Tag Archives: murder

Saat Khoon Maaf. Doubt. and Consternation.

25 Feb

Somewhere in the great yawning space that looms between two movies as disparate as these, disappointment and queer timing cropped up to create a connection. I watched Saat Khoon Maaf on the evening of its release and Doubt, the morning after on TV. If my expectations for Saat Khoon Maaf were lowered because I had not enjoyed Vishal Bharadwaj’s last release, Priyanka Chopra playing Susanna who murders seven husbands excited me. Doubt’s was a less euphoric subject: a nun suspects a priest of paedophilia. Hazard a guess at which disappointed?

You get the same time as I got to guess which husband had which flaw: three seconds per husband and chop-chop.

Saat Khoon Maaf irritated me from the word go. Cinematographer Ranjit Palit is supposed to be damn good at his job, so I’m guessing the reason for that grainy effect was a deliberate effort at creating an arthouse effect. As also the shadow play that made me squint to see characters’ faces. Both are inexcusable in an age where slick is the way to go. Worse, the bad make-up used to age Chopra made me wonder if the budget was slim. Until I heard that the budget was in the region of Rs.7crore. The mystery persists.

But those are trifles, I suspect, compared to the two big peeves I have with the movie – the construct of Susanna and the director’s approach to the story. As far as I am concerned, he could have upped the quality of production, glossed the film over or hired a different cinematographer, but with these two flaws none of that would have helped.

The idea of Saat Khoon Maaf is more exciting than your average serial killer movie. On paper, Susanna is neither the bharatiya nari who suffers in silence nor the feminist who takes a dissatisfactory husband to the legal cleaners. She prefers the finality of death, ensuring a run-in with an ex spoils no party. In film, however, she comes across as a victim. First her husbands’, who dominate her in various unpleasant ways and later, of what I call ‘filmi madness’. You know, the insanity that makes a character laugh for no clear reason. Bharadwaj’s interpretation of her as a coquette is unfortunate and not just because I was expecting the femme fatale (thanks to the repeated telecast of the feisty ‘Darrrling’ number during the film’s promotions). She remains the eternal feminine romantic through mental trauma, S&M rape and emotional disappointments. Susanna cowers, weeps and laughs instead of being the catharsis for every woman who has ever wanted to kill a man… and couldn’t. She never once enjoys the kill, something that would have been the natural progression. Susanna goes through man after man feeling sorry for herself until the weight of self-pity breaks her down to laughter. God knows she had valid reasons to kill each of them, hell I’ve wanted to kill one or two for much less. I didn’t, though. I’d like to know what makes me different from her. Bharadwaj doesn’t tell. Apart from a strange anecdote, we don’t get any inroads to her mind. A Man Friday says that Susanna’s very nature compelled her to take the more difficult option in life. Is that the director telling us that divorce was easier than murder in the 70s? But if I consider the social stigma divorce entailed for a woman, murder seemed the easier way to go. Not that Bharadwaj even considers divorce; we are expected to swallow the psychobabble-by-moonlight without further thought.

Even so, I would have been less bored had Bharadwaj not adopted a criminally simplistic approach to the story. The trailers had made it clear that Susanna kills her husbands, so no surprises there. The insultingly linear narrative doesn’t even make a pretence of shocking you. The screenplay falls into a pattern from the word go, leaving us to play a guessing game about which husband will throw up which flaw. By us, I mean three friends and I. Considering that we had exactly three seconds with each husband before the narrator himself makes the revelation, we quickly tired of the game. There was a sting in the tale, but by the time we got there I had died, a casualty the director hadn’t taken into account while titling the film. I’m sure it was a great twist but my stupor only made the revelation confusing, and I left the hall feeling cheated.

Oh, and henceforth I shall wish ill on anyone who utters ‘black humour’ and ‘vishal bharadwaj’ in the same sentence in a complimentary vein. I didn’t get any in Kaminey and I certainly didn’t get any in Saat Khoon Maaf.

Then I saw Doubt. Some movies are best watched alone; this is one of them, and there are no spoilers in this post. Meryl Streep stars as Sister Aloysius who suspects Father Brendan, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, has molested an altar boy. All the action takes place in an office, a church, a classroom and a front yard. Its characters sit and talk, stand and talk, walk and talk. Yet not only did I get raw tension from the proceedings but also a poignant picture of church hierarchies and the social truth of the ‘60s. In a brilliant scene I saw the mother of the boy refuse to get involved in her son’s church life for reasons that would be less identifiable than a woman killing seven men. And yet I do understand. More importantly, I empathise. Here, I sat up straight, I held my breath, I fisted my hands. And yes, I chuckled. Bharadwaj could take a few humour lessons from Patrick Shanley.

Our maverick director has become lazy. How unfortunate that he chose to mark the transformation with Saat Khoon Maaf! The loss is entirely personal.

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Japleen Pasricha

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