Monday, February 21, 2011

7 Khoon Maaf and Me

Pardon the decibels, but VISHAL BHARDWAJ ROCKS MY WORLD!!!

Sorry, really felt like shouting that. Now that that's out of the way, some very random thoughts on 7 Khoon Maaf, because I am incapable of writing a proper review given my current state of extreme gushiness towards Vishal Bhardwaj, the (only?) director who has yet to disappoint me. (Ha! Spellcheck doesn't know the word gushiness, how shocking!)

As soon as the movie starts we see Priyanka with a gun to her head, and then we hear a gunshot and the camera lingers for what feels like an eternity on the blood splashed all over the wall. I knew I was going to like this film from this first scene. I knew I was hopelessly in love with it somewhere between the second and the third scene. And by the time the first husband gets offed, I knew I was not going to be able to review it. And that's all right because I'm sure we'll have no shortage of good reviews and thoughtful blogs about it. So instead of that, I'd like to share how I felt about the movie every step of the way.

... about Vishal
It's no secret that I love all his movies (and only one is missing from my collection, but Makdee, you will be mine, just you wait!), so my expectations were sky high, even though I should know better by now and not set myself up for disappointment. Still, even for my stratospheric enthusiasm, this film delivered. I blame it all on Vishal, and pretty sure I jokingly asked if I could marry him a few times during the film.

Luckily he's a little too old and a little too married for me...

Vishal Bhardwaj is like a cattle owner. Nothing offensive meant by that, in fact it's a compliment. It's hard to put into words just why I love Vishal to the extent that I do, but high up on that list is the way he trademarks every image in a movie, particularly when he insists on the unnatural length of a shot - it's what I call "thoughtful shots" because they give you some space to reflect upon what just happened or what is coming up. There's a distinct Vishal way of filming a scene and it doesn't take many movies for your subconscious to learn to recognize it. He's not subtle about it either. Oh no, it's obnoxious and almost territorial, but at the same time endearing because it's a constant reminder and a promise he makes every time to me, the viewer, that "this is a VB film and you will not be disappointed". There's a scene early in the movie where the deaf-mute servant is chasing young Arun to give him a whipping and during that chase I found myself sighing: "Oh, Vishal..."

Whenever another "oh Vishal..." would pass my lips, and yes, there were quite a few more, picture the tone a mother would use when her 7 year old comes home and she has to scold him for not paying attention in class because he was reading another book under the desk. It's a mixture of badly hidden pride, a bit of giggly complicity, a touch of bother that he got caught, just enough sternness to make it believable but without trying to hide its playfulness, all wrapped in a sense of ownership, as if she had any kind of contribution to her kid's proficiency.

What? I can't help it, I take Vishal's movies very personally!

... about Susanna
What a delightfully enigmatic character Susanna. A woman who is so desperate to find love that she will change everything about herself every time she finds the promise of happiness. A woman whose beauty can make men stutter, but it cannot make them respect her. A woman who will do anything for love... haha, but she won't do that!

I hardly ever manage to see the character in a movie with one of my favourite actors. A lot of people say that's the mark of great acting. Maybe. Not for me. I am thrilled whenever I can glimpse the thought process behind an actor's interpretation of the character, so if Susanna is softly laughing and smiling like an old lady in the last part of the film, I will not think: "ah, Susanna has aged". I will think "Priyanka, these lttle details are part of why I love your acting so much!". So not surprisingly, the tango she dances in the beginning of the film had me in all kinds of awe at Priyanka's beauty and charm. The first scene with the child Arun had me giggling to myself at her expressions, she hit all the right notes, and that was only the beginning of the film. Priyanka owns this movie and I was having a blast watching her own it.

And yet... somewhere in the middle of Darrling, the lavish ode to the Russian song Kalinka, I found myself really wishing the movie would stop right there, and that Susanna could just be happy. There was so much delight, such boundless joy, such indulgence in that moment that I wanted it to last forever. Not for me, but for Susanna. Watching her so happy filled me with euphoria.

