Did Vishal Bharadwaj momentarily lose it?
7 Khoon Maaf is a distressing exercise in making the viewer squirm. When details of the plot – a woman called Susanna killing seven unsuitable suitors – first started trickling out, it sounded something like a Coen Brothers-style black comedy. But are we really expected to laugh at all this? In the course of a hundred and twenty minutes, Susanna (Priyanka Chopra) is beaten, raped, mentally abused, cheated on and blackmailed. Her debasement is so realistic that her retribution seems justified. This was probably the director’s intention, but how can you cheer on multiple murders when all you feel is sickened? By half-time I was hoping that Susanna would kill herself and save everyone concerned a lot of pain.
Isn’t it surprising that the scriptwriters never thought of making at least one of the husbands a character worthy of the audience’s respect? It seems like an elementary choice for a film with this plot – to question whether Susanna is so far gone that she can no longer tell the difference between a predator and a paramour. Fair enough, that’s a choice made. But couldn’t the killings have been wittier? The film might have been more palatable if it had devoted more screen time to the setting up of the murders instead of the circumstances that necessitated them.
None of the performers bring their A-game. Priyanka Chopra goes through so much, it wouldn’t be fair to judge this as a performance; let’s just say she weathers the ordeal. Naseeruddin Shah’s Bengali accent keeps slipping like a sock. Annu Kapoor plays a simpering letch of an inspector, so much under Susanna’s thumb it's surprising that she feels she needs to sleep with him to shut him up. John Abraham is embarrassing. Only Vivaan Shah as Arun and Aleksandr Dyachenko as Nikolai Vronsky find an appropriately ironic métier.
Bharadwaj is a singular talent in an industry prone to exaggerating directorial gifts. His three previous films – if one leaves out the kids’ films Makdee and Blue Umbrella, both superior to 7KM – were Maqbool, Omkara and Kaminey, as strong a trio as any in Indian cinema. 7 Khoon Maaf is most likely a miscalculation, an aberration. Even Godard, after viewing his Breathless, said that he thought he was making Scarface but had ended up doing Alice in Wonderland. Bharadwaj has made great films in the past, and there’s no reason to suspect he doesn’t have a few more in him. All things considered, it would be churlish not to say – ek film maaf.