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Film Review: 7 Khoon Maaf

Film Review: 7 Khoon Maaf

February 18, 2011

A dark film from the immensely talented writer-director-composer Vishal Bhardwaj. Does it live up to the expectations?

Susanna has a problem: the constant inability to simply walk away from a bad husband rather than ridding the world of him. “It’s in her nature,” says her lifelong butler. And this becomes a big problem in a film that can’t decide what it wants to be. Vishal's Bhardwaj's 7 Khoon Maaf is an ambitious film with an intriguing premise and packed with dependable talent, but sadly ends up becoming a wobbly journey, awkwardly plodding its way through a string of murders but never pausing to dig deeper into any character. This, unfortunately, becomes the fatal flaw of a film that is ironically all about fatal flaws.

Based on the short story ‘Susanna’s Seven Husbands’ by Anglo-Indian author Ruskin Bond, 7 Khoon Maaf seems needlessly stretched and often undercooked in its narrative. The basic idea is ripe for development, but its episodic treatment zaps the fun and deeper philosophical and spiritual explorations out of what could have been a thrilling dark comedy. Or even a “dark romantic thriller.” It’s hard to identify a unifying tone or genre for this film as it wavers between several possibilities.

Among his many talents, Bhardwaj is skilled at handling several characters in a fluid and engrossing narrative with plenty of quirks thrown in. Here too, the platter of characters makes for a variety show of twisted or insane husbands, faithfully devilish servants, and an innocent narrator with an Oedipal complex. The center of all their attention is Susanna (played by Priyanka Chopra), regularly wronged but also too comfortable with her fetish of weddings and funerals.

This is where the script falters. 7 Khoon Maaf is undoubtedly a dark film, but the central character fails to evoke any sort of empathy. Chopra, putting in great effort to become Susanna, shines when she has the least to do. Her cold stares, subtle body movements and hysterical outbursts are sadly too few and far between to keep the viewer’s interest in her life. It is also hard to tell, after a point, whether she’s finishing off her husbands out of desperation or habit, especially since she doesn’t think twice before moving on. The sloppy ageing makeup doesn’t help either.

The various husbands, however, make for more engaging viewing. While the structure of the film becomes all too predictable – Susanna marries husband, Susanna kills husband, and repeat – Bhardwaj and co-writer Matthew Robbins succeed at developing interesting environs for each husband. Of the bunch of ill-fated hubbies, half are truly memorable. Irrfan Khan as the poet Wasiullah Khan is pitch-perfect in this role. The scenes of his sadomasochism in the bedroom are chilling and difficult to stomach. Neil Nitin Mukesh as Major Rodriques, is mostly trying hard to be menacing but excels in a truly creepy scene where he caresses Susanna’s cheek with his amputated leg. And Aleksandr Dyachenko as Nikolai Vronsky provides many laughs balancing his tough Russian persona with mimicking Amitabh Bachchan dialogs from the 1970s. The others – John Abraham as junkie rockstar Jimmy, Annu Kapoor as fumbling police officer Keemat Lal and Naseeruddin Shah as mushroom diet proponent Dr. Tarafdar – are miscast, exaggerated and underdeveloped respectively.

The best performance comes from newcomer Vivaan Shah as Arun, a young man for whom Susanna becomes a guardian. In return, he becomes obsessed with her, and is also the one who strings the entire film together through his flashback narration to his wife (Konkana Sen Sharma in a guest appearance). Shah, whose acting at times mirrors that of his real life father Naseeruddin, brings a brooding and lovelorn element to his character, making him the only one you actually feel for. Susanna’s all-knowing loyal servant staff comprising Usha Uthup, Harish Khanna and Shashi Malviya add dark humor to the goings-on.

The unfortunate condition of 7 Khoon Maaf is its tremendous potential suffering at the hands of an imbalanced script. The film doesn’t rise much beyond its synopsis and what the trailers offered. It doesn’t provide the punchy twists or uncomfortable tension at which Bhardwaj is so incredibly proficient. Thus the ultimate flaw of the film is its talented director missing the mark this time around. It’s not a bad film, it just disappointingly falls short of its potential. But to cut Mr. Bhardwaj some slack, he too can be forgiven this one sin. 