It was not to last, and I knew it, but my reason was powerless in front of Susanna's optimism and zest for life. I suppose that's what they mean by the character completely overtaking the actor.

Still, most of the time I was not cheering for Susanna, but for Priyanka, for finally giving me the movie that I can proudly show to anyone when I feel the need to gush about her, which happens often. Perhaps on the next watchings I will invest more in the character, now that I know what the story is, but the first time around I couldn't allow myself to let Priyanka's acting be overshadowed by anything, even by her character.

... about the husbands
What an apt progression were the husbands, and it's commendable that they appear in just the right order. It starts off bad, moves on to worse, then to unbearable, to then grow softer, just in the nick of time. I don't think I could have handled anything more hard-hitting than the third one. And Susanna's growing impatience with them is a sign that even she couldn't handle anything more.

Neil Nitin Mukesh. The first husband is a controlling, cruel, insecure jerk. I spent a lot of time in the beginning of his chapter laughing at what Neil Nitin Mukesh does to his face (and what he did to his body!) in order to appear as despicable as he does. His moustache is hilarious, but it's the grimace on his lips and the unnatural manipulation of his cheek bones that make him absolutely repugnant. I was happy to see him go!

John Abraham. Ah, again, it starts off with so many giggles. His Axl Rose get-up had me on the floor, and Vishal makes a delightful backhanded point about the copyright issues that plague the Bollywood film industry. All while delivering a song that I never found interesting on the soundtrack, but was completely won over by after the picturization. This one goes downhill fast and it was predictable enough for me to be able to close my eyes through some of the more difficult shots.

No really, he's hilarious!

Little did I know that I should have saved some of that dread for the third and worst husband. Irrfan Khan. I am glad I watched this in the theatre because I am sure to skip this chapter on the DVD from now on whenever I watch it. Unbearable doesn't even begin to describe him, and feeling nauseated was only the beginning of how organically my mind rejected this character. Out of all of them, the one who was most worthy of a slow painful death. The less I say about him the better, and as usual Irrfan delivers a chilling performance.

Aleksandr Dyachenko. The fourth husband. His filmi lines, his marriage proposal, his secret identity, he was, I would say, the most fun. I was a little afraid of how the Russian culture would be handled, not that I have any loyalty to it, but I always cringe when a culture I know a thing or two about gets completely misrepresented in Hindi films. Luckily, while cliche, it never crossed the line into eye rolling territory, which is acceptable enough for me. Vronsky happens to be the only husband to not directly sin against Susanna, but what difference does it make, she had already lost her patience by the time he came into the picture (pun intended). He lightened up the mood after husband number 3, and thankfully redirected the film towards dark comedy, and not a moment too soon! Thank you for the giggles! And na zdrovia!

Anu Kapoor. Husband number five. This one had me in stitches from the first time he appeared. His sheepishness and his constant stammering made me almost feel sorry for his quick demise. But unfortunately for him I was far too busy laughing at how the camera handled his departure.

Naseeruddin Shah. After this whole rainbow of emotions, I knew I could not deal with another bad husband. So for most of Naseer's husbandry, I was praying silently: please don't turn him into another beast, please don't turn this into another Sarfarosh, I could not bear it. Luckily, I did get my wish. Well, sort of, but enough to make me sigh in relief, despite the tension in the last moments of his chapter.

Number 7? Is there a number 7? Now that would be ruining the movie, so that one will have to stay unanswered, but I will say that I found the twist immensely satisfying.

... about Arun
I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him home. I did. Despite the ridiculous wig in the beginning, despite his hamming through some of the scenes with the police, I was floored every time he would witness another one of Susanna's weddings. And the chemistry between Vivaan and Priyanka is definitely something to talk about. On second thought, not something to talk about, rather something to take in and relish in. Two scenes stand out for them: the scene where she wants to convince him to go to Russia - bursting with tension and bottled up emotions; and their last scene together - a perfect balance between peace and hysteria, just what was needed leading up to the resolution. I don't know what reviews Vivaan Shah got for this performance, but he definitely got my attention for future outings.

