Ruskin Bond’s Susanna’s Seven Husbands is an intriguing tale of a rich woman whose seven husbands, most of them fortune hunters, die mysteriously, one by one. Speculation about her involvement in these deaths is offset by her many acts of kindness and charity. There’s another hint of a persuasive idea implicit in Bond’s short story: what does a woman really want? What does she look for in a man? What drives her love for him and her impatience and hatred against him? What makes her opt for and out of relationships?
I hoped Vishal Bhardwaj’s 7 Khoon Maaf , a screen adaptation of the story, would explore this aspect at length. That the seven “murders” would ultimately reflect on the “saat pheras” of marriage from a woman’s perspective. I clung on to that hope as one character in the film proclaimed: “Jaldi jaldi shadi karo, aaraam aaraam se pachhtao (get married in a hurry and regret at leisure).” As Susanna’s (Priyanka, confident but made to age abruptly with bad, patchy makeup) marriages started coming undone I could sense an emerging pattern. The unbearable possessiveness, the unforgivable recklessness, the painful sexual abuse, the heart-breaking betrayal, the sheer lack of love and the blatant exploitation--each of her six relationships seemed to underline the problems we would have faced with the men in our lives at some point in time.
Yet these embedded messages somehow don’t reach out at large. Instead the audience keeps questioning the motivations of the protagonist. Why the hell does she do what she is doing? How can she so easily jump from one relationship to the next? Is she plain mad or pure evil? Ah those poor, poor men! The womanly voice gets heard only to get summarily drowned out. The shade of black in her is made to eventually find a spiritual redemption instead of continuing to (metaphorically and literally) challenge the social mores and morality. And men!
Right now, Bhardwaj, like his fave filmmaker Kieslowski, is the only guy in Bollywood who can imbue cinematic texts with deep philosophical undertones. However, the spiritual dimension in 7KM seems clumsily shoved in as a twist in the tale to shock-surprise the audience than leave them with any thoughts and beliefs to ponder on. It’s the reason the film itself doesn’t go beyond being a tepid thriller just as the lead character stops short of being anything more than a psychopath.
Perhaps Bhardwaj loses his way in the film’s telling. He, undoubtedly, is one guy who “understands” cinema. He can narrate stories with a fluid, rhythmic visual flair. Yet the setting, costumes, look in 7KM get so overwrought and orchestrated that they scream Sanjay Leela Bhansali than Bhardwaj. Here’s a film which could have played out like a simple yet profound fable, somewhat like Blue Umbrella. Instead you find the opulence of the dreamlike frames clashing unnervingly with references to actual events like Operation Bluestar and Babri Masjid. An uneasy mix of the real and the surreal!