An Open Letter on the Subject of Filmi Snake Identification and Research

The hallowed halls of the Academy of Applied Filmi Snake Research and Ethics are buzzing with the latest controversy. Our visiting snake expert responds to the (unfair, unjust and unreasonable) criticism levelled at her work by an anonymous  weasel professor. 

Professor,

I am gratified that you have provided the opportunity for further discourse and academic debate in response to the Filmi Snake Spotter’s Field Guide (The Guide)  in your comment about Beth’s scholarly analysis of the snake film Naag Lok.  Before I provide some additional comments in relation to the criticisms levelled at my work, I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of Beth (Illinois, 2011) to the evidence base of filmi snake identification.  As you noted, the principles of scientific rigour to which she has adhered, are laudable and set a new standard in the field.

Whilst Beth (ibid) has certainly identified two new areas for research in the roles of the transformative snake skin lens overlay and the serpentine tikka, I would like to draw your attention to some comments in the introductory section of The Guide:  (a.) “In this guide we will illustrate only a small sample of the many hundreds of filmi snake species featured in sub continental movies” (p. 1.)  and (b.) “Although scientific validation has been undertaken through consultation with both acknowledged experts and enthusiastic amateurs in the area, hypotheses are always subject to revision with an expanded evidence base.”

It is important, I believe, to acknowledge the audience for whom one is writing.  Whilst perhaps it can be argued that the scope of The Guide is broad, as explicitly stated, the intention was the provide some basic, yet practically helpful information, thus providing some guidelines and structure for filmi snake identification, for both professionals and lay persons alike.  At no point, I would like to emphasise, was The Guide touted as an exhaustive monograph.

I would specifically like to address the assertion that omissions of reference were made to the characteristic of venom and the role of the mongoose in filmi snake identification.

1.  Venom

Far from neglecting the role of venom in filmi identification, it is important to note that the results in this area are sufficiently inconclusive at this stage, for exclusion from The Guide.

The sample at the current time is simply too small to achieve any acceptable level of statistical significance.  Observational data suggests that venom may be a useful indicator, but we have conflicting information about both the impact of gender on venom, as well as some conflicting data about colour of venom (though it appears that venom is on the colour spectrum of clear to blue-violet).  The two things that the data demonstrates as emerging trends are (i) that all bodily fluids of the filmi snake appear to be venomous. And (ii) filmi snakes, unlike non-filmi snakes, appear to be able to suck their venom out of any fimi-snake victim and restore life (the Reverse Suck Manoeuvre).

2.  The Mongoose

The inclusion or exclusion of the role of the mongoose is indeed a vexed one.  As part of the extensive consultative process with a number of scientific and government authorities prior to the publication of The Guide, a submission was received form the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals requesting that no reference be made to the role of the mongoose because of the clear instances of both mongooses and snakes being hurt, and even killed, in the course of filming snake movies.  Their substantial and compelling body of research suggests that publicity in these areas increases the likelihood of recurrence (to a 0.01 level of statistical significance).

This of course, posed a significant ethical dilemma regarding to the need for open scientific debate versus the need for a responsible approach to animal welfare.  In consultation with a number of eminent ethicists, it was determined that the scientific debate was best placed to occur in professional and academic snake forums rather than in a more populist publication like the Guide.  On that basis, the decision to omit was resolved.  For the edification of the scientific community however, a forthcoming article on the subject has been submitted and accepted for publication in the Journal of the Academy of Applied Filmi Snake Research and Ethics.

I hope this letter goes some way to addressing some of the concerns expressed about the perceived shortcomings of The Filmi Snake Spotter’s Field Guide and serves to further contribute to the spirit of open discussion and debate in the important area of filmi snake identification and research.

jenni

Doodh Ka Karz

I wanted to write something about the late Bob Christo as he was my first ‘That guy again!’ in Hindi films. He seemed to be in everything, often trying to kill Mithun which was considerate of him, and generally being menacing. I think I first noticed him as he was one of the small number of white guys that turned up over and over in a huge array of films. But later I started noticing the gleam in his eye as he flung himself around the set, pretending to be beaten half to death by the hero, and I enjoyed his apparent glee at being the baddest baddie. He played his villainous henchman roles with great enthusiasm and I always look out for his shiny bald head when the main villain appears.

