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We transformed Susanna into an adorable monster: Robbins

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Posted online:2011-01-27 09:28:18+05:30
Updated:2011-01-27 09:28:18+05:30

MumbaiWhen Bollywood director Vishal Bharadwaj wanted to adapt Ruskin Bond’s short story, Susanna’s Seven Husbands into his next feature film, 7 Khoon Maaf, he turned to his long-time friend, Hollywood scriptwriter Matthew Robbins to write the script.

Robbins, on his part, found Bollywood’s “habit of breaking into spontaneous dances” baffling, but he also admired Bharadwaj’s style of cinema. “We have been in touch via mail over the years. One day, he sent me a copy of Bond’s novel. This sparked off a fresh round of dialogue between us and, in October 2009, I flew down to Mumbai to meet him,” recalls Robbins, speaking over phone from his home in Paris.

Robbins, 67, is best known for his work in Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut Sugarland Express (1974), the 2010 Katie Holmes starrer Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, besides contributing for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Bharadwaj adds that Susanna’s Seven Husbands was a difficult story to adapt as there were seven stories to be woven into one script.

“Indian cinema is inferior in storytelling as we do not have many good writers. Robbins is a great screenplay writer and I requested him to come to Mumbai and help me out,” he explains, adding that he and Robbins met in 2005, participating at a filmmaking workshop in Uganda, organised by filmmaker Mira Nair.

Bharadwaj and Robbins reconfigured Bond’s novel for the film and infused some dramatic elements to the characters. “Susanne’s character in the book is very morbid but we have transformed her into a more adorable monster,” he continues.

In the film, Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes is accused of killing her seven husbands in dramatic fashion. The duo discussed the story, scene by scene, over cups of hot chai at Bharadwaj’s summer retreat in Mussorie. “The dialogues could wait, that was secondary. We focused on the planning, and developing all the emotions, especially Susanna’s. She is a creature of habit in the book, who becomes a veteran in bumping off husbands. We infused humour to balance her stark personality,” says Robbins, who returned to California to write a draft in English.

While writing the script, Robbins was aware that Priyanka Chopra would play the lead, so he tempered the role accordingly. “I saw her performance in Kaminey. She reminded me of a young Sophia Loren with charm and a mercurial temperament,” he remarks.

This isn’t the first time the two have planned a film. Their first project, Julia, set in Burma during WW II, was stalled due to the “scheduling going haywire” although the casting was in place. A few months later, both collaborated for Blood Brothers (2007), a short film about HIV/AIDS awareness. “This was again made through exchanges over Skype and email,” he recalls.

For 7 Khoon Maaf, Bharadwaj translated the English script into Hindi, using vernacular elements. Robbins has not seen the final script since “by the time it was ready, Vishal was moving at 100 kmph. The rough cut looked promising.”

Of Bharadwaj’s films, he has watched Maqbool, The Blue Umbrella and Omkara and has a high regard for Bharadwaj. But future B-wood projects are a no-no. “Vishal was a friend, that is why I agreed. Even though another Indian project sounds interesting, I would be at a loss since I cannot relate to the cultural context,” he concludes.

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