... in the end
It's a hard movie to summarize, so I won't try, but if you're not on your way to the theatre by now, I will not be responsible for regrets later that you didn't see it. It's not for the weak of heart, and there is nothing fluffy about it, but somewhere between the horrifying tragedy and the subtle comedy, there's a story about survival, about endurance, about absolution, about disappointment, about optimism, and, hidden deep under the layers, about a woman's heart. And Vishal Bharadwaj's wicked, wicked sense of humour.


dustdevil liz said...

I'm going to watch 7 Khoon Maaf this afternoon, and will be back to post a few comments.

Makdee is up on the official "Ultra Hindi" youtube channel, with subtitles even.

Dolce and Namak said...

Woohoo!!!! :) Made my day, Liz!

I hope you enjoy it! Let me know what you thought of it, I'm curious, as a lot of reviews call it bizarre, and to me there is absolutely nothing bizarre about it :)

dustdevil liz said...

Oh my god, oh my god, omg, omg. That was awesome! Kudos to Priyanka and Vishal and Vivaan and everyone involved in the film. Need to get my thoughts in order, but that was an awesome film.

Dolce and Namak said...

Whew!!! You have no idea, Liz, how relieved I am that you liked it! :) Can't wait for the orderly or not so orderly thoughts. In the meantime: Yay!!!

Radical said...

hey Lady..

i just saw the film today..and being a B-I-G- VB fan myself...this one just made his repertoire shinier!:P!

Vivaan has got decent reviews for his role by the reviewers who bothered to mention him!:P! {Naseer's both the sons have had a good beginning in B'town [it's in their genes, with a mom like Ratna Pathak Shah!]...let's see how this younger son sustains himself here.}

as an aside...i was a li'l intrigued when one of the critics here had said that ...'she kills only "6 husbands", dunno why the "7.."???
towards the end of the film...the only thing i wanted to tell that critic was..."how dumb of u!:P"

also, VB's casting ability is just...gosh..hv no words for it! it's just chillingly perfect in all his films! not a single actor looks out of place! n what discoveries!:P! most of the supporting cast in Omkara, Makdee, Kaminey n now this one..are 1st-timers..:)!

i don't know if you are aware of this proverb/idiom in Hindustani...
"Sau choohe khaakar billi chali haj ko"? it means, after devouring 100 rats, the cat is now off to do Hajj [Islamic pilgrimage, to wash off the sins]. couldn't help but think of it while watching the climax!;-)!

Swati Sapna said...

hey! I'm back :) loved ur ode to Shahid btw! and 7 khoon maaf - i thought it was deliciously dark and Vishal's black comedy at its best! Priyanka was so enigmatic, so vulnerable, yet so unrepentant that i cdnt but admire her. i hv heard many of my friends say she they were disappointed with the film coz PC is jus not beautiful or striking enough to be Susanna... But I disagree. In real life there are certain women that men are fatally attracted to, and they are not beauty queens! There is just something subtly sexy and inherently captivating about them and PC/Susanna was just such a woman...
I adore VB too, and though I was really floored by the music, the cinematography and the way he literally painted the canvas in this film, I was also a bit disappointed that the movie treated the 7 murders so clinically. But maybe my expectations were too high! If a movie is called 7 khoon maaf, I expect it to go beyond the title. And he only just abt managed to do that... but barely.
I hv heard from reliable sources that the initial cut of the movie was 4hrs long and it was brilliant! But to keep it shorter VB had to compromise on a lot of levels... Would give a limb to watch the 4hr version!
Anyway... also wanted to share my latest post with you on Film and Food -
Hoping you will like it :)

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Malaika - that saying with the cat is awesome, I have to remember it! Well, we don't have the equivalent of that, so for the most part from the animal reign I was thinking about the female widow spider who sometimes consumes the male right after mating. But then again, there is a decent reason for that and it's not because the male is evil. :) I also read analogies with fire and moths afterwards. But I feel that the best animal analogy is still Vishal's own, with the venomous snakes: don't poke them and they won't bite you.

