Based on the short story Susanna's Seven Husbands by Ruskin Bond, 7 Khoon Maaf is Priyanka Chopra's star vehicle through and through, and showcases just why she's one of Bollywood's A-listers with remarkable acting chops. At first glance from the trailers it may seem that she's portraying a handful of characters, or a character who undergoes a different look at each segment, but that's a gimmick that the actress had already tackled before with Ashutosh Gowariker putting her through the paces in What's Your Raashee? to handle 12 characters according to the astrological signs (13 now, depending on your school of thought).
It's a different story here, and director Vishal Bhardwaj tackles this very much differently so that it won't be that sense of deja vu in putting Chopra through the paces as Susanna, a poor little rich girl who has always yearned for the true affections from the men in her life, looking for that father figure since her dad passed on when she was still young. And it's most unfortunate that the one who truly loves her, is well, too young for her early on in her life, and it is through the eyes of the orphan Arun Kumar (Vivaan Shah) that the story of Susanna's life unfold for the audience.
Granted that the narrative moves in episodic fashion especially before the interval, and the second half throws up a little more surprises and culminates in a moving ending of a tragic figure made all the more sympathetic. But to build on that, credit of course has to go to all her male co-stars, who play characters you love to hate, and probably each highlighting the atypical irresponsible guys who throw romance out of the window once the wedding is accomplished. Every single individual had their primary flaws amplified, such as jealous filled army Major Edwin Rodriques (Neil Nitin Mukesh) who's overly possessive with an ego wounded by his limp, the choir boy turned rock star Jimmy (John Abraham) who can't help but dabble with the sex and drugs that come with rock and roll, the meek poet (Irrfan Khan) who turns out to be a closet pervert with a penchant for bedroom violence, a Russian even - Nicolai Vronsky (Aleksandr Dyachenko) who thinks he can escape with infidelity in different countries, the police inspector Keemat Lal (Annu Kapoor) who has the hots for Susanna ever since being involved in investigating her and seriously breaching work ethics with favours for sex, and the new age spiritual healer Dr. Modhusudhon Tarafdar (Naseeruddin Shah) who turns out to be a man in debt wanting to maximize his returns from a marriage.
The story's made fun with its dose of black comedy, and for a Bollywood film I'd thought it's quite adult in its language (or at least subtitling) and the many scenes of sensuality. Each husband figure gets about a short film treatment in the entire film, and continuity is ensured thanks in part to Susanna's servants who are all accessories to plots in carving an escape route for their mistress when her wedding vows turn out to be shackling her to an unhappy life, and Arun too happens to be part of the gang, indebted in some way to Susanna for the many favours she had bestowed upon him, such as letting the orphan boy stay and grow up in the household, and granted him that opportunity for a Russian medical education when husband number four rolled along. There's always some tension between the two since its quite clear Arun nurses an infatuation (who wouldn't!) and this ongoing subplot across the stories turned out to be something quite powerful and a trump card for 7 Khoon Maaf.
An additional point I'd appreciate from the film, which I thought made it stand out from the crows, is how landmark events in history get mentioned as we moved through the years, with Susanna maturing (Hollywood make up effects at play here to age Priyanka Chopra), and society getting a little bit more complex with the kinds of incidents that you would have heard of, defining an era in time especially contemporary ones that I clearly identify with such as India becoming a nuclear power, and the infamous Mumbai terrorist attacks in Nov 2008. But the top draw of the film still remains Priyanka Chopra's tour de force performance, as she handles plenty of complex emotions across an entire spectrum, that it probably will be one of her most memorable in time to come, if it is not already.
The songs also worked wonders, reigning from the cheesy O' Mama picturized on John Abraham with bad wig, to the ultra catchy, Russian influenced Doosri Darling (based upon the folk song Kalinka) which is signature enough to have made it to the promotional trailers. Vishal Bhardwaj spared no effort here with the tunes given his background, with each having a place in every relationship without the need to jump awkwardly out of and back into the narrative proper.
7 Khoon Maaf is not one of those typical black widow type stories with a predatory female going around knocking off her rich husbands for wealth. Hardly so, as it's really a story about romances gone wrong, and consistently drawing the shortest end of the stick with Fate making it a comedy of errors for allowing one to always fall for the wrong person, and getting exploited before defying the choices laid out by taking them out of the equation in life. Oh and seriously, if you're keeping count on the number of husbands above and thought I need to brush up on my math, the last is supposed to be a surprise, and therefore deliberately omitted. Watch the film to find out who!