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Monday, March 21, 2011

7 Khoon Maaf - Spoilers Abound

I know, I know. I know what you guys are thinking - when is this blog getting back on its feet? Soon, I promise! In the meantime, get out your inner spoiler lover and read a discussion (rated X for language!) between Maria from Filmiholic and Amrita from IndieQuill.

Amrita: So. Since you just saw 7 Khoon Maaf - what is your first impression? Tell me about the cinematic aftertaste.

Maria: Hmmm, I quite liked it. I don't understand why there's been such negative reaction to it.
On the down side, I don't know if I totally understand Susanna's motivation (father issues? bad taste in men?), and I don't fault Priyanka for that.  I would blame the writer/director.
On the upside, I loved how well composed these separate vignettes are, how much they reveal in such a short time, and with just little brush strokes of details.
How about you? What was your initial reaction?

Amrita: For some reason, the violence took me aback. Which I found to be a strange reaction in myself because I expect a Vishal Bhardwaj movie to be set in a violent world. But as the movie opened with that extremely realistic looking blood spatter -

Maria: - and the dripping sounds -

Amrita: - it threw me off and I never quite regained my balance. I realize now that because I find his movies to be such an immersive experience, the violence always recedes and becomes a part of the atmosphere, leaving the story itself in my memory. But here, it was somehow all up in my face.

Maria: Did you see Rakht Charitra? Did this violence affect you worse than in that?

Amrita: I did see Rakht Charitra. Part 1. I thought this was more violent. And I wonder if that's because this was more about domestic violence than murder. Sexual assault pushes a lot more of my buttons than blood and gore. Anyway, the murders themselves are very restrained, aren't they? Even the worst of them, that climax with the burning house and Naseeruddin Shah's brains splattered all over the wall, wasn't much compared to the psychological and emotional pain running through the movie. I suspect this is where I confess to being a girly girl.

Maria: Awww.... well I must say I thought the bed scenes with Irrfan Khan were quite strong, in that it looked like he really was hurting her.  But the blood and gore doesn't seem to bother me.  I guess over a lifetime I've seen so much in other films, it doesn't hardly register.
Beyond the violence, which was hard for you, tell me what you liked about the film?

Amrita: I don't think of the violence as a minus necessarily, but it registered strongly enough that I would warn several of my friends about it before I recommended it to them...

Maria: What about the use of the word "fuck"?

Amrita: VB chose to do that thing where you translate English quips and jokes into Hindi - stuff like "Marry in haste, repent at leisure", and he also got people to say things like, "She must have been one hell of a lay" in English and I have to say, much as I love him and his work, he doesn't do this any better than any of the others that have tried.
The man who made that "lay" comment sounded really apologetic and awkward, for instance.  It was really obvious he didn't find it a natural quip to make. And the "marry in haste" thing just sounded weird.

Maria: Yes, that use of the word "lay" would sound very out of place, and out of date, if you used it in the States or the UK nowadays.

Amrita: Right - except I can believe the Indian guy using out-of-date terminology. We are famous as a nation for our Edwardian turn of speech, after all. I’ll get my Dad to write you a letter if you need proof. My problem here is more specific - I just don't believe that particular line coming out of that particular man's mouth.
But! The swearing was well done.  Every time someone said “fuck” I felt it was appropriate. And that was a nice touch of realism, getting the characters to use it more and more starting with the 90s, which is when I remember it becoming a part of casual conversation in India.  Or perhaps I feel that way because that’s when I entered middle school and heard a senior say it for the first time.  Swearing wasn’t very common around my house and we were all a lot more innocent back then, I think.
How about you?

Maria: Yes, I agree. I thought "fuck" was used well, though I was quite surprised to hear it in a "mainstream" (if we can say that) Hindi film, without being beeped over. Well done, Vishal!
It felt real and appropriate, and I loved Maggie Aunty for using it.

Amrita: It was surprising, wasn't it? The first time I heard it, I thought I'd misheard and then I was like, ‘Nope, that's “fuck” all right.’ And it sounded natural in that world, not posturing

Maria: Indeed.

