Saturday, February 19, 2011

Review: 7 Khoon Maaf

7 Khoon Maaf, based on a short story by Ruskin Bond, is about a woman's quest for love. Only this woman, Susanna played by Priyanka Chopra, unerringly manages to find and marry the worst candidates, not once but six times.

She walks down the aisle with cheery optimism and the knowledge that if it doesn't work, there's always the other option. Why doesn't she just leave or opt for divorce? Because, as her faithful butler explains, that is her nature.

This is a tough story to pull off and despite the voluminous talent on display here – from director-co-writer-composer Vishal Bhardwaj to Priyanka to co-stars like Irrfan Khan and Naseeruddin Shah – the film stumbles and fumbles.

The episodic nature of the narrative makes the plot predictable. You know that each husband is going to be killed – you are just waiting to find out how and why.

Bond's slender story works marvelously because the author leaves much to the imagination. There are hints that most husbands were fortune hunters and at least one drank too much but their faults aren't explicitly spelt out.

Here each one is assigned a fatal flaw – so if one is a sexual sadist, another is a gold digger. But few are memorable – there is one superbly creepy scene in which Neil Nitin Mukesh, playing a one-legged Army Major, caresses Susanna with his amputated limb - but most of them don't make an impression. They seem more like walking targets than characters.

Thankfully Susanna has more texture. She is a chameleon – vulnerable and tearful in one moment and an unfeeling viper in the next. Susanna is vain and cruel and Priyanka doesn't try to soften her. Instead she revels in the chance to go twisted, dark and frankly ugly. But beyond a point, even she can't prop up the sagging plot.

The transitions from one husband to the next are nicely done as is the rollicking number Darling. But eventually the film becomes such a slog that when interval arrives with the warning that there are four more husbands to go, it almost feels like a threat.

Vishal loosely tethers his tale to reality – television, radio and newspaper headlines reveal which year we are in - but mostly this fantastical story happens in a dark Neverland. But this mysterious gothic world of murderous servants and their mistress who keeps cobras as pets, needed to be more fully realised and our journey into it needed to be far more seductive and engaging

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