I saw ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ after the film had been officially declared a flop, after critics like Khalid Mohammed and Raja Sen gave it two out of five rating, after most of my friends completely wrote off the new Vishal Bhardwaj film.
It’s not because I admire Bhardwaj that I liked the film; I liked the film because it’s well-made, it’s a classic black comedy, which understands the narrative point-of-view (you see, the film is narrated from the point of view of an outsider, who worships the so called cold, evil protagonist, who kills her six husbands at various points of her life, and he’s telling the story to his wife, and as it film ends, he tells his wife a blatant lie. So can we expect him to tell the truth? So, you’ll have to savour the narrative with a spoonful of salt.), the film is shot brilliantly (Observe Neil Nitin Mukesh’s amputed leg), has a beautiful soundtrack (the Darling song, set in a Russian tune), and has some totally weird characters — a dwarf and deaf man with a whip, who takes care of the narrator, an orphan, a butler called Ghalib, a nanny with six toe-nails, Neil Nitin Mukesh with an amputed leg, John Abraham, in a skirt (okay, a kilt), welding enormous biceps (I mean, really enormous), A Russian spy who quotes Amiatbh Bachchan, Irfan Khan as a sensitive poet and a sado-machocist in bed, Naseeruddin Shah as a mushroom fanatic, and hold your breathe, Jesus Christ, dancing like a whirling dervish — and did we mention Priyanka Chopra, getting younger, getting older, turning Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and then Christian again, laughing and crying, and in a relentless killing spree?
After all these, how can the film go wrong? But, apparently, it did. I tried to analyse the reason/s, and here’s what I found.
Though the narrative of the tale is pretty straightforward, told in flashbacks and aptly helped by Vivaan Shah’s lively voiceover, this is where the problem starts. A regular viewer of a regular Bollywood film is not used to seeing so many things happening at the same time, especially when the tale does not explain everything and expects the audience to do their own thinking. We are not used to use our brains in a Bollywood film. We are not used to irony in mainstream art (I think, Indians in general, do not understand irony.). The art has to be reverential, grounded, identifiable, direct...
In a Bollywood film, we want to be spoon-fed. We want everything straightforward, we want everything explained, at times, over and over again, and most importantly we need time to get acquainted and understand the characters — the lovers would have to sing and dance at least two love songs before we are convinced that they are in love; the hero has to go through a series of ‘comic’ gags before we are convinced that he’s a good guy, the heroine has to go through at least one misunderstanding before she can embrace the hero, the villain has to perform a series of heinous acts before he can sell himself as a villain.
As we go through all these motions, it’s already the interval of the three-hour film. Post-interval, we are introduced to the one-point plot. Mind you, there must be just one issue at hand; the hero cannot handle more than one issue — or maximum two, these two being, marrying the heroine, against all odds (where the heroine’s father is usually the villain), and killing the villain to avenge one thing or another. Which leads us to the climax, an elaborate action/wedding sequence where all the characters in the film assemble, first they cry, then kill the baddie, and then laugh. The End.
In contrast, ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ moves at a relentless pace. Sussana kills one husband and quickly moves on to the next one, there is no mopping around with guilt, there’s not planning and plotting, there no dialogues to justify her actions, there’s no time for long hours of courtship, and love songs, though there are some love songs, including one set in Kashmir.
In short, for a regular Bollywood viewer, ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ is seven films merged into one. And this is way too much for us — we go to movies for entertainment, to laugh and cry, not to ponder over.