Sunday, August 14, 2011

7 KHOON MAAF: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Priyanka Chopra
Director: Vishal Bharadwaj
Runtime: 149 min.
Verdict: If ever there was a movie that needed to be Brechtian, this is it.
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Comedy

        Susanna (Ms. Chopra) declares to the world, although it is only us and our surrogate Arun (Mr. Vivaan Shah) who’re listening, and with her licking tongue and her protruding upper lip and her dry decaying skin she intends to drink the blood of Jesus Christ. Not since you last saw Ms. Rakhi Sawant have you had an actress from the Hindi film industry look so ghastly. She feels so rotten, her laugh so repulsive you cringe. You ought to thank that garish make-up as much as that lip job to achieve this terrific cinematic effect, and with its voice-overs, and its title, and its mostly inevitable structure, you would’ve have to wonder why Mr. Bharadwaj didn’t go full-on theatrical on us. Say, amping up on the make-up, or say employing a lot more camera tricks than the obligatory wide-angled distorted compositions, or say have a placard declare upfront “what else” each husband has to offer, or say have the same guy play the different husbands.
        One might be reminded of Spider Baby. Or Se7en. For different reasons of course, but primarily for the theatricality associated with the proceedings. The wife reads Anna Karenina, a book I haven’t read and what Wiki suggests is a novel on hypocrisy in the society and that sort of stuff. The seven husbands are nothing but bad-husband archetypes (you might be reminded of Ms. Kiran Bedi’s show as well), much like John Doe’s victims who in turn were examples elevated to archetypes. Sort of like drug-addict (alcoholic), or greedy, or lusty, or insecure, or someone who likes to go medieval. None of these are in any way redeemable, and they don’t really need to be redeemed, considering Mr. Bharadwaj has caused them to exist only to let his feminist impulses go berserk.
        The problem lies not in the concept, and frankly I can’t make much sense of it except at a very, well, conceptual level – Wife loses father (biological), seeks father (husband), and ends up with father (J.H.C.). It is the filmmaking and the narrativizing impulse that actually makes the film more tedious and less amusing, and reining in fractured time frames and flashbacks and misdirections, I guess Mr. Bharadwaj makes his task only harder. He tries to explain the woman when he ought to ask us to accept her and the premise as a given, and he tries to convey time by actual historical events (clever, but wrong place), when he ought to shun reality and embrace the artificiality of it all. More importantly undermines his film’s great strengths. That would be its texture, like choosing a madhouse, or like Susanna herself whose skin is baby-soft and innocent upfront, and with its red layers and lumps of artificial skin later on looks a creature that has been cursed to rot, not a punisher but the punished. I imagine a film, at least an hour shorter, and which unleashes many more aspects of the madhouse (like Bruno, one of my favorite movie characters), and symbolism (like the twin Buddha idols, although I wonder if he was considered before we settled on J.H.C.), and the morality of Mr. Bharadwaj’s morbid world that finds this decaying specimen desirable. Or one-half hour longer, but secrets being peeled and not just thrown bluntly. I imagine that the intention might have been to juxtapose this madhouse against outsiders, who appear to be clean but are concealing their own version of a madhouse deep within them. The problem is, Mr. Bharadwaj’s structure diverts attention from this aspect – both the madhouses (Susanna’s and her husbands’) are almost underplayed, and much is made of the actual sin, providing for a thriller which happens to mildly amusing to what should’ve been a predominantly amusing film that is thrilling. This is a society where the cops use the word “lay”, and I haven’t heard that in a really long time. I’m trying to arrive at a Bunuel film, you see. And trust me I’m loving it
        There is a shot quite later in the film, where we see Susanna and her fifth – the Intelligence Bureau officer Keemat (Mr. Anu Kapoor) – exchange marriage vows and as Susanna reads, or recites her end of the bargain the shot pans to Jesus on the cross. It pans back, and we see the dead fifth. It is a nice little touch, and in the immediate cut, Mr. Bharadwaj’s narrativizing problem obliges him to explain the death, which completely spoils this preceding moment. Never mind the voice-over. Most importantly, Mr. Bharadwaj should’ve sought this freedom from narration. And go completely ugly on us.


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