Feeling brave or up for a touch of horror? My recent Bollywood movie choices have unwittingly tread in a rather dark direction. First up was 7 Khoon Maaf ( सात खून माफ़) starring Priyanka Chopra. Lea had sent me the rather amusing Russian-Hindi smashup song "Darling" so I thought it might be worth checking out. Netflix bills this as a "dark comedy" but I found the story tragically horrifying as the movie follows the life of a femme fatale engaged in killing erstwhile spouses. The first one she kills seems justified, the second a bit selfish on her part, and after that I became preoccupied with trying to figure out how Susanna, in a country with half a billion men, manages to find these lucky few monsters. Despite deep psychological issues, I give her character credit for the rather artfully metaphoric offing of a Russian spy. The most compelling parts of the movie are the intoxicating scenes of Susanna falling in love through a variety of sensual modes- music, poetry, food. But the death scenes themselves seemed a bit flatly macabre. I envisioned this script being written by two female friends talking over steaming cups of chai: "Let's make a list of the worst sort of men to be married to" and "How many different ways in different places and in different faiths could one get married in India?" and "What are the most satisfying ways to kill someone?" and "If there is a happy ending for a femme fatale, what would it be?" So I was surprised to find that Vishal Bhardwaj adapted this film from a short story Ruskin Bond. But the dark nature of this film certainly coincides with his work in Omkara (an absolutely lovely adaptation of Othello that is a must see). Although visually compelling and psychologically interesting, this just didn't quite have the umpf of Omkara. But I will say Priyanka Chopra did a convincing job of being simultaneous drunk and homicidal throughout the movie.
And then I stumbled on Kurbaan (क़ुरबान), a 2009 Karan Johar movie with the tagline "Some love stories have blood on them" (yes, which might have tipped me off). Ah, but I figured action film, terrorist sleeper cells in the US, Saif and Kareena, might be good. The first half was a predictable falling-in-love of two professors against some famous Delhi backdrops (Humayun's tomb is beautifully featured in one of the songs). And then, not to give too much away, it turns out that the man Avantika (Kareena Kapoor) has fallen in love with is actually a feared terrorist. Mix in some benign FBI agents, a journalist who decides to infiltrate a sleeper cell without contacting any law enforcement, and more gruesome CSI closeups of dead people than you'd want... and you get a surprisingly intense little movie. Johar tried to seize this opportunity to explore the mindset and motivation of terrorists operating in a foreign country. But all he really showed was when terrorists take a break from building bombs, all they're interested in is creating greater degrees of separation from the people around them. The end of the film visually flatlined into women in hijab, swaths of concrete, unending subway cars, and a whole lot of cell phones. Against this flat background, Ehsaan (Saif Ali Khan) reveals himself to be terrorist with a streak of sympathetic humanity, despite the trail of carnage and destruction he's left behind him. Despite his character's evolution, though, this film is no glorification of violent Islamic extremism.