lying on top of you of a massive heart attack would stop any woman from wanting to get married for the sixth time, but not Susanna. She is unstoppable; her tender heart is still seeking love. So she marries for a sixth time; a funky herbal doctor (Naseeruddin Shah) who slowly nurtures her tormented heart back to health. But herb doctors should not be trusted; for all you know, they could be smoking something. To make a long story short, she kills the sixth herbalist husband as well.

Back to the present now. The forensic scientist, out of old loyalty and memories of childhood crush decides to spare her life even though his forensic analysis now tells him that the remains from the fire/ suicide do not really belong to her. So Susanna is alive and well, and Arun goes looking for her. The movies ends with Arun finding Susanna, and she tells him that she has decided to marry for a seventh time; no, it is not Arun. The surprise ending? Yes, she has finally decided to become a “nun,” a bride of Jesus; Christ, that is. Finally, she finds a man who is already dead; she won’t have to kill him. This is the seventh husband; the seventh “khoon” (murder) that is “maaf” (forgiven). How convenient. Poor Jesus.

What a travesty. Are you nuts, Vishal Bharadwaj? Nation, see this movie only if you have done something extremely monotonous and drone-like and wants a kick in your behind to wake you up. Bad acting, bad story line, crude dialog, bad make-up, horrendous music, no humor, no sensuality, no allegory, nothing–nearly three hours of your life  you will never get back.

p.s: I was checking out all the old Tom Lehrer songs on YouTube, and here is one pertinent to 7 Khoon Maaf, particularly the sad0-masochism alliance, the third husband. And another one. What would Lehrer have made of contemporary Hindi movies is thrilling to imagine!

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