Amrita: Moving on, I loved the fact that we began with Arun introducing Susanna and her world in Urdu.  The relationship between language and description is intense. There’s a real sense of nostalgia, tragic loss, poetry and love running through his monologues, and as Arun changes he begins to describe his world in more practical Hindi. It’s a great little detail and one of the reasons why I love VB so much.  He might fail from time to time as with the "lay" comment, but for the most part he has a grasp on how to describe a world, in words and in visuals.
For a world that's so lightly described and chock full of inaccuracies, where so many things exist simply because they do - he manages to make it breathe simply by his choices of detail and language.
Did you pick up on the language at all? I feel that’s something the subtitles wouldn’t convey.

Maria: Hmmm, interesting. It's good for me to hear you saying this because I'm still digesting it all.  Right now, it's more the visual and the story itself that's at the most easily accessed part of my brain.  I think I'd need a second viewing to pick up on what you're talking about.
On a totally different subject, I know this is very secondary, but I kept thinking "How busy is the decor that house!"  The floral patterns and the ruffles and the candles.... my God, it was like Liberace meets Laura Ashley!  And even when she skipped off to J & K, same thing except it was all Mughlai flowers and Kashmiri embroidery. But I loved all that. It adds a wonderful layer to the story.
And did you notice the title on the book Arun brings her? Did it not say "Seven Wives..... or something like that? At first I thought it was the Ruskin Bond book, but I don't think so.
Okay. How about the first 3 husbands?

Amrita: Let's discuss the husbands!

Maria: Of the first three, shall we do a quick thumbs up or thumbs down for each?

Amrita: I mean, who would you thumbs up for?

Maria: Who was interesting & attractive in spite of being a bloody bastard?
I'd say Neil and Irrfan.

Amrita: I thought Neil Nitin Mukesh blew it out of the park.  I mean, it took me a moment even to recognize him.  Neil was also the one person you never saw actually hit Susanna or abuse her in some way, but he was the scariest of the lot because every single moment was pregnant with the potential for extreme violence. And you could feel her fear and desperation the way you didn't really feel it with the other husbands, except maybe Irrfan.

Maria: I think this is the best I've seen him in anything so far. Now I can finally agree with another girlfriend who says he's hot.

Amrita: And it was nice to see him do something different from his debut movie. I feel he's basically been doing poor-Bombay-boy-on-the-make type roles forever.

Maria: I loved him glowering from the bar when Susanna danced.  And can we talk about the stump?

Amrita: EWWWWWWWWWWWW! (Sorry to all our amputee readers but come on!)

Maria: But, my GOD - hats off to Vishal Bhardwaj for that detail!

Amrita: Seriously!

Maria: It was so unforeseen, and slimy and just a perfect touch!

Amrita: It was such a little detail but it totally summed up that relationship in one creepy-ass shot.

Maria: Truly amazing. For little details like that, I think he is a master.

Amrita: It's why I love him!

Maria: John Abraham was a total throwaway role. Though I did like him in the rain on the grave.....

Amrita: Hahahah, you liked it when he was dead? Yeah, he plays an excellent corpse.

Maria: Ha, I mean when they were both alive, embracing and laying back on the grave in the rain. Which I'm sure was Edwin's (Neil’s)...
But oh my God, why was John dressed like Axl Rose? Ugh! Did you fall over laughing when you saw John Abraham as a choir boy?

Amrita: I was basically laughing at John all through his segment but yes, he looked ludicrous. John was completely out of place. He's worked out his body to such an extent now that he can't fit into ensembles like these any more. He looks completely unnatural. His back is so muscled, he’s now a Mutant Ninja Turtle except his shell is his overworked muscle.
Meanwhile, there’s Irrfan and his poetry.

Maria: Ohhhhhh, Mama!
I don't usually like him with long hair, but he was fantastic in this story! And then the surprise in bed under the covers.

Amrita: That was not what I expected to be going on under the covers!

Maria: At first, did you too think "Damn, Wasiullah's got some great moves to be getting Susanna to yell like that!"

Amrita: Yes! Hahahaha! I was all, wow! dreamy poet by day and hot little mink by night, huh?
And then, the covers came off and it was like, um, NO.

Maria: Ha ha - what's Urdu for "hot little mink"?

Amrita: Not Wasiullah, clearly! But that's also the point where the movie began to careen all over the place in tone, I think.

Maria: I've never been to Kashmir, but that one little vignette really cements my curiosity. Just before we leave him behind, didn't you think Irrfan was terrific?  One of the best of the seven?
Especially the bed scene... that felt SO real.

