Saat Khoon Maaf – Review
Posted by FATEMA H.KAGALWALA on February 18, 2011 | 2 Comment
FILM – Saat Khoon Maaf
PRODUCER – Vishal Bhardwaj, Ronnie Screwvala
WRITER – Matthew Robin, Vishal Bhardwaj
CAST – Priyanka Chopra, Naseerudin Shah, John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Irrfan Khan, Anu Kapoor, Aleksandr Dyachenko, Vivaan Shah
MUSIC – Vishal Bhardwaj
Bollywood, as is evident, is hard pressed between ‘no-brainer’, ‘masala’ entertainers that fall in quality alarmingly with every film and ‘indie’, ‘small-budget’, ‘parallel’, story/character-based film. The rush (more of a head-rush) is building strongly towards blurring the lines between the two.
Vishal Bhardwaj beautifully succeeded in doing so with ‘Maqbool’ (2003) and continues to do so with measured success. Saat Khoon Maaf is an extension of this very creative goal of telling stories that are beyond genre, beyond formula and beyond the mere need to entertain.
With this self-inflicted chip on the shoulder, Saat Khoon Maaf sets out to tell the story of Susannah and her seven husbands. Adapted from Ruskin Bond’s short story ‘Susannah and her seven husbands’, the film travels through the life and times of Susannah and her travails as she tries to find that elusive thing called love.
Played with conviction and reserve by Priyanka Chopra, Susannah is the central keg of the story. The film takes us through her seven marriages, to men of different cultures, languages, personalities and passions. Passionate love follows that inevitable disillusionment or betrayal and the end of love and life. Susannah turns murderous but not before we are compelled to ask as ‘Sugar’ (Vivaan Shah) the principal narrator of the film wonders, ‘what was the need to kill?’
We never know. Except when her butler enacts in a rather overdone scene of how that is her inherent nature. The explanation and the justification, neither convince.
The film is a mood film. Every frame, character, motive, setting and intent is geared towards building mood. The ambiguity or rather attempt at it, leaves her character unexplored, undefined at the edges. Her actions are clear, her psyche is not. She is not bracketed or painted but sketched and with a light hand that loves her.
But somehow that fails to bring the viewer to love her and this is more a failure of the craft of the film than its art.
There is a certain hurry and mis-match of pace in the entire narrative that is its major un-doing. Even as political references are woven in subtly to establish time-frames, the film uses the banal voice-over tactic to create an experience. Over-used and redundant a tool, it typically takes the place of harder-to-build relationships, establish motives and condense journeys. As is wont, it explains away and dilutes Susannah’s mystery and morbidity. Like the explanation of the Anna Karenina connection dilutes Gulzar’s evocation of ‘Pushkin’ (the 18th century Russian royal poet) in Darling…
Structured with an almost clinical attention to screen-time and pace, every husband and relationship of Susannah becomes a vignette of the story rather than an integral part of it. In an almost embarrassing emphasis on pace, the film presents the love, passion and disenchantments in a fashion that seem like racing to a finishing line.
Conceived with creative passion, the film’s brilliantly evocative setting alone does what the screenplay and the characterization should have done. The film spews opulence. Superior production values combine with meticulously designed sets and costumes, painstakingly evolved ‘looks’ and carefully matched colours. The cinematography, over-zealous about stirring drama and morbidity, over-uses low angles and hand-held frames to make the pedestrian sinister. The music is non-conformist and yet true to the mood of the film and every character (Susannah’s husbands to be specific).
In the end, only individual elements and some performances remain as major takeaways. Priyanka Chopra, Annu Kapoor and Irrfan Khan shine through with the soul they place in their roles. Naseeruddin Shah is stuck with a limited role in scope, scale and screen-time and Neil Nitin Mukesh’s performance at best show that it was merely a bad casting decision. The same can be said about Aleksandr Dyachenko. John Abraham, does what he does. Well.
Ultimately, what could have been compelling becomes a heave. With nothing to ho about except maybe the fact that Bollywood is finally waking up to such un-generic, un-formulaic film-making that seemed an unreality a few dismal years ago.