Blood Sisters

Vishal Bharadwaj’s ultra-strong female characters are united by loss, manipulation and a haunting trace of vulnerability

01 February 2011

THE PROMOTIONAL TRAILER of 7 Khoon Maaf—Vishal Bhardwaj’s latest feature, advertised as the “story of Susanna and her quest for love with seven  husbands”—opens with an image of the protagonist in a pair of dark glasses, that time-honoured manifestation of mystery, of an inner life protected from the public gaze. Just what, besides her eyes, is Susanna hiding? What is her secret? A voiceover offers a clue, the notion that every wife, at some point, has thought of freeing herself from her husband. Forever. The insouciant title hints at how Susanna intends to obtain this freedom, seven times over, and towards the close of the clip, she releases a ghoulish cackle over a witch-like pronouncement: “This time, I’m going to drink his blood.” There’s little doubt that Susanna is a femme fatale who keeps gaining freedom from earlier husbands, keeps gaining newer husbands, but the question of interest in the context of  the auteur Bhardwaj’s career, a question we’ll have to wait for the film’s late February release to answer, is what she loses. Other than, of course, those husbands.

For loss has been a constant with Bhardwaj’s female characters, those artful amalgams of the traditional preserves of the male and the female, strong and simultaneously manipulative and vulnerable. Chunni, the plucky, pint-sized protagonist of Makdee, loses her sister Munni. Nimmi, the reincarnation of Lady Macbeth in Maqbool, loses her status as the older ganglord’s prized mistress, and, eventually, her sanity. Biniya, the little girl from The Blue Umbrella, loses her blue umbrella. Dolly, the tragic Desdemona stand-in from Omkara, loses her bejewelled cummerbund, a family heirloom entrusted to her by her husband. Keya, the unsuspecting wife from Blood Brothers, loses her husband when he flees home under the misconception that he has AIDS. So too, Sweety, the spunky go-getter from Kaminey, who loses her husband through entirely different circumstances, because she deceived him. In the films with happy endings, these losses are repaired—Chunni regains Munni, Biniya locates her umbrella, and Keya and Sweety are reunited with their spouses. The tragedies, however, take a different tack. Nimmi and Dolly suffer the biggest loss of all—they lose their lives.

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    Baradwaj Rangan  is a National Award-winning Film Critic and Deputy Editor with The Hindu. His book, Conversations with Mani Ratnam, was published by Penguin in 2012.

    Keywords: Bollywood women feminism Vishal Bhardwaj Female characters undefined