The setup makes for a good black comedy. well to do woman grows up quite without morals and kills her unsuitable husbands simply because noone told her that she could do prenups. This is, after all the seventies..eighties..nineties…..
but comedy requires a focussed base in drama and character building. Vishal bharadwaj’s Suzanna is more PC’s sketch of the men that love her in her movie actress life, without filtering or embellishment. As it is the film Saath Khoon Maaf reads like a 1940’s Hollywood starlet’s diary . Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course.
The film is rich with redeeming features. It is a certified A class art movie from Shyam Benegal’s 1970’s vintage. (a list of talented early film school grads from Pune made films like these – Kunar Shahni, Kundun shah, Rabindra Dharmaraj, Mani Kaul, Govind nihalani- Rajan palit’s cinematography begins a stark Trikal and ends a lush Guzaarish as Suzanna’s personal situation turns more and more gothic. (was she modelled after Bollywood’s original Madam X?). Bharadwaj also eschews music as a primal conveyor of mood, using his background score, instead like restaurant music, easing us into the difficult subject of Susanna’s various pet peeves.
The ultimate triumph of the film, however is in hammering in its uber feminist message in language of gothic horror. You feel you are watching a Dostoevski filmed novel. Not only do suzanna and her retinue of murderous servants move from the realm of surreal into the sharp relief of real, Suzanna also elicits something rare from the jaded cynical post modern viewer. Sympathy. Because long after the cartoon horror unreality of the sets and dramtic settings have faded you remember the violation and violence she suffers at the hands of the Sufi poet Wasiullah Khan(a superbly restrained performance by Irfan Khan) If anything that rage alone should give her three husbands.
And the film is not disappointing in many surprisingly visual ways. The lush of the scenery is never overstated into santosh sivan or Bhansali images that distract. There are , pepperred throughout the film, unusual evocative set pieces that can only be a Hollywood scriptwriter’s doing(script by Matthew Robbins, Steven Speilberg’s screenwriter of Sugarland express(uncredited writer in Close encounters of the third kind), and more recently Del toro’s Mimic and Radu Mihalenu’s collaborator in Le Concert(reviewed here) ).
A whip fight to the death between A dwarf and a peg legged Army officer (Nitin neil Mukesh who will make an awesome Bollywood villain)stripped to his bare chest evokes Indiana Jones’ nazis. Scenes of violent sex between Suzanna and Wasaullah Khan within the filigreed boudoirs of the Kashmir valley, are tastfully done cruel cinema. You also feel the surprise and shock as the scales of romance fall off her eyes and Suzanna learns to see that she is in an abusive marriage , and she is a victim.
The rock and roll Scenes with another husband (John Abraham playing Jimmy Stetson, a Goa rajput singer druggie and all round girlie playboy) brings you face to face with the fact that the film is made for the American baby boomers, and the Indians of the period that identified with them. Not only does Jimmy Stetson wear Stars and stripes bandanas, he also behaves like a beefy pre punk rock rock and roller tha comes across as a combination of Freddie mercury and an American trucker.
By now, the film starts looking like the Anti- “whats your Rashee” and you start finding the ribs of structure among the madness of its Anurag Kashyap-like- imagery. Vishaal is really trying to be an equal opportunity offender to ALL Indian men.
Which is why it doesn’t come as a surprise when Naseeruddhin shah shows up as a Martha Stewart Bengali shroomie, or there’s a cameo by a russian “consultant” (Alexander Dyachencko playing Nicolai Vronski ( which is the hollywood screenwriter’s private joke: Nickolai Vronski is “Sickle” a marvel comics charecter who acts as a sidekick to “Mafia lord” Alexander Pushkin along with “Hammer” -real name Boris Lupov….but I digress….). The film by now is the slash history of all men that visit a starlet with their fake love and fake smiles who would easily die from strangulation during lovemaking.
So How does Suzanna measure up as a femme fatale? and that is the seventh murder in the film. after building up a support structure for serial killers, Suzanna walks away from it all in an accidental fire , as if the director holds Jesus(dancing sufi) as responsible for all of suzanna’s murders. The film that starts like mario bavas worties ends like Siddhartha.
Pass the bong.
But the weaknesses of the film are not restricted to the Austin flower child two step ending, it is too much of a priyanka chopra film. Bharadwaj romanticizes everything about her situation. A film like this is ripe for the Gabriel Garcia Marquiz treatment , where exoticism can be surrealized to comment on social issues that are really universal. The Bharadwaj movie drops that ball. Suzannas many lovers could (as in some period European films) have represented the “foreign” influences visiting upon Goa’s homegirl, as it stands however, the movie reads like a story of Rekha’s many husbands (ganesan, not bharadwaj). And for a Vishaal Bharadwaj movie, the music is too accordion Jodorovsky.
I never found the pacing slow , whispy or untethered. I’ll kill anyone that says othervice.