Tag Archives: Ruskin Bond

Movie Review: 7 Khoon Maaf (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies have always suffered a bit in translation. Whether due to a lack of nuance in the English subtitles or particular regional references that require context, I felt like I didn’t fully experience films like The Blue Umbrella, Omkara or Kaminey.

Not so with 7 Khoon Maaf (“Seven Murders Forgiven”). It’s Bhardwaj’s most universally accessible work yet. It’s perfect in the way of all cult films: not flawless, but giddy, emotionally effective and memorable.

7 Khoon Maaf chronicles the love life of a black widow named Susanna (Priyanka Chopra). The film is based on “Susanna’s Seven Husbands,” a short story by Ruskin Bond. The title itself is a clue that things don’t turn out so well for the men in Susanna’s life.

The story is narrated by Arun (Vivaan Shah), a forensics expert tasked with confirming the death of the serial spouse murderer. Arun explains to his wife (Konkona Sen Sharma) the nature of his relationship with Susanna when she was alive: he was Susanna’s ward, and she funded his education. But the more Arun explains, the more bizarre the story becomes.

Shortly after the death of her father, the wealthy, orphaned twenty-year-old Susanna marries Major Edwin Rodriques (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Edwin has a temper, and he terrorizes his wife and her loyal servants: a butler named Ghalib (Harish Khanna), a maid named Maggie (Usha Uthup) and a stablehand named Goonga (Shashi Malviya).

As Edwin becomes more dangerous, Susanna and her servants decide to get rid of him in a way that looks accidental. Thus begins the deadly cycle of Susanna’s romantic life.

The film is darkly humorous, and a bit perverse at times. Some of the more visceral visuals reminded me of Guillermo del Toro’s films like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, though there are few special effects in 7 Khoon Maaf.

Also reminiscent of del Toro is the pervasive religious symbolism throughout the film. Susanna is a Christian, so hymns pervade the soundtrack, which was also composed by Bhardwaj. Given the number of weddings and funerals Susanna must attend, church is a frequent setting.

Much attention in the promotions for the film has been given to Susanna’s husbands: the rock star (John Abraham), the poet (Irrfan Khan), the healer (Naseeruddin Shah). But all of them, by design, have limited roles in the film.

Much more central to the plot are Susanna’s accomplices, Ghalib, Maggie and Goonga. They evolve from pragmatic problem solvers into a trio of gleeful assassins. The three actors deserve much credit for enriching the film.

Arun likewise plays a central role, aging from a child to a man throughout the film. Vivaan Shah is competent in his first film role, playing a man who watches his patron’s life unravel from a distance — sometimes a physical one but also an emotional distance, due to being much younger than Susanna.

But the success of the movie depends entirely on Chopra, Bollywood’s most ambitious actress, and she does not disappoint. Susanna ages approximately 35 years through the course of the film, and Chopra adapts accordingly. She walks a fine line, making Susanna charming and innocent, and then merciless and deadly.

7 Khoon Maaf is an all-or-nothing film. It either works for you or it doesn’t. Its strangeness will be a turn-off for some viewers, while others will lament a lack of explosive action scenes. But, if you’re in the mood for something a little different, beware: Susanna might just steal your heart.

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Opening February 18: 7 Khoon Maaf

I am really looking forward to this weekend’s new Hindi release: director Vishal Bhardwaj’s 7 Khoon Maaf (“Seven Murders Forgiven”). The film is a black comedy based on Ruskin Bond’s short story “Susanna’s Seven Husbands.” It stars Priyanka Chopra in the lead role, with Bollywood heavy hitters like Naseeruddin Shah, Irrfan Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh and John Abraham playing some of Susanna’s seven doomed husbands.

A glut of Oscar-nominated movies still taking up screen space is likely what has limited 7 Khoon Maaf‘s opening to just two theaters in the Chicago area. The movie opens on Friday, February 18, 2011, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville.

Sports flick Patiala House gets a second week at the Golf Glen 5, Cantera 30 and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington.

Other Indian movies playing in Chicagoland this weekend include Gaganam (Telugu), Katha Screenplay Darshakatvam Appalaraju (Telugu), Nadunisi Naigal (Tamil) and Vasthadu Naa Raju (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5.

Retro Review: The Blue Umbrella (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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I always feel like I’m missing something when I watch Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies. Much of that is due to the fact that I have to rely upon English subtitles that are often poorly translated. In Omkara, the subtitles were so sanitized as to obscure the meaning of conversations made up of crass colloquialisms. In Kaminey, the characters’ speech impediments caused malaprops that surely meant more in the original language than when they were translated into English.

But there’s something else about the way Bhardwaj tells his stories that leaves me a bit muddled. He jumps right into the story, without much explanation of who the characters are or what their relationships are to one another (again, it could be a language issue). While identities and relationships are usually sorted out over time, it adds a feeling of confusion early in the movie: something that might be acceptable in a mystery film, but Bhardwaj doesn’t make mysteries.

I had the same feeling while watching The Blue Umbrella, based on a novella by Ruskin Bond. I’m sure everything was clear if you’d already read the book, but that shouldn’t be a prerequisite for enjoying a movie.

