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Saat Khoon Maaf

'Saat Khoon Maaf’ lives up to its premise for most of the film,before it pulls up short,well ahead of a satisfactory conclusion.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi |
February 18, 2011 6:35:46 pm

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Cast: Priyanka Chopra,Vivaan Shah,Irrfan Khan,John Abraham,Neil Nitin Mukesh,Aleksandr Dyachenko,Annu Kapoor,Naseerudin Shah,Usha Uthup

Rating:***

Movie Review: Saat Khoon Maaf Based on a Ruskin Bond short story in which a woman’s string of spouses die suspicious deaths,Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ sets out to faithfully replicate that arc : Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes starts with the first as she means to go along,and fetches up,decades later,at the same place. She’s trapped ,she wants out,and she goes at it,full tilt. As one of her life-long retainers who helps in such crucial things as disposing of evidence,says early on in the film : she is the kind of girl who will remove the road block with a loaded gun,rather than take the other,easy,empty path. ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ lives up to its premise for most of the film,before it pulls up short,well ahead of a satisfactory conclusion.

Her first husband,insecure armyman with a peg leg,( Neil Nitin Mukesh) anoints her with the classic song : oh Susanna,don’t you cry for me. She doesn’t,not for this one,but she does shed tears for the only one she loses her heart to,the drugged-out rockstar ( Abraham). We see wet cheeks once more,when the long-haired lover-cum-poet ( Irrfan) seduces her with soft words and sadistic hands. But once he’s done and dusted,a perceptible hardening comes in : a Russian two-timer ( Dyachenko) is summarily dispatched ( he’s brought in,one suspects,only because Bhardwaj wanted to include the lovely ‘Darrrling’ ditty,based on a famous Russian song) ; a lusty cop ( Kapoor) is brought forth to a poetic comeuppance; and an old Bengali gent( Naseeruddin) with a yen for wild mushrooms ends as a splatter. Susanna’s story is flash-backed by young Arun ( Vivaan,Naseer’s son) who grows from boy to man caught in the kind of troubled passion reserved only for the unattainable : she will always be his,and never be his.

‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ is all about desires and devices,riding on a woman who wants to be set free,at any cost. The film is constructed as a montage which shows Susanna first getting caught in a vortex,and then shaking herself from it : once the first segment is over,we know that this will be the fate of the men who show up,but the director scores by creating enough difference between them,even if they aren’t all credible. There’s no one quite like Bhardwaj in creating a magnificent meal of a movie,after which you hope to emerge with your senses sated,but there’s also no one quite like him when it comes to curling up,and heading towards flat obviousness,as the film progresses.

Here again,just a little after the half way mark,Bhardwaj’s bane catches up with him : he’s a great starter but bad finisher. This see-sawing affects the way he presents his leading lady,too. Priyanka Chopra fills out Susanna to the best of her ability,which isn’t spectacular,but is never standard-procedure : there are a few real flashes of complexity in the way she comes off,though she left me wondering how she never seems to have any nightmares : can that even be possible? She is then abandoned to the linear compulsions of the plot,where a kill has to be neatly conducted before setting up the next.

But before that happens,‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ succeeds in engaging you at every point. Given a choice,darrrlings,I will take a Vishal Bhardwaj film with all its flaws everytime,because it is a cinematic experience in the true sense of the word : this film gives us a story,characters,and an urge to ask that age-old question– and then what happened?

shubhragupta@expressindia.com

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