  • Dee S
    Dee S
    03.04.11 01:44 PM
    Well done, Mita! A wonderful review and I agree with u on all counts. I immensely enjoyed the film. And am so glad I did not get influnced by other negative reviews and saw this film. Take a bow, Vishal - u are the best. Direction, story telling, plot building, sets, and the MUSIC! Wow. All the actors excelled esp. Priyanka.
  • mita
    01.03.11 07:58 PM
    Thanks Sharmila I loved the film and felt really delighted to finally come across something so fantastic. The effort that has gone is this film seems really comendable.
    I can understand, sometimes when critics go crazy over movies like houseful and trash good films it really is frustrating. But in this case I feel Pulkit's review is quite genuine and fair, he has given credit where it is due and has simply pointed out where he feels it could have been better.
  • sharmila
    27.02.11 03:12 AM
    the review by mita was outstanding.some of our critics need to get some training from mita alongside spanking for writingawful reviews.critics have given thumbs up for horrible movies like yamla pagla deewana,houseful, akrosh was agreat film but brought down by the ctitics.may be it wastaken from mississipi burning but giving it a totally indian format and the present issues was wonderful.7 khoon maaf is a brilliant film .sussanah symbolises battered woman from time eternal which goes beyond religion and is a sort of fantasy.this sort of fantasy where the central character epitomises a certain aspect of life was shown before in bengali films galpo hloeo s attiand thana theke aaschi.
  • mita
    25.02.11 07:17 AM
    Thank you, my full name is Mita Ray Malhotra, just thought it was quite a mouthful so the truncated version :)
  • The NRI
    The NRI
    25.02.11 12:48 AM
    Mita, I apologise if I caused offence. And you are right, you were silent on Pulkit's review. I just could not understand why a mere reader of the site like Milind would take a less than praiseworthy review so personally and subsequently attack the credentials of the author, rather than just giving their own take on the movie. Of course I could imagine this happening where someone had a vested interest in the movie. As his comments immediately followed your very positive review, I assumed you were both connected.

    For the record, I do not normally allow people to post their own comprehensive reviews in the comments section. In that respect I afforded you an exceptional privilege. As far as your last comment is concerned, you are incorrect as can be evidenced here, and apparent by taking a cursory look at previous posts.

    In light of the above information, I think it is only fair that as you are submitting a full review, you post your full name too just as Pulkit has.

    If you wanted to do this on a more professional basis, I would be happy to consider submissions from you:)
  • mita
    24.02.11 10:41 PM
    The NRI, the last time I looked I was indeed Mita and that was indeed my e-mail id. However if you have discovered something about me that I myself don’t know please share with me.
    I cannot understand why you are attacking me personally. I said not a word about Pulkit or the review. I naively imagined this was a site where one can share views/reviews. If you don’t like my review kindly delete but please refrain from these kind of childish attacks. I'm pretty sure now no contrary views are welcome here and I bet you will not let this post appear either.
  • prasant
    22.02.11 11:36 PM
    Nice review Pulkit. Couldn't agree more.
    These were the first feelings i and my friend got midway through the movie. In fact only the hope of a sudden turn of events in the plodding script to truly reveal a Bhardwaj flourish kept us from leaving the movie midway.

    Some people complain that it was a tough act for Vishal, to develop a movie from a small story. I urge them to watch "3:10 to Yuma" and "Curious Case of Benjamin Button", both of which are excellent adaptations of short stories themselves.

    As Pulkit rightly points out, the film in itself might not be that bad. But, yes, more, and much more was expected from a Vishal-Ruskin combo!
  • The NRI
    The NRI
    21.02.11 10:42 PM
    @Milind - I am dismayed by your comments. Whatever you may think of the author's take on the movie, I don't see how you can take any issue with his competency as a critic. You are way off the mark here. Pulkit is both experienced and trained in this area. His reviews are amongst the most read content on this site.

    I understand completely if you do not agree with the review - this is normal. Pulkit is writing as he sees it, and unlike many other high profile Bollywood sites and critics, we are not in the pay of the film companies. This gives us the freedom to write honest, objective reviews.