Amrita: Yes, second only to Neil.

Maria: Tell me about the careening.

Amrita: Right, so the careening. I think it starts with the scene where Arun finds out she killed Wasiullah and he says something like, "She could have just left, why did she have to kill him?" in a very blasé / borderline petulant fashion. And while that demonstrates the shift in all their thinking where murder is no longer shocking to these people since they've participated in two others already, and cements their close ties to Susanna, the way he says it struck me as VB trying to inject a little humor into the situation. And yes, this is a black comedy, but he'd done such a good job of turning two of Susanna's first three husbands into real monsters that I think it became a little hard for that kind of levity to flourish. I think the Russian bit, for instance, was magnificently silly and as a standalone it was hilarious. Especially when he comes back from Moscow and they greet him by giggling and telling him Susanna's out shopping for a new wedding dress.

Maria: Yes, that line was great.

Amrita: I felt that was the tone VB had maybe wanted to hit from the first scene but by the time he arrived at it, it felt out of place. In some other movie, that entire scene would have been great: macabre but silly and hilarious - him getting a massage from a malevolent dwarf who slobbers gibberish in his ear while the sinister trio of family retainers describe how they killed all the other husbands. But coming after that intense first half, it felt schizophrenic.

Maria: Yes… and by the way, how great was that trio?

Amrita: VB has a thing for trios clearly!

Maria: Didn't they feel like some characters out of Shakespeare... almost like a silent Greek chorus. Chiming in with their actions if not words.
Confirm one thing for me: Susanna's house... it's supposed to be in Goa, no?

Amrita: Pondicherry, I thought. She has that photograph in which it's written “Daddy and Me in Our House in Pondicherry”. And when Arun's wife comes looking for him at the end, it sure looks like they're walking through the streets of Pondicherry.

Maria: Yes, but I thought she had 2 houses... one in what I assumed was supposed to Goa and the childhood home in Pondicherry.

Amrita: I thought it was the one house - the only one we see. The one she burns down at the end

Maria: My take was that she lived there as a kid, with Papa dearest, but that she had been living elsewhere later in life. And with all the Portuguese names, I just assumed Goa. Though true enough, the Portuguese were in Kerala too, so who’s to say you can’t find Portuguese names in Pondi as well. But in the credits they mentioned Coorg.

Amrita: Yeah, the names are confusing but I didn't get the impression there was a second house. Maybe I wasn't paying attention enough? I feel this is a movie where you can easily get confused or miss things. As for Coorg, that explains the look of her plantation house but I think we’re supposed to imagine it’s the same place. I think VB was opting for a look and feel thing rather than nailing it down to a specific location.
Maybe that's also because they call her Saheb and there's all this reference to the house being a kind of living museum chock full of antiques collected by various rich Johanneses through the centuries and usually, the trope for characters like that, the eccentric lady of local manor, is that they and their house are one and the same. They're linked together, which is why the house burns, thematically speaking
What made you think there was a second house?

Maria: When I saw the photo on the wall, I thought it must be that they were living somewhere else in the "present", because otherwise it would seem odd to have the name of the location on it, if you were still living in the same town or city...

Amrita: Can’t argue that.

Maria: But anyway, I didn't mean to get us hung up on that detail. Given how so many French are Catholic, it could as well be that she lived in P'cherry the whole time.

Amrita: What did you think of the Russian?

Maria: Ugh. That was the weakest story for me. You could see she did like all smart women do by a certain point and say "Why do I need to be married?" But I guess, if nothing else, he was an excuse to get the horny old man into the story, the next bakra. And that Darrling song seemed to be given very short shrift, after all the exposure it got in the ads. What did you think of the Russian episode?

Amrita: Nothing about it made much sense to me. It was like a comedy break. Why does he pursue her? Why does a Russian spy choose a woman who has NO useful ties whatsoever as a cover? And then press her to marry him when she doesn't want to? He said something about how he couldn't stay in the country, but if he was a diplomat and helping the Indians with the nuclear tests, then why wouldn’t the two governments find a way for him to stay as long as needed?
I didn't understand any of it. Maybe I spaced out for a minute there?
But again, Vishal slipped in little details that was so true - Indian students in the 90s going to Russia for medical degrees. So many kids went.

