The film opened on 18 February 2011, to universal critical acclaim, with special praise for Chopra's performance. Despite the universal critical acclaim, 7 Khoon Maaf underperformed at the box-office. However, according to its producers, it made a profit by earning a total of ₹33 crore (US$5.1 million) for its box-office run and television-music-home-video rights against a production budget of ₹15 crore (US$2.3 million). It premiered at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival, receiving several accolades at award ceremonies across India. At the 57th Filmfare Awards 7 Khoon Maaf received three nominations, winning two: the Best Actress Critics Award for Chopra and the Best Female Playback Singer for Uthup and Rekha Bhardwaj's song, "Darling".
7 Khoon Maaf tells the story of an Anglo-Indian woman, Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes (Priyanka Chopra), who murders all her husbands. Susanna tries to find love, but six of her seven husbands have a flaw which proves fatal. The killings (and her yearning for love) are explained by the loss of her mother at a young age. The story is told by a young forensic pathologist, Arun (Vivaan Shah), to his wife, Nandini (Konkona Sen Sharma). Arun has watched Susanna since their childhood, and has a secret crush on her. He owes his life to her; she funded his education, making him what he is today. Arun tells his wife that Susanna has committed suicide, leaving him a note congratulating him on his marriage. The doctor must now confirm that the body found is Susanna's. Arun is unable to overcome his grief over her death and pours out his heart to his wife, who listens patiently.
Susanna's (Priyanka Chopra) first husband—Edwin Rodriques (Neil Nitin Mukesh), an army major—is overbearing, jealous and possessive. Disabled, he cannot believe that a beautiful woman like Susanna would be faithful to him. Uncertain of his sexual potency, he takes out his anger on his wife. Although Susanna endures his mental cruelty, she cannot forgive Edwin for blinding her faithful, mute stableboy (Shashi Malviya) with a whip. Edwin is eliminated during a panther-hunting trip with the help of Susanna's faithful maid (Usha Uthup), butler (Harish Khanna) and the mute stableboy.
Susanna's second husband—Jamshed Singh Rathod (John Abraham), who renames himself Jimmy Stetson after their marriage—is a singer whose flaw is pride. The marriage begins well, but Jimmy becomes successful and misuses his new-found fame. He steals songs, dallies with other women and becomes dependent on drugs. Susanna wants to be lucky in love the second time; she tries to wean him from his addiction, but he continues in secret. She gives up, disposing of him with a heroin overdose. Police investigators find footprints near his body indicating that a person with six toes is the murderer.
Susanna's third husband—Wasiullah Khan (also known as Musafir) (Irrfan Khan)—is a soft-spoken, thoughtful poet by day and a sado-masochist by night. Susanna tries to cover her bruises with makeup; her servants cannot bear to see her mistreated, and advise her to get rid of him. Khan is ultimately interred in a snowy Kashmiri grave.
Her fourth husband, Nikolai Vronsky (Aleksandr Dyachenko), is a Russian spy leading a double life. When Susanna discovers he has another wife and family, her rage knows no bounds and he meets his end with the aid of Susanna's pet snakes. After Vronsky's death, Susanna no longer agonizes over eliminating anyone of whom she disapproves.
Her fifth husband, Keemat Lal (Annu Kapoor), is a police inspector who has shielded his "Madame" from prosecution for two murders in exchange for marriage. With a voracious appetite for sex, his dependence on Viagra proves his undoing; one fateful night, Susanna mixes an overdose of the drug into Lal's drink.
Modhusudhon Tarafdar (Naseeruddin Shah) is a Bengali doctor who rescues Susanna from a suicide attempt (when she learns about Arun's marriage) and puts her on a mushroom-only diet. Although she does not want to marry him, Tarafdar persuades her with a promise that she will be the sole heir of his property. Actually bankrupt, he tries to poison Susanna with mushroom soup several years later for her inheritance. Her butler drinks it by accident and dies instead; in a state of shock, she shoots Tarafdar during a game of Russian roulette. That night, Susanna sets her house ablaze in another suicide attempt. Seeing the house on fire, her maid (who has six toes) tries to rescue her but dies in the attempt.