    On that note, Pulkit is writing under his own name. I see that "Mita" uses an alias and a false email address.
  • mugdha
    21.02.11 09:23 AM
    i think the review is perfect ... would love to know if milind you yourself know any film appreciation of any kind... do write in a review to strengthen your claims.. lets see how good you are :)
  • Anamika
    21.02.11 07:59 AM
    Another highly nuanced and sophisticated review, Pulkit. Well-balanced and insightful. The art of the craft lies in being able to look beyond the razzle-dazzle and grasp the intricacies which make a good film. You have a knack for it (and a degree to boot!), unlike those who seem to be overtly eager to display their lack of it.
  • Milind
    21.02.11 03:28 AM
    I totally disagree with Pulkit & totally agree with Mita. Some critics in India need a film appreciation Course to upgrade themselves.Pulkit please learn to understand films.
  • Virginia
    20.02.11 05:26 AM
    Nice review, Pulkit!!
  • mita
    19.02.11 10:24 AM
    My first reaction on seeing Saath Khoon Maaf was; Is India ready for this? This is possibly not for those who worship at the altar of Shila and Munni. This film has set new standards and raised the bar so high for Bollywood that it is doubtful if any film, past, present or in the near future will be able to come close to, leave alone cross it.
    The film is essentially an exploration, a treatise on the intricacies of the human mind, portrayed through the extraordinary life of Suzanna, played with stunning brilliance and maturity by the young Priyanka Chopra. Almost all the characters in the film are complex and multi faceted, a refreshing change from the one dimensional people we have come to see of late in our films.
    It would be an understatement to say that the casting is simply superb. Each and every actor fits their role like the proverbial glove, or maybe they all reserve their very best to give to Vishal Bardwaj. He is truly the wizard who can draw out the finest that an actor is capable of giving.
    Niel Nithin Mukesh is unrecognizable as he well and truly disappears into Major Rodriguez. One can almost feel the menace in him. The jealousy, the impotent rage of being handicapped and the consequent effect it has on achingly young Suzanna. It also establishes the unusual bonding between her and her servants, her only family.
    There is crackling chemistry between Suzanna and playboy-rock star Jimmy; John Abraham, the gigolo whose career she promotes. Her hurt and devastation at his betrayal simply seeps thru to the viewers, one can almost condone Suzanna’s role in his death.
    The relationship between Wasiullah Khan (Irfan Khan) and Suzanna gives the maximum insight into her complicated emotional state, so desperate is her need to be loved and be in love that she is willing to put herself through such emotional and physical trauma, willing to sublimate her identity, her religion and herself to such an extent that when it snaps she can only try to redeem herself by obliterating it completely. Watch this part to know why the world comes knocking on India’s doors asking for Irfan.
    Again with Vronsky (Aleksandr Dyachenko) she only sees what she wants to see. She does not dig deep for she does not want to find things that may not be to her liking. When she discovers she has made a mistake once more, her desolation is complete and she is overcome with bitterness.
    It is with Keemat lal that one can see the conniving, calculating side of her. Her ability to use her sexuality in a cold calculating manner when cornered. Keemath turns victim simply because he underestimates her. Annu Kapoor rivals the veterans in his excellent portrayal of Keemat Lal.
    Nazeruddin Shah as Dr. Modhusudhon Tarafdar, the Bengali professor is brilliant, the nuances, the accent the body language…. It is in his perfidy that finally sends Suzanna over the edge.
    Last but definitely not least is Vivan. It is an understatement to say he has lived up to expectations. He has surpassed it. He is has given a retrained, understated and supremely confident performance as the backbone of the entire saga. He is Suzanna’s eternal love, confidant and alter ego. He is a multifaceted personality able to love at different levels. The scene when he is so casually feeding and looking after the old Goonga, the way he relates to Konkana, the way he deals with his inner turmoil, Wow! Unbelievable that he’s only twenty one.
    As far as the film itself, it’s quite simply a visual poetry soaked in lyrical, Shakespearian grandeur. Vishal is a master craftsman with a superb mastery over his tools. He has extracted the best possible from all his technicians.
    The camera glides effortlessly thru Suzanna’s life sometimes watching, sometimes retreating and sometimes participating. No strange angles or gimmicks distracting the viewer. The lighting and look is something never before seen in a Hindi film.
    The whispering visual effects are woven gently into the fabric of the film to take the story further, nothing loud or obvious here, nothing screaming for attention, yet it’s very much there, enriching the narrative, enhancing the tale and contributing to the visual extravaganza with silken smoothness, not easy to spot them.
    Music and Vishal are synonymous. The song Darling catches on from the word go, Rekha Bhardwaj and Usha Utup! what a unique combo and it works! Bekaraan sung by Vishal Bhardwaj himself is haunting and beautiful. O Mama rocks, Gulzar is gifted it seems, with reverse aging, lyrics for a rock song!!! It does not get better than this. A diverse bouquet indeed;
    Brilliant and extraordinary, this is a milestone in the journey of Indian films. Missing it would be like missing a significant moment in the history of Hindi cinema.

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