The protagonist is Biniya (Shreya Sharma), a precocious girl who lives in a picturesque mountain village. The town is a stopping point for tourists on their way through the mountains. One day, Biniya meets a group of tourists and trades her lucky necklace for a beautiful, blue Japanese-style umbrella. The blue umbrella stands out among the alpine greenery, and Biniya and her umbrella become the town’s main attraction. Tourists pose for photos with her when they stop at the local snack shop, run by an old man named Nandu (Pankaj Kapoor).

Nandu covets Biniya’s blue umbrella, as do several other adults in town. He tries to trick and bribe her into giving him the umbrella, but she isn’t interested. When the umbrella is stolen one night, Nandu is Bindiya’s prime suspect.

At her request, the cops raid Nandu’s shop, but the umbrella’s not there. Humiliated, Nandu vows to buy his own umbrella. A short while later, Nandu receives a delivery: an umbrella exactly like Biniya’s, only red. He becomes the de facto mayor of the village, though heart-broken Biniya still harbors suspicions about him.

The confusion creeps into the story around the time when the umbrella is stolen. A number of the adults shown as potential suspects have so little screen time until that point that I wasn’t sure who they were. They seem like unnecessary red herrings. The question isn’t whether Nandu stole the umbrella (it’s obvious he did) but whether Biniya can prove it.

Some of the relationships between characters are also initially unclear. Biniya lives with her mother and a man who I thought was her dad; turns out he’s her older brother. Nandu has a young assistant who is, apparently, not his son. None of these are huge problems, but they were distracting. A few lines of dialog could’ve cleared things up without disrupting the narrative flow.

The natural scenery of the village is fantastic, and Bhardwaj occasionally filters the light to give the town a surreal glow. Winter sets in after the umbrella is stolen, and the snow has an unreal blue tint, echoing Biniya’s sadness. There’s a brief, early action scene in which Biniya uses her umbrella to fend off a snake, presented as a comic book come to life.

Overall, the movie succeeds because the story is so charming, as is the girl who plays Biniya. It’s a wonderful parable about the difference between justice and vengeance, as well as the liberating power of forgiveness.

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Marketing Hindi Movies as Art Films

Superstar actor — and up-and-coming director — Aamir Khan is reaching out to American companies in the hopes of forming new marketing relationships. Specifically, Khan wants to start marketing his movies in the U.S. as “art” films, similar to the way other foreign-language films are marketed.

Currently, Hindi movies are dropped into theaters with little promotion or fanfare. Indian production houses rarely screen their movies in advance for critics, so few get reviewed for newspapers. Fans in the U.S. must seek out information on upcoming releases themselves.

Without any promotion, mainstream American filmgoers likely scan past the names of Hindi movies on the theater marquee. At times, theaters may unintentionally steer people — especially those not obviously of Indian descent — away from Hindi movies. On several occasions, I’ve attempted to buy a ticket to a Hindi movie only to have the cashier say, “That’s a Bollywood movie,” or “You know that has subtitles, right?”

The shift to marketing at least some Hindi films like other foreign films is long overdue. U.S. theaters lump all Hindi movies together under the “Bollywood” label, evoking images of 3-hour epics full of romance, drama and action punctuated by flashy dance numbers.

Of course, those types of movies don’t make up the whole of Hindi cinema, even if they remain some of the most profitable. Just as the Indian film industry is shifting to producing more genre-specific films and away from all-encompassing epics, the industry is also producing films that American distributors would consider art movies if they were produced in other countries.

Some Indian directors, like Mira Nair, already have their films marketed in this way. But many of these Indian art movies, such as Deepa Mehta’s Oscar-nominated Water, are primarily Canadian productions.

Khan is a natural choice to forge this new marketing path in America. His recent efforts behind the camera have focused on smaller stories about specific issues, rather than mainstream blockbusters. Taare Zameen Par, which Khan directed in 2007, is about a boy with dyslexia. Peepli Live, which opens on August and is produced by Khan, is a black comedy about destitute farmers driven to suicide.

If Khan is successful, it could pave the way for other Indian directors to reach a much larger American audience. There are a few directors in particular whose films deserve this kind of treatment.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies are tailor-made for American fans of arthouse cinema. Westerners could consider Bhardwaj an Indian Kenneth Branagh. He’s already adapted two of Shakespeare’s plays into modern Indian stories — Maqbool and Omkara (MacBeth and Othello, respectively) — and he’s currently adapting a novel by Ruskin Bond for the big screen.

The criminal underworld of Uttar Pradesh provides the perfect setting for Bhardwaj’s updated classics. And since he broke into the industry as a composer, his have excellent soundtracks.

Bhardwaj’s frequent collaborator, Abhishek Chaubey, recently directed his first film, the atmospheric and charming Ishqiya. I can only assume that Chaubey’s future efforts will also deserve the arthouse promotional treatment.

Another obvious choice is director Mani Ratnam. His films are known for heartbreaking stories and stunning visuals. In keeping with tradition, he includes elaborate dance numbers in many of his movies, which add a surreal element.

Though it may take extra effort on the part of American distributors to determine which Indian movies are art versus simple popcorn flicks, it’s past time to stop grouping all Hindi movies under the Bollywood umbrella.

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