In the forensics laboratory, Arun discovers that the body is not Susanna's; however, he declares Susanna dead in his reports. He looks for her; when he finds Susanna, she tells him she is finally getting married the next day to someone who accepts her, knowing all her sins. In an epiphany she imagines Jesus Christ as her seventh husband, full of love and never hurtful; she becomes a nun and finding the love she sought all her life. Arun and Nandini return home after he tells her that Susanna is dead.Priyanka Chopra as Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes (also known as Saheb, Suzi, Sultana, Anna and Sunaina)
Neil Nitin Mukesh as Major Edwin Rodriques (first husband)
John Abraham as Jamshed Singh Rathod aka Jimmy Stetson (second husband)
Irrfan Khan as Wasiullah Khan (also known as Musafir) (third husband)
Aleksandr Dyachenko as Nicolai Vronsky (fourth husband)
Annu Kapoor as Inspector Keemat Lal (fifth husband)
Naseeruddin Shah as Dr. Modhusudhon Tarafdar (also known as Modhu Daa) (sixth husband)
Vivaan Shah as Arun Kumar
Usha Uthup as Maggie Aunty (maid)
Harish Khanna as Galib Khan (butler)
Shashi Malviya as Goonga Chacha (stableboy)
Konkona Sen Sharma as Nandini, Arun's wife (cameo appearance)
Ruskin Bond as church father (cameo appearance)
Radhika Arora as Nandini's friend (cameo appearance)
Ayush Tandon as Young Arun
The idea for 7 Khoon Maaf came when Ruskin Bond sent his book of Short Story collection to Vishal Bhardwaj. He was intrigued by a four-page story's title named "Susanna's Seven Husbands", and thought it had potential for a novel and a film. Bhardwaj said, "I told myself why would a woman have seven husbands and then I came to know that she also kills them! I was immediately hooked to it. It reminded me of a very old film, Bluebeard's Seven Wives". Bhardwaj suggested the story to a fellow director, who was looking for a good story. However, after reading the short story, the director dismissed it saying it has no film potential. After reading the story twice, he became even more confident about possibility of a film. Bhardwaj who had previously adapted Bond's novel The Blue Umbrella into a film, decided to adapt the short story for the screen. Bhardwaj later requested Bond to turn the story into a novella, noting that only Bond could flesh out the characters well, to which he agreed. Bond expanded the story into an 80-page novella, which later became a 200-page full-length Hindi script. Bhardwaj co-wrote the script with Matthew Robbins.
Bhardwaj noted that he retained Bond's theme, but incorporated his own elements to make the film a dark comedy. He said, "I had previously taken liberties with Shakespeare. Naturally, when you adapt a story, your vision also comes in it. But I have remained honest to its essence". He included Keemat Lal (who plays a police officer in all Bond's stories), although the character is not in the original story. Bhardwaj decided to include him in the film as an homage to Bond, explaining that he took liberties with characters' names and traits. Bond also had to devise Indian methods of killing the husbands, which he found challenging: "The challenge was devising seven ingenious ways in which she could kill her husbands without being suspected. And she does it successfully, until towards the end".
Priyanka Chopra was Bhardwaj's original choice for the role of Susanna after he worked with the actress in Kaminey: He said that Chopra "is the finest actor of her generation right now... As a director I had so much trust on her that I felt that no one else can essay this role as brilliantly as she would do". Mohanlal was cast as one of Susanna's husbands in the film; however, he left the project to concentrate on Malayalam films. The actor was replaced by Annu Kapoor in the role of Inspector Keemat Lal. Other actors in the film were John Abraham, Naseeruddin Shah, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Vivaan Shah. Directors Karan Johar and Imtiaz Ali were approached to play two of the seven husbands, but they reportedly turned down the offer. Usha Uthup was cast as Susanna's maid in the film. Konkona Sen Sharma was confirmed for a cameo appearance.