Maria: Yes, agreed.

Amrita: It's like that scene from the John Abraham segment where the record executive asks, “What-series?” because he’d never heard of T-series, which then releases O Mama as O Mata - it made me laugh and laugh, the whole thing because it was so spot on for that time period on so many levels.

Maria: Ha ha... Ok, and on to the horny cop.
If it's true that Mohanlal did turn down the role, it's a pity - I would have LOVED him in that part!

Amrita: I'm kind of glad he did. I'm sure Mohanlal would have done a great job but now I've seen Annu Kapoor in it, I can't imagine anyone else. He was so slimy and despo.

Maria: And again, I was surprised by the bed scene - PC on top, Annu Sir grunting and climaxing.... my goodness, all quite new to me in a Hindi film, but really well done by Bhardwaj.

Amrita: Yup, yup. And death by Viagra is lulz.
What did you think of Naseer?

Maria: Hmmmm, I had mixed feelings. I mean, he makes it all look effortless, and I guess that's a given with him.

Amrita: I thought he was the weakest of the bunch with that ridiculous accent!

Maria: But this role was, to me, like a darker, less funny version of the hippie-dippie role he did in that film starring Aasif Mandvi, Today's Special. Also, his role/story felt rushed.

Amrita: Yes, it all took place overnight. And how freakin’ stupid is Susanna to swallow that story about inheriting his estate?

Maria: True.

Amrita: With which we come to Susanna. What did you think of Priyanka?

Maria: I was pleasantly surprised. I haven't seen all of Fashion or Kaminey. So, my main memory of her prior to this is from Bluffmaster, in which she was fine in her role. But I thought she was damn good here!
The deadpan expression as she watches the cop leave after his first sleepover with her was just one of many great little glimpses.

Amrita: I thought she was great until the second half when she's telling Arun about the Naseer track and all of a sudden she slips into her kitten voice and that just ruins it for me.
Probably why I hated Naseer’s track as well.

Maria: What a terrific character Susanna is, no?
A murdering wife who takes care of the men who do her wrong AND drinks when she damn well pleases. Brava!

Amrita: I loved that scene in which Arun tells her she's scary now and she laughs and tells him that she's found someone to love her as she is... thing is Susanna's always had people who loved her as she is. Like Arun and Auntie and Khan and Gunga. And they know how scary she is on the inside.

Maria: Hmmm, yes, but all the men she loved, wanted her for something else.

Amrita: Arun is the sole survivor because he sees her as she is, loves her in spite of it, but refuses to let her fuck with him beyond a certain point while simultaneously forgiving her for trying to do it. And perhaps he's the only man who could love Susanna because she raised him to love her.

Maria: Did that not strike a false note? The fact that he wouldn't sleep with her when he had the chance?

Amrita: Well, that scene where she propositions him threw me off.  I don't understand it from either one of them. What was that about?
Was it her trying to re-exert her control on him because she really did OWN him before he left for Russia, and he was able to step back because he'd spent years away from her and had built sufficient distance to now recognize that things were off key?
Except, Susanna's always had a sort of creepily maternal instinct where he's concerned - aware of his feelings for her, manipulative and dismissive of them, but not seriously reciprocating. And she's not slutty either. She's not sleeping with men all over the place. She is very deliberate in her choice of men, for whatever unfathomable reason.
So, what the hell was that?

Maria: Well, I took it as her feeling vulnerable.... believing her looks were going. The way she kept asking him "I haven't changed, right?" And he was there, at hand, and she thought he'd never pass up the chance since he'd always been crush on her.
To me, she was not really thinking of any consequences - she was just desperate for the affirmation & love.
Now, what's the deal with the spider!? You think if he hadn't come along, Susana would have had her way with Arun?

Amrita: I thought it was a clumsy metaphor

Maria: Yes, a bit too obvious, but I think at one level he wanted her, yet the spider was a wake-up call, maybe not even that it could be considered quasi-incestuous to bed her, but on a more practical level, could he end up as a future victim of hers?

Amrita: Possibly. He was a victim of hers in one sense - they all were. She was responsible for all their deaths directly or indirectly. Except for Gunga, who presumably died offscreen or something after Arun carried him off. But even he had to pay a price.

Maria: And yet, Junior seemed to have gone on to a normal and perfectly fine life.

