This review may contain spoilers.
The essential black widow parable of the Sub-Continent.
Musician, director extraordinaire, Vishal Bhardwaj (Haider, 2014), who brings Shakespeare to film and disguises it with Indian/Sub-Continental clothes and countryside; the English language is replaced either with Urdu or Hindi and the director does not compromise when his actors tone down the stage-play for film yet harbour raw emotions similar to the source material. It is then for the actors to exercise restraint and deliver with sullen yet potent nuances.
Omkara, 2006 (Othello) and Maqbool, 2003 (Macbeth) are two of his best. Priyanka Chopra, our anti-hero for Maaf has previously collaborated with Bhardwaj in Kaminey: The Scoundrels, 2009. A pair of Jeremy Irons-like dead-ringers get into trouble with drugs and fall for the same woman. Sounds like the 1988 film? It does, but it is far from it. Bhardwaj’s Scoundrels has drugs but not the barbiturate kind.
7 Khoon Maaf (7 Murders Forgiven) is a large room with a high ceiling and French windows with maroon silk drapes dancing at the slightest hint of sea breeze. The film is a disheveled woman looking at a reflection of herself in a Victorian mirror fixed to a wrought iron frame, and slowly brushing her long hair. The film is dark antique furniture with a netted bed with posts, holding a frame layered with dust and dismay and tragedy and mental illness and also the paint peeling off the walls.
Adapted from the novel Susanna’s Seven Husbands by Ruskin Bond, this is one of those films where desire turns to disgust, where the quest for true love leads to harrowing consequences. The film does not romanticize, it amplifies misogyny only to have it shot in the face or overdose on Viagra. For you see the seven in the title is not only the number of husbands our femme-fatale dispenses off but also the number to signify the deviant behavior of the seven husbands by way of referring to Freud’s ‘Chapter Seven. Perhaps? For their nocturnal flurry, ranging from sadomasochism to pride and also a game of Russian Roulette with a cinema veteran, Naseeruddin Shah (Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai, 1980; Ijaazat, 1987; A Wednesday, 2008) who also partakes of Shakespearean Theater and some of you may remember from the ill-fated and amazingly cluttered, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 2003 as Captain Nemo, creator of the Nautilus.
With a tremendously talented and motivated cast, a bold and gothic narrative and a score to relish, Maaf is a woman in her early fifties, a surrogate mother who pushes the robe off her shoulders and bares all to her adopted son as he responds to her last request like the rest of us, with pristine shock.
Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes is a parable herself and we watch it unravel in the most peculiar and twisted yet breathtaking ways. However, the more we learn of the narrative the more melancholic we become and get seriously unnerved and in the anticipation forget how ravishing and desirable Susanna was, just about half-hour back.
One of the best films to come out of India in recent years; this is Bhardwaj and Priyanka Chopra at their best. Unfortunately, her last role where Chopra manages to cause a stir. She has since become somewhat of a controversial figure, supporting the racist, RSS, and their non-confirmation of the Human Rights standards, the blatant violation of fundamental freedom, the genocide in Kashmir and the overall arbitrary executions; torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of the minorities in India. Plus, the actor has displayed such irresponsible behavior of late with her inilliterateness; as innescience proclamations with a cock in mouth disease, that it disgusts and amazes the fan or keen viewers in equal dose, viewers like yours truly, who used to be fans of the hollow as a log person/actor. And it is for the same reason that this review can be designated as work-hazard.
Having said all that, 7 Khoon Maaf still cannot be easily dismissed, mainly because of Vishal Bhardwaj and his sophisticated and avant-garde adaptation of Bond’s short story.
7 Khoon Maaf is currently streaming on Netflix