Saat Khoon Aur!

Written by  //  February 20, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  4 Comments

(As you might have guessed, this one’s not a review of an Oscar-nominated film. But the way Vishal Bharadwaj is going, we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he gets there sometime pretty soon. Clairvoyance, rather than anything else, explains this brief detour from the Oscar reviews. Back with Toy Story 3 shortly!)

I think by now, it is accepted more or less by everyone that Vishal Bharadwaj is the most talented person in the Hindi film industry today and probably the most gifted ever. There may be people who could be said to be closer to him respectively in the disciplines of writing, music and direction and even that would be highly contested but no name comes to mind who would command such respect in all of these.

Every time Vishal announces a project, the expectations are that he is going to push the limits further in an industry where most people do not even aim for greatness let alone achieve it. In that sense, his last film, Kaminey even though a pretty good thriller and in the mode of the stuff of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie was still pretty formulaic. It was almost as if the man who made Omkara had decided to make some more money for his financiers so that they keep funding his movies, and so that he could make another Maqbool or another Blue Umbrella perhaps. With Saat Khoon Maaf (SKM), he seems to have done exactly that.

It’s a film which a filmmaker would make for himself. That doesn’t mean its not a good film to watch, it means that he has not tried to make it any funnier than it needs to be, its not meant to draw in people looking for some laughs. It is slow; not painfully slow but slow enough not to make it a thriller. It’s a film which thrives on building the mood. Most of the film is shot in dark, suffocating interiors. The few times that the camera ventures out, the weather is gloomy and the sky in the dark shades of blue. If you have seen Blue Umbrella (incidentally based on another Ruskin Bond short story), you’ll remember how upon Pankaj Kapoor being ostracised, the weather turns grey and oppressive to increase his misery. In SKM, the entire movie seems to be set in a dark, cynical world, where the inherent evil of human nature runs over the surface. The songs, the beautiful Bekaraan (shot in idyllic settings of Kashmir) or the amusing Daarling come as brief respites but the inevitable ominous shadows are always waiting around.

In his last two films, Vishal had created memorable characters out of Saif Ali Khan and Shahid Kapoor. In SKM, he has created Susanna, which may be the meatiest role that Priyanka Chopra may ever get to do in her career. She may not be brilliant but she does carry Susanna quite competently. It would probably have been easier to show Susanna as a psychotic character with insatiable blood lust but instead, she is written as almost a sensible woman who is forced to do away with husbands who became inconveniences. Susanna yearns for love and she is disappointed every time. Why doesn’t she just divorce them? Well, it is explained, because, it is not in her nature to change a path to avoid the obstructions. “In the movie, the cheater and the mistreater have no idea who they are dealing with”, Ebert wrote about Neve Campbell in When Will I be Loved, but he might as well have been writing about Susanna in SKM.

SKM is not merely a linear tale of seven (or six?) murders but is pretty much biopic in its ambitions as Susanna goes from being a pretty and upbeat 17 year old to a scary looking, cynical fifty something realising that her choices do not make much of a difference to the way things turn out in her life.

A film like this could only work if it had capable support characters and thankfully it does. All the husbands are played by actors who know their jobs and therefore even though they suffer from one vice or the other and have screen time of fifteen minutes or so, they appear to flawed individuals rather than caricatures (except maybe John Abraham!). A self assured debutant Vivaan Shah (Naseer’s son) takes care of the narration (as a stable hand who is educated by Susanna and is probably the only man in her life who is worthy of her affection). The trio of Susanna’s loyal servants who are accessories to the murders lend an eerie, at times hallucinating touch in a movie whose sense of humour is pretty wicked.

SKM is not a film which has an intricate story to tell, it’s a film which takes you in a dark world and leaves you wandering around to chase your own demons. Like Oh Mama, the rock song sung by John Abraham’s character, its probably not very sophisticated but still pretty heady and effective. Old Monk, anyone?

Post Script: According to IMDB, SKM is Vishal’s 7th directorial venture.

4 Comments on "Saat Khoon Aur!"

  1. Harsh February 20, 2011 at 7:31 pm ·

    Wonderful Review Mukul! and this is such a controlled film, in the hands of a lesser director it would be have become sensational and exploitative. Scenes of rain, with the weather weeping for his characters seem to be signature Vishal Bhardwaj. And this is not a depressing film at all! What wicked joy of storytelling! and yes a cameo by Ruskin Bond! Super!!!

  2. Aditya Shamlal February 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm ·

    I couldn’t agree more with this Review. Everytime i go in for a VB film, i have certain expectations and he never disappoints (well maybe a little with Kaminey, but i can live with that).

  3. aandthirtyeights March 5, 2011 at 7:28 am ·

    In re the first paragraph: Um, I’m sorry, but I think you’ve forgotten a man who used to go by the name of Guru Dutt.

  4. Dianabol Cycles September 10, 2014 at 3:30 am ·

    Superb post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject?
    I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further.
    Cheers!

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