Good friend and snake film aficionado jenni enthusiastically recommended this film. Several times. Her summary on BollyWhat was so persuasive. And now I ask myself – why did I wait so long? I can’t explain the story any better than jenni did, so with her kind permission I quote:

“OK.  The story goes something like this.  A snake charmer, who treats his snake as a son, witnesses the plunder of the local snake temple jewels.  He is then framed by the thieves (local thakurs one of whom is played by Amrish Puri of course) and is beaten to death.  The beating is witnessed by his wife (Aruna Irani), infant son and loyal snake.  It is left to the widow to build a pyre and perform the funerary rites as she contemplates her future as a destitute widow.  Loyal snake has accompanied them to the cremation and when the widow realises she is unable to care for him, along with herself and infant, she feeds him some breast milk, sings a song about him repaying the debt of her milk, then sends him away.  This part is really sad and the snake actually looks sad and lost and grief stricken as he leaves (and I cried).  Not a woman of forgiveness, the snake charmer’s wife then sets about avenging the death of her husband.   And she is still on task 25 years later.

By then, the boy has grown up to be Jackie Shroff (Suraj) and he falls in love with (you guessed it), the evil Thakur’s daughter (Neelam).  Loyal snake has returned to both protect (his family) avenge (his enemy), and pay the debt of the milk, just like his (human) mother would have hoped.  There is parental opposition (both sides) and romantic complication (both sides).  Also a corrupt priest who is handy with snake lore himself.  And Bob Christo in a smooth talking, double dealing,  diamond smuggling minor role.  And let’s not forget, the THRILLING SNAKE FILLED CLIMAX”

The Snake represents all that is good and moral and he is the hero of this film, regardless of what Jackie Shroff might think. Sadly, he was never named which seems remiss considering his important role. The Snake is loyal and protective, has sound family values and judging by the number of friends and relatives who turn up for the final showdown, he must have been a nice snake.

There was genuine emotion in some of The Snake’s scenes and I have to say the editing was outstanding in making it seem that The Snake was reacting to the drama around him. I also have a mental picture of some poor sod standing just out of shot, dangling a mouse or other tasty treat to get The Snake’s attention. And who knew that snakes could emote?

Sad Snake

Forgiving

Righteous

Judgemental teetotaller

There are always concerns about animals in films but I think the instructions to the snake wranglers went along the lines of ‘Chuck ‘em in and stand back’.  I am hoping that some fake snakery went on in a couple of scenes.  And the mongooses seemed quite chipper in their special appearance. Certainly more enthused than the mongoose wranglers were! I know I wouldn’t have lasted long as an extra on this film.

The human actors go about their supporting roles quite successfully, and I did find the story very engaging.  Aruna Irani nails the vengeful widow role and raises her human son to be as strong as iron, although takes her time in telling him why. The scene when snake and widow separated was quite moving, although I didn’t cry. Perhaps I was too startled seeing breast milk expressed on screen and in close-up. I did find myself singing along with the recurring title track though. Goga Kapoor and Raza Murad make an impression in their smallish roles.  Amrish Puri as the Thakur didn’t put up much of a fight before he was persuaded to turn to crime, and was a villain of the weak and greedy type rather than a creatively dressed megalomaniac. But the allure of the jewels was just too much for him as was the notion of taking the easy way out of his self created problems. And he is backed up by Prem Chopra so you just know how that’s going to work out.

My mind did wander a bit during the songs though as the only thing that seemed to happen was Jackie pawing at Neelam. And it’s a snake film so it’s mostly snake music and that can get a tad monotonous. Meanwhile The Snake was slithering the countryside in search of his father’s killer who he would recognise by a distinctive necklace. That’s something to think about before borrowing jewellery.

When Neelam is bitten by the vengeful loner, she faints gracefully and is spared the sight of Jackie sucking her toes to extract the venom. Dear reader, you will not be so lucky.

Bob Christo has a small yet pivotal role as a venal Englishman who represents all that is bad and stupid. He is a diamond smuggler called Angrezi Master so maybe the script writers had just given up on character names and it wasn’t an anti-snake thing. Bob wants the stolen temple jewels but is afraid of the snake that is reputed to protect the temple, and demands to be shown its corpse. Oh Bob. So many films and still messing with the gods…Finally, Bob has to decide what is more important to him.

The snake gave him a choice, and Bob chose wrong. I also learned that when white people are bitten by snakes, we turn green. This should be a very helpful diagnostic tool in future.

The snake filled climax is really filled with snakes. Bucketloads of snakes. The Snake may not have been wandering the woods alone for all those years. Here’s a little taste of the mayhem, with Bob doing some very fine acting:

I have to say, I really enjoyed Doodh ka Karz. I like a good snake revenge film, and this is very snake-centric and vengeful. Ashok Gaikwad kept the story and editing pacey and there is stuff happening all over the place so there is never a dull moment. There is pathos in the snake charmer family scenes, and Aruna Irana is excellent. The only thing missing was a proper snake dance. This is a great ripping yarn, and a fun way to remember Bob Christo. 3 and ½ stars!

Edited to add: Here is a link to Beth’s round-up of ‘Bob’s Your Uncle’ posts. Go have a look!

http://bethlovesbollywood.blogspot.com/2011/04/bobs-your-uncle-late-great-bob-christo.html