During production, the film underwent two name changes. The project was initially titled Seven, which became Ek Bataa Saat and finally 7 Khoon Maaf. In the film, Chopra's character ages from 20 to 65, and prosthetic makeup was used for her looks at different ages. Bhardwaj hired Hollywood special makeup effects artist Greg Cannom, who did the makeup for 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, to create seven looks for the character. Chopra found the most challenging period was that of the 65-year-old woman. The actress said, "prosthetics had to play a heavy part but I’m happy that I pushed myself as the result is really fab. I had to be very careful of not doing things that would damage the make-up". To make Chopra look authentic, the makeup team used Chopra's mother's and grandmother’s photos to create her look. She had to gain five kg weight to fit her aging character.
Principal photography began in March 2010 with Chopra and Irrfan Khan in Kashmir. Locations included Shalimar Bagh and Dal Lake in Srinagar. The cast and crew were provided with two-tier security coverage by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Jammu & Kashmir Police, due to unrest in the valley. The film was also shot in Gulmarg, Delhi and Coorg, which included extensive shooting in the forests. Other locations were Puducherry, Mumbai, Hyderabad and in Russia. During filming Chopra was restricted from eating and drinking while donning the prosthetic makeup (which took five hours to apply).
The film's score and songs were composed by Vishal Bhardwaj, with lyrics by Gulzar. Its soundtrack contains seven songs and two reprise versions. The soundtrack was digitally released on Ovi (Nokia) on 21 January 2011, and on CD 24 January 2011. The song "Darling" is based on the Russian folk song "Kalinka", and contains several Russian words (one of Susanna's husbands was Russian). "Kalinka" is credited on the album cover. "Tere Liye", sung by Suresh Wadkar, was not used in the film.
The soundtrack received positive reviews from music critics. The Indo-Asian News Service gave the album 3.5 stars (out of 5): "Bharadwaj has composed a wonderful album that is not a clone of his previous work. It exudes freshness and is worth listening. However, the songs would not have achieved zenith without Gulzar's lovely lyrics. The team has done it again". Bollywood Hungama rated the album a 3 (out of 5): "7 Khoon Maaf is a good album with a couple of definite hits, couple of skip worthy ones and the remaining have the potential to grow. Since 7 Khoon Maaf is not a routine Bollywood affair, it can't be expecting a quick pick at the stands from Day One". The Hindustan Times noted that the soundtrack takes the listener through a variety of moods: "Bhardwaj has certainly succeeded in adding new sounds to his catalogue. He continues to evade Bollywood monotony with this soundtrack [...] an innovative effort."
The film's preview and trailer were released on 24 December 2010 to a positive response from critics, who praised the whole presentation and Chopra's dialogues particularly: "duniya ki har biwi ne kabhie na kabhie toh yeh zarur sochega, ki main apne pati se hamesha hamesha ke liye chutkara kaise paun" ("Every wife in the entire world must have once in her lifetime thought of how to get rid of her husband forever"). Following the preview-trailer launches, Chopra promoted the film by appearing with seven men (dressed as bridegrooms) at the Radio Mirchi FM studio. The succession of marriages and funerals was illustrated at a promotional event for the film, where Chopra appeared as a Catholic bride in a wedding gown holding a bouquet. A short time later she reappeared as a widow in mourning, for her husbands' funerals.
Emphasizing the film's theme, Chopra introduced a "seven ways to lose your Valentine" press kit for reporters at a Valentines Day promotion. The kit contained a rope, a syringe, a knife, a bottle of poison, a sachet of potassium cyanide, an ice pick and a blister pack of Viagra, which was based on Susanna's way to kill her husbands in the film. In February 2011, a book entitled Susanna's Seven Husbands was released by Penguin Books as a collector's edition including the novella, the short story and the film’s screenplay.
