Nagavalli

Another adventure without subtitles and our first Venkatesh film on the big screen.  Not only that, but from the buzz surrounding the film we were expecting lots of dancing and a snake revenge film,  many of our favourite things!

The basic story is a sequel to the hit Chandramukhi, advertised with the tagline ‘She’s back!’. And she is – or is she? Venkatesh is Dr Vijay, the student of Dr Saravanan who vanquished the vengeful spirit last time. He is called in his mentor’s stead to deal with a suspected possession which may be linked to some sudden deaths in a remote household.

Vijay, when not  pursued by all the ladies of the house, debates the role of science versus religion with the family’s guru Ramachandra Siddhanti (Avinash) who had actually called him in on the case. The cure for mental illness or possession that is demonstrated by Ramachandra consists of hitting his patient with a stick and demanding they speak. Vijay’s scientific method is letting her have a good cry, and telling her she is cured. Neither really filled us with confidence especially as both men consistently failed to identify the right person who was nuts or possessed (depending on your view). The question of god or science did keep coming up in the film, and both men seemed to be somewhat persuaded of the merits of the other side. So they tried to do something intellectual – but the giant snake detracted from any serious philosophy going on.

Vijay is, at times, insufferably superior as he uses his psychiatric training to read the household members and tell them all about themselves. For an academic who represents the side of science in this story, he has some very dubious reference materials. Every book he read looked like it had been bought from an airport book kiosk and hardly gave us any confidence in his ability to diagnose anything.

There are many inexplicable plot elements. For no apparent reason there is also an absolutely huge cobra-python-anaconda monster lurking around the house and grounds.  Which the family find mysterious, although they found a giant snake skin, which really should have been enough of a clue that there was something rather strange going on.

In the course of his investigations, while wandering around the grounds on the trail of Chandramukhi (whose real name was Nagavalli), Dr Vijay is jumped on by a gang of men who leap down from the trees. This is never explained and is possibly just a way to make sure there was at least one group fight scene in the movie. Despite one of our fellow audience assuring us it would somehow be cleared up, it wasn’t. But that applies to so much else in this film it hardly matters.

As in Chandramukhi the story moves back into the past which gives Anushka the chance to strut her stuff as Nagavalli and explain the back story. Her performance was outstanding in terms of acting, but her dancing suffered by comparison to her predecessors in this role. Still, in one scene she perfectly expressed her fear, hatred, anger and will to survive purely through body language and facial expressions. She really is an impressive actress. Unfortunately she was way too tall for her olden days love interest, which added a lot to the unintentional comedy.  The olden days also provided an excuse for some sumptious costumes and rather dodgy hair extensions for Venkatesh in his role as the evil Nagabhairava Rajashekhara. He seemed to have discovered gold lame a long time before anyone else. Perhaps it was that which funded his extravagant lifestyle and blingy accessories.

Richa Gangopadhyay was given some memorable scenes towards the end, and almost stole the show. Shraddha Das and Kamalini Mukherjee were quite effective and it was interesting to see the ensemble cast working through the more thriller styled investigative scenes.

Sadly despite the prominence of dancing in the film, none of the leads were particularly good  dancers, so the story tended to fall a little flat in the execution of these scenes.  The later scenes where Chandramukhi/Nagavalli has her revenge were so totally over the top that it was impossible to take any of it seriously, and we don’t think we were meant to. Overall the film was held together by Venkatesh helped to some extent by Brahmi, who had a substantial role as Dr Vijay’s student. There was so much comedy in the rest of the film that a separate comedy subplot didn’t really seem necessary to us, but it was there anyway.

Venkatesh certainly seems to deliver what his fans wanted. The audience reaction to him was great and people cheered every time he swung into action. The dual characters let him show off his acting range, and the olden days allowed for the more physical scenes that the modern day setting lacked. His horse riding style was memorable to say the least, but we don’t think any horse would tolerate him for long.

The special effects are, in a word, terrible. The cut and paste of scenes against  green screen looked really amateurish and was surprising in such a big budget film. The overuse of coloured contact lenses was also a distraction throughout the close up scenes. We don’t think the audience was meant to laugh at so many of the historical scenes, but they just didn’t work.

The last half of the film was quite dialogue heavy and it was difficult to keep interested as the Dr Vijay slowly worked his way through the possible candidates for possession or insanity. However the beautiful costumes and fabrics did keep us somewhat entertained. Despite this being advertised as a horror film, it never reached those heights. The film is much more farcical than frightening, and seemed to play much more to the comedy of the situation. The thriller and mystery elements were good but the film seemed to shift from whodunnit to supernatural horror and back with some holes in the logic. The film descended into boring and bad territory for about twenty minutes, but was revived by Richa Gangopadhyay, Venkatesh and Anushka in the final scenes. This was our first chance to see Venkatesh on the big screen and he lived up to his reputation, although the story really didn’t.

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2 thoughts on “Nagavalli

  1. Hi! I’ve been meaning to comment on this review- I’ve been curious how the classical dance would be portrayed in this film. I’m sad to read your review that the dancing is quite bad! I’m not surprised considering it was picturized on Anoushka- I’ve seen some of her other “dances” and think she’s terrible. :) Does the film try to go for some semblance of Bharatanatyam, or is it just a mishmashy filmized classical type of choreography?

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    • Hi MinaiMinai :) The dancing is pretty terrible. Anoushka is a really good actress who tries to dance, and I appreciate she gives it a go. Sadly there is no way of hiding lack of ability or technique in this film and well…The choreography in her big dance drama moment tries for Bharatanatyam but is really a mish mash as clearly adjustments had to be made for her. That said, on an acting level, her dance scenes are really effective as Anoushka was able to convey a range of emotions. The only sequence that concentrates on classical dance is at the beginning, when there is a Bharatanatyam competition and couples compete to win the haunted portrait of Chandramukhi. It’s a short scene but it did get my hopes up! Cheers, Temple

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