Vishal Bharadwaj's '7 Khoon Maaf' is an adaptation of 'Susanna's Seven Husbands', a short story by Ruskin Bond. Priyanka Chopra plays Susanna Anna Marie, a woman who is repeatedly let down by the men she marries. But instead of leaving them, she decides to kill them. And that is the problem with the movie. But more on that later. Let's go through the husbands first...
First up is Major Edwin Rodrigues played by Neil Nitin Mukesh. Susanna is barely out of her teens, is a free-spirited woman while he is insanely jealous and possessive. So he's fed to a panther on a night of hunting.
Rocker Jimmy Stetson (John Abraham) is addicted to cocaine. Susanna tries to rid him of his addiction through re-hab, but he continues to smuggle in the drug behind her back. He's given an overdose.
Disillusioned with life, Susanna moves to Kashmir where she falls in love with a dreamy poet Wasiullah Khan (Irrfan Khan) who charms her with his poetry but turns out to be a sadomasochist He's buried alive.
Nicolai Vronski is a Russian spy who courts Susanna with his scholastic Hindi and Bollywood dialogues. She agrees to marry him but soon discovers that he already has a wife in Russia. He is very cleverly sent down a dry well where Susanna rears poisonous snakes. He never makes it out of there. To stifle a police investigation that's bound to happen in the wake of a diplomat's death, Susanna is forced to marry the sex-starved Inspector Keemat Lal (Annu Kapoor) who is soon packed off via an overdose of the "magical blue pill".
Next in line is Dr. Madhusudan Tarafdar (Naseeruddin Shah), a weirdass doctor who treats all illnesses - including a failed attempt at suicide - by mushrooms! He makes the grievous mistake of trying to kill Susanna for her money and is disposed off through a game of Russian Roulette.
Frustrated with life, Susanna sets her house on fire only to get cold feet when the fire reaches her door. She manages to escape but a body is found in the house and is believed to be that of Susanna's. The police want her dead for obvious reasons, and the forensic investigation is carried out by Arun (Vivaan Shah), an orphan who Susanna had adopted and who has an Oedipus Complex vis-a-vis her (and who Susanna too tried to seduce at one point). Complicated, innit?
Anyhow, in an attempt to repay Susanna for her generosity earlier in his life, Arun confirms that the person whose remains have been found in the burnt down house is indeed Susanna. He then goes to Pondicherry looking for her and finds her about to become a bride for the 7th time!!!
Who's the 7th husband...who was killed in place of Susanna...which was the 7th murder? You go find out!
Honestly, I was quite disappointed with the movie. It's still head & shoulder above most of the crap that Bollywood churns out in the name of cinema, but after 'Maqbool' and 'Omkara' one expects a hell of a lot from Vishal Bharadwaj. He has the talent, and until sometime ago he also had the balls to let his talent shine without pandering to the demands of the box office. Based on his last two movies ('Kaminey' & '7 Khoon Maaf') however, one wonders whether he too is giving in to the pressures of commercial cinema.
My main problem with the movie is to do with Priyanka Chopra's character, and given that the movie revolves around her, any problem with her character lets the movie down by default.
For instance, there is no explanation as to why she's drawn to psychotic men in the first place? Take the case of Wasiullah Khan (the poet) - did she not know of his sadomasochism before she married him? And if she did, why did she marry him? Such flaws in characterization make one feel no sympathy for Susanna, and that is the biggest undoing of the movie b/c you're supposed to fsympathize with her.
There's also no explanation for why she must kill her husband when she can leave them. She's no psychopath, not a man hater either. In fact, I'd have loved to see Priyanka Chopra play the role of a psychopath - someone who derives pleasure out of killing people. Or someone who marries men of a certain disposition (jealous, possessive, exploitative, sadist etc.) with the intention of killing them b/c she was terribly wronged by one such man. Or a Mata Hari like character who sleeps with powerful men with an ulterior motive and then kills them. I would have loved to see PC sink her teeth into an out-and-out negative character, 'coz she's got the goods, you know. The movie was screaming out with possibilities, too bad VB decided to take a moralistic path by trying to justify the actions of his protagonist.
I also had a problem with PC's make up. She's supposed to be this gorgeous, sexy woman that men can't stay away from, but she looks hideous in the movie! She is actually made to look worse than she already is. Incredible. And honestly, I don't see the National Award coming PC's way as was hyped. She hardly had much acting to do, thanks to the limitations of her character and the script. She is very mediocre in the movie.
Among the men, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Irrfan Khan & Naseerudin Shah stand out (though I hated Irrfan Khan's look in the movie). Usha Uthup is wasted in the role of Maggi, Susanna's loyal maid who cleans up after Susanna.
And the climax...oh my God, the climax! It's tacky!! You'll know what I mean when you watch the movie.
One of the things that I did like about '7 Khoon Maaf' was the use of historical events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, Babri Masjid Demolition, Kandahar hijacking, 26/11 attacks etc. to denote the period the movie is set in. Hopefully Vishal Bharadwaj will pay more attention to the script the next time he decides to make a movie.