I never realized one of the Pathak sisters was Naseer's wife, but I love both sisters from the few movies I've seen them in. I'm glad Vivaan is off to a good start, let's hope he sticks around.

And thanks for the laugh about that review. I tried to not read too many reviews before because I didn't want to go in with any baggage, it seems that it was a good idea, I would have also been annoyed by that. Sure, the 7th "crime" is open to interpretation, but come on! :)

So happy to see other big Vishal fans, I didn't think he'd be so well loved! Woo hoo!! :D

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Swati, awesome blog post :) You have to mix the two more often!

And now excuse me for shouting again but WHAAAAT???? There are people who think Priyanka is NOT BEAUTIFUL ENOUGH?? I hope you're joking, I spent the first 15 minutes of the film basically in rapture, not even sure I caught everything that was happening, she was so beautiful that I couldn't even focus. But even if she wasn't, I don't really think the point was for her to be beautiful, but rather to be seductive, and like you said sexy, which for me she was plenty.

And you're so right, add one of my limbs as well when you make the offer to Vishal Bhardwaj and beg him to put the full version on the DVD :) WITH director's commentary FTW :) Ok, now I'm daydreaming...

After having had a few debates about that 7, I'd say for me the movie did go beyond the title, between the 7 cardinal sins, the 7 husbands, the 7 actual deaths, the way the 7th one can be interpreted in at least 3 ways, and also, if you will, the way forgiveness was actually obtained, plus the little bit at the end with Vivaan and Koko that blurs the line between real and surreal just a wee bit more. Between all that, I am more than satisfied with the depth of the film. And I expected nothing less from Bhardwaj. Also so refreshing to see some Christian symbolism put to good use for a change, I rarely get to understand the religious symbolism without help in Indian films, so it's nice to just "get it" for once :)

Ah.. now I want to see it again! :) Thank you for posting your thoughts! The more I talk about this movie the more I love it :D

Shreya said...

Hey Dolce,

love your blogs... got hooked on to it since read your review of dhobi ghaat.

Dolce and Namak said...

*Giggle* Thank you, Shreya! That's such a nice thing to hear! :D And please don't be shy to comment on the films too, if and when the mood strikes :)

See you around! :)

Shreya said...

sure thing :)

Radical said...

hey Lady..

i'm SUPER SORRY fr the delay in responding..'coz i NOW realised that the "@Malaika..." comment was in response to MY first comment! [i know where u got tht association frm!:P!]
err...u could address me as "Vistrit"..and that wud be just fine!:D!

btw..m sure u know..the other Pathak sis, Supriya is Pankaj Kapoor's 2nd wife!

i guess references to ur Dhobi Ghat post still evokes 'giggles', etc. ...hence, i'd like to mention...i was amongst one of the shells swept to the shores of ur blog after Rajeev Masand tweeted abt it!;-D!

Dolce and Namak said...

This made me crack up today when I realized what you meant: you were actually correcting my typo (that to this day I haven't corrected even though I had noticed it myself at some point), and I thought you were introducing yourself :D Dolce Fail!! :) Ok, all clear now, Vistrit it is!

And that is so cool you landed here through that tweet, I always wonder who stuck around after the DG hurricane :P Thanks for telling me! I am totally giggling to myself! :)

Shreya said...

Hey Dolce,
Have not seem 'Saat Khoon Maaf' but have heard mixed reviews. Where people have raved about Priyanka's performance the treatment of the film has not been appreciated by a certain section.
However your review seems to have decided it for me. Will be in the theatre this weekend :)

Dolce and Namak said...

I hope you like it, Shreya. I can see why it's not an instant hit with certain categories of viewers, so I can't guarantee you will like it, but I definitely think whether you like it or now, it's a film worth seeing, if only for Priyanka's performance, for Vishal's virtuosity as a director and because it's a film that makes you think, a pleasant change from most films I've seen lately.

There are some rough scenes with husband number 1 and 3, especially number 3, which is actually why I can't bring myself to go see it again in a theatre, as much as I would love to. So be prepared for that, it's not pretty at all. :-/ And come back and tell me what you thought of it :)

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