Amrita: Coz he left and bottled it all away. Which suggests he wasn’t entirely healthy in the head department.

Maria: What did you think of Konkona Sen? I read someone refer to her as "shrill" - which I don't see.

Amrita: She was fine. I mean her role was to basically express shock and play The Wife. If my husband went walkabout over some old lady who was a serial killer, I’d be freakin’ shrill too.

Maria: And what about the music? Did you love it? Just feel "meh"?
Amrita: I LOVED it.
I was a little meh about how they used the tracks with each love story having its own soundtrack but he managed to mix it up pretty well. I laughed and laughed during O Mama; Bekaran was haunting; and Darrling was fun and interesting. How about you?

Maria: I really liked the start of Oh Mama.
Oh and we must discuss the 7th husband! What price Susanna and Him doing their whirling dervish bit together?

Amrita: Can I tell you? I laughed. Flat-out roared. I don’t think mine was the reaction they were hoping for.

Maria: I must say, I was thinking to myself if that were another religion being depicted, I would have anticipated cinema halls being threatened or set on fire...
But you know those loose-living, boozehounds who love Jesus. They won’t mind!  (Or so the thinking goes)

Amrita: It was also an unexpectedly religious ending to a very gory movie.

Maria: I thought it was a bizarre and yet somehow fitting end to the story.

Amrita: I mean, would this play in American evangelical circles do you think? Susanna, a girl from India, tries everyone including Hindus and a Muslim and finally falls for Jesus?

Maria: Well, but she loved Jesus all along, no? And hewed quite tightly to the Catholic bit, even though she had her nagin temple and a stint in J&K. Always had the cross and the beads. Always came back to the family chapel....

Amrita: She briefly converted in Kashmir for Irrfan.  And we never saw her do anything in the chapel other than get married and attend funeral services, no? Although she does fiddle around with a rosary from time to time, like in that scene before she pounces on poor Arun.

Maria: But she does mention Him several times, no? It could also be a function of her aging, like so many others who get more religious as they get closer to their own graves...

Amrita: But yeah, Whirling Jesus was a bizarre but fitting end to this story as you say

Maria: And you know, even with the cross and the beads and returning to the family chapel... it reminds me of what people say so often about Hinduism: that it's not as much a religion as a way of life. Maybe her Catholicism was just a comforting, familiar series of rituals and accoutrements that she returned to again and again.
But I did enjoy the twist of Susanna becoming a bride of Christ, and twirling with Jesus, like Meg Ryan's character with her mother in You've Got Mail.

Amrita: Ahahahah! Again, not the reference they were looking for probably!

Maria: Tee hee! The priest was played by Ruskin Bond, did you see that?

Amrita: Oh, was that him? I couldn't pick him out of a line up so no, I didn’t notice.

Maria: Yeah, he did an interview in TOI or somewhere about the role.
So, would you recommend the film?

Amrita: I would, but only to select people. I can absolutely see a lot of people not being on board for completely different reasons. I think a lot of my guy friends wouldn't care for it because it's too tapped in to the female psyche. A lot of my girl friends wouldn't like it because it's too violent. And a lot of my movie loving friends wouldn't like it because it's pretty uneven.
But the people to whom I would recommend it to, would probably really like it. I don't think anybody would love it though.

Maria: You got ek dum big bunch of fussy friends, girl!

Amrita: TRUTH, sister!
What about you?

Maria: Yes, I would recommend it, but with caveats.
Like you, I can imagine some people might like parts of it, but also find it uneven. Which I do too, but for me, the majority of the parts (the secondary characters, the music, the dark humor, the frankness in the language and the physical, and Priyanka and Neil and Irrfan) make it worthwhile, even with the negatives (the Russian, the hurried Naseer story).
And cheers to young Master Shah for a strong debut, and many, many cheers to Vishal Saab for always having such kick-ass women characters!

Amrita: Seriously!


  1. Pondicherry was the second house, where she goes after the fire. Arun also manages to trace her there, after seeing that photograph where she says something like 'With Papa in the Pondicherry house' in the album.
    You've captured my responses to the film pretty well between you. Perhaps if her first marriage hadn't been so painful, and the murder/death of her husband so convenient, she may not have subsequently opted for such final solutions!

  2. Oooh, I see! So was the first house supposed to be Goa or Coorg?