Bhardwaj once said he made films only because he got to make his kind of music. Or did he actually?
We already know most of the story linearly through Ruskin Bond, Twitter and Blog reviews. A few minutes into the film, Bhardwaj pulls the rug from underneath my feet in a neat scene where the dwarf jockey cum horse trainer openly rebels against the Housemaster Major Rodrigues (Neil Nitin in a straitjacket). Vivaan Shah’s dry voice over announces a duel. Both Major and the Jockey are with whips. The subjugated Jockey is giving it his best. What is his motivation? Why would he do that, is my thought? He loses and he also loses an eye in the process. Susanna (Priyanka Chopra) gets angry. The bells toll. Major is bumped off in an elaborate sequence.
Why would the Jockey, Maggie the cook and Ghalib the butler willingly take part in Susanna’s ghastly thought as if it were just another episode in their dysfunctional life. As Vivaan keeps explaining to us in the background!
These people are not afraid of circumstances, of their position or their future?
(In the meanwhile, a Christian Susanna has already been shown doing a Naag Devta puja in a well) I get nudged, I am winked at!
They are not. As they know their “Saheb” Susanna from before. (Here, I begin to understand the genius of Bhardwaj). They know that she is a murderer and that at some point in her relationships she’ll snap. So, it is the men who in most cases come to live with her. Not she with them. The Ghazal writer (Irrfan in all glory) being the notable exception. In her familiar environs she sets up her murders like a Sardar and his man servant in a place called Nithari, in real life! Nudged, Winked.
But, she is in a battle with herself, with her damaged psyche that has nestled evil right from her childhood. The house help know. They vicariously enjoy her conquests, live a cheerful life, have bacchanalian evenings recounting her exploits and even willingly participate in her elaborate murders. The Nudge is hard. The wink is Mischievous now.
Very lyrically, through an elaborate use of Western folk, Western Classical, Rock and Ghazals, we see the men meeting their nemesis and losing their life to her through the first hour.
Bhardwaj needs to sell the psyche of a cold blooded murderer to us. He does that with some of the most awesome music that I have heard in recent times. Not all the riffs, church choir songs, a great “I Do” version (sung by Dominique Cerejo, most probably, as I could not spot the tag anywhere), a superb waltz track done in a dark army mess ballroom, Dekh to Dil ki Jaan by Mehdi Hassan et al. Murders need to be dressed up too! Nudged Hard!!
These brilliant pieces set the tone for Susanna to move forward through her story, aid her in her macabre search for life, violins serenade when she walks the aisle with John, the rockstar, just after a church choir help her in shedding tears for her departed Major, who we know she has killed. In fact, John is from the church choir. So musical and yet so fatal for the poor church boy.
I have entered the House of Mirrors that Bhardwaj has set up completely.
So, I state again, Bhardwaj once said he made films only because he got to make his kind of music. Or did he actually?
Do her husbands deserve those deaths? As I have mentioned in the beginning that Susanna’s damaged psyche does not allow herself to even contemplate walking away. She has to kill. So, the characters are shown indulging in some form of sin.
So, back to the music again and now the brimming BG score. I have to take a notepad and sit the next time I would have to note the elaborate notes he spins around each episode, differently yet the focus is to stun us viewers into understanding the fact that Susanna had to do that murder! She had reason, you see!! McGuffin there. But we get sold. Wink. Wink..
The confusion for the viewer is in the second half. Vronsky first. Why? He tells her he would not want to get married then, she forces her into marriage and then gets those photographs. Then the elaborate kill wherein the butler Ghalib malevolently explains how “Saheb” has bumped off the earlier husbands. Now who is winking at me?
So, an Abala Naari who is kind of dysfunctional, has landed up with awful hubbies and so has a history of murders now needs to murder again just for the heck of it?
Hard to digest. All because he has another family or he is probably a double agent?
The answer is in her darkening and wizening face. The demons inside her are out there for all of us to see. The tight close ups now and the haunting BG make us aware of the uncomfortable face and the mind behind it. Gruesome.
Then, she invites the investigating officer Keemat Lal (Annu Kapur) to her home, herself. Compellingly brilliant scene wherein she clearly states that she may be caught and Keemat keeps finding out a way of saving her while looking at the murder scene and then she coolly takes him to bed. Mind you, he is not so sure of this middle aged good looking woman and is just playing the lark. But, she is sure. Inevitably, she is on top in bed, bringing him to a climax that he has not known before. He is sold. He quickly goes through a divorce to come back and get married. Then, he is immediately killed. Why? This time, in church she is not even simpering!
Realization dawns to viewers and herself, Susanna. She ain’t gonna change. At all.
Then, the remorse sets in. She consumes pills to die. She is saved. The tables turn.
So, she plans one last time. She kills and then wants to die as she does not want to kill anymore. The fire results. The violins wail.
Then, the brilliant end. And the seventh husband. Faith! And the Church Bells…
I mean, how would this auteur go about filming this? So, let me get the scenes out of the way and then I’ll worry as to how I shall embellish it or get all the details in place, in head, in the screenplay, the music to the last riff and film it with all my actors knowing what they have to deliver?
The actors deliver, and how?!