The film was screened at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival as part of its world premiere in the festival's Panorama section. At the Friedrichstadt Palace (a Berlin theatre) an audience of some 2,500 people watched the film on the festival's final evening, giving the director and the nine cast and crew members present a standing ovation when they appeared onstage. 7 Khoon Maaf was originally scheduled for release on 21 January 2011, but was postponed a month to avoid conflicting with Dhobi Ghat. The film was released on 18 February 2011 on about 700 screens across India. Reliance Home Entertainment released 7 Khoon Maaf on DVD in March 2011 across all regions in a one-disc NTSC format. The Blu-ray and Video CD versions were released at the same time.
7 Khoon Maaf released to universal critical acclaim and Chopra's performance was singled out in particular, with many reviewers describing it as "a role of a lifetime". Aniruddha Guha of the Daily News and Analysis rated the film a four (out of five) and wrote, "For a filmmaker who has long established his hold over the craft, 7 Khoon Maaf is the only way forward – it pushes the envelope and takes you on a cinematic journey you may not experience in a Hindi film for a long time to come". She praised Chopra's performance: "Priyanka Chopra takes on a character that most of her contemporaries would shy away from and enacts it in a way that only she possibly can. For a woman with as many shades as Susanna, Chopra gets a crack at a role of a lifetime. And Bhardwaj ensures she sparkles like never before". The Indo-Asian News Service described the film as a "winner" by Vishal Bhardwaj, rating it four out of five: "Chalk up an absolute winner for the Vishal Bhardwaj-Priyanka Chopra team. They make a coherent vision out of an inconceivable marital crises." Zee News also rated the film four out of five: "Vishal Bhardwaj does it again. The maverick filmmaker has once again woven magic with his latest blockbuster Saat Khoon Maaf, which presents Priyanka Chopra in a never before character".
Nikhat Kazmi of the Times of India gave the film a 3.5 (out of 5) rating, describing it as "serious, sensitive and stirring", "a whole new cinematic experience" and praising Chopra's performance: "7 Khoon Maaf would undoubtedly end up as a milestone in Priyanka Chopra's career graph. The actor displays exquisite command over a complex character that is definitely a first in Indian cinema. She renders a subtle and restrained portrayal of a lonely and wronged woman who wanted love and only love from life". Mayank Shekhar of the Hindustan Times gave 7 Khoon Maaf three out of five stars noting that the film was crafted around strong, effective scenes alone: a lot of them, cleanly cut and clinical, a whole lot immediately compelling, and recommended not to miss the partly captivating film Taran Adarsh of Bollywood Hungama gave the film three stars, saying that "7 Khoon Maaf is a dark film that has its share of positives and negatives. However, the film will meet with diverse reactions – some will fancy it, while some will abhor it. The film will appeal more to the critics/columnists and the festival circuit".
At the box office, the film opened to weak ticket sales across India (its release coincided with the 2011 Cricket World Cup). It grossed ₹14 crore (US$2.2 million) during its first week. By the end of its domestic box office run, the film earned approximately ₹20 crore (US$3.1 million), an underperformance compared to its production budget of ₹15 crore (US$2.3 million). It made an additional ₹13 crore (US$2.0 million) from the pre-release sale of music, television, and home video rights. Its producers reported that the venture was commercially successful. Siddharth Roy Kapur (CEO of UTV Motion Pictures) said, "'7 Khoon Maaf' has worked well for us commercially due to a combination of tight production budgeting, optimised spending on prints and publicity and a pre-sales strategy that helped us to de-risk the film via sales of home video, music, satellite and theatrical rights even before the release".
7 Khoon Maaf received a number of nominations and won several awards, particularly Best Actress for Chopra. The film received three nominations at the 57th Filmfare Awards, winning two: Best Actress (Critics) for Chopra and Best Female playback singer for Utthup and Bhardwaj for "Darling". At the Screen Awards the film received five nominations; Chopra won the Best Actor in a Negative Role award. 7 Khoon Maaf won three Producers Guild Film Awards (out of six nominations) in technical categories: Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.