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

Sheshnaag

Sheshnaag is an excellent masala snakefest starring Jeetendra and Rekha, with a starry supporting cast and the added delight of Danny Denzongpa as the EVIL Aghoori. The Laxmikant Pyarelal soundtrack is mostly snake dance related, which means lots of snaky dancing! And I think director KR Reddy captured a vintage feel with Sheshnaag which doesn’t seem like a film released in 1990.

Allow Aghoori to describe his origins as a creation of the devil and show you around his cave:

 

 

My DVD has the worst picture quality but the most marvellous subtitles. Aghoori is hunting a nagin couple, Pritam and Banu, who unlock a treasure trove every lunar eclipse using amazing special effects.

They give the wealth to the needy and hold the key to immortality. Aghoori is obsessed with power and filled with venom, determined to become more powerful than the gods.

Identifying the snakes in this film is very easy as they are a) not shy and b) one of them is Jeetendra (ref The Jeetendra Effect).

While this epic battle between good and bad is being waged, there is evil afoot in the human domain. Champa (Rekha) is left to look after her mentally backward brother Bhola (Rishi Kapoor) and her horrible husband (Anupam Kher) after her father dies. Bhola is protective of all animals including snakes and he can charm any animal by playing his flute. He falls afoul of Aghoori’s henchman when he saves the female snake Banu (Madhavi), thus winning her gratitude. Champa’s husband wagers her mangalsutra and then her person in a game of cards – he is really vile. After calling on Krishna to help her escape a rape attempt, she runs away and leaps from a cliff to escape her pursuers. Just as I was bemoaning an appalling under-utilisation of Rekha, Banu uses her powers to transform into a replica of Champa and come to Bhola’s aid to repay her debt. They move into a nicely decorated mansion with excellent snaky decor and are set for the good life.

 

Jeetendra joins the household as a servant so he can be close to his wife and help look after Bhola. The rest of the story is then a crazy race to see if Aghoori will take over the world.

I really disliked Rishi’s acting, character and storyline in this. Bhola’s under-developed intelligence would have been challenging for any actor, but Rishi just opted for flattening his hair and mugging for the camera.

There is a romance track for him, as Kamini (Mandakini – not a snake despite those eyes and some questionable outfits) is driven into his arms by a startling bear attack. She’s a hunting, shooting type of gal from a family of animal hide dealers but clearly life had not prepared her for finding a small person in a bear suit humping her leg.

It doesn’t seem to be a good match, and Bhola’s utter stupidity doesn’t help matters. If you knew someone wanted to hunt game, would you call more of your animal friends to stand in front of the armed lunatics? Honestly. It’s a revolting episode and apart from all the fake blood pouring from animals, I think Rishi stepped on a pigeon for real. Bhola wins Kamini over with his gormless vapidity, and takes from her intended, a creepy gun toting cousin.  He swaggers around, confident that his sister will always protect him. When Jeetendra decides to make Bhola a warrior to protect everyone…well I’m sure you can imagine. Beth queried whether headbutting clay pots was a documented snake fighting technique. I suspect the technique was chosen as Bhola’s head was solid wood.

Rekha is a powerful actor and being a vengeful snake allowed her to unleash her forceful side. I question whether it was really worth jeopardising your immortality and powers just to save a backward fool. On the plus side she gets some awesome outfits. I preferred Madhavi’s dancing, but Rekha does handle the venom spitting (her venom strips paint) with aplomb and has mastered The Look.

 

Banu/Champa’s resolve and certainty drives much of the action and she takes responsibility for her family in both her human and snake roles. When Bhola drags her human husband back and expects Champa to accept him, she is unrelenting and cold despite the combined anger of the men.

I mentioned Bhola was annoying? Even allowing for times and morality having changed, how could anyone demand someone they love take back into their household a man who brutalised and humiliated them? It’s all wrong, and not helped by the bad acting. Rishi was lucky he had Anupam Kher in the same cast as it makes Bhola look marginally better. Anyway. Back to the snakes.

 

Rekha’s scenes with Jeetendra are sometimes quite touching as Banu/Champa is aware of the consequences of committing to helping the idiot human, and knows they are in danger from Aghoori too. They also get some more of those special effects. When (WHY?) she decides to sacrifice herself to save Bhola I was quite upset. WHY REKHA WHY???

Jeetendra is there. He really doesn’t have all that much to do apart from dancing, flying, biffo, biting, duelling and housework. He is not the dominant snake in the marriage and I think it’s safe to say that Madhavi/Rekha wears the lurex pants in the relationship. I swear he’d never seen a broom until this film, and he seems to torment Bhola more than he does anything else in that household. Jeetendra got some excellent snake powers including an array of coloured lighting effects and a unique fighting style.

 

His first fight with Aghoori is hilarious, and he also has a nice line in venom spitting (his is flammable).  His dancing…He is not good at partnering the ladies in their dancing. Luckily they seem to manage to navigate around him. He also did an interpretative vengeful Snake Dance which was memorable.

Madhavi had a much smaller presence in the film than Rekha, but her dancing is lovely and she had some fabulous snaky accessories.

She and Jeetendra employed a fighting style that involved jabbing the victim with their fingers rather than biting so I think maybe they had venomous manicures.  The outfits for all the snakes really are worth a look.

 

Danny Denzongpa owns the film. He is insanely evil and in cackling good form as Aghoori. I loved this performance and I cheered extra loud when Aghoori sent Bhola flying with a few well placed kicks. Not everything an evil person does is necessarily bad!

And what happens? I really can’t say. But I do give the film 3 1/2 stars!

Tum Mere Ho (1990)

Aamir Khan, Juhi Chawla and snakes? Sounds like an excellent Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival subject. The film is pretty terrible, but is almost always So Bad It’s Good, and the songs are quite pleasing in both snakey choreography and energy. It may have lost something in translation due to the dodgy quality youtube version with no subs that I watched, but I doubt it.

It seems of late that Aamir has distanced himself from his pre-Lagaan career. But I say let him be known for his heroic role as Shiva the hairy-chested snake charmer who saves his lady love Paro (oh so young and pretty Juhi) from a crazed Snake Queen (Kalpana Iyer).

The film opens with Thakur Chaudhary attempting to steal a Naag Mani by using a very flawed contraption. In the process, he kills a snake and draws the ire of the Snake Queen on his own household.

 

She declares that as he killed her child, she will kill his. And off she goes and bites the young lad as he sleeps.

The weeping parents, with the Snake Queen laughing at their grief, put their son’s corpse on a little raft arrangement, and he is sent off on the currents of the river. Of course he washes up at the feet of the one man who can reverse a death by snake bite. The child lives and grows up to become Shiva (Aamir). He learns to use magical powers that involve him waving a bone and a skull around, and doing lots of fist clenching emoting.

 

He has his uncle, his snakes, a daft sidekick, and is being pursued by the village skank belle. He also has a waistcoat with a snake motif for special occasions.

Everything a boy needs!

Shiva goes into the village for some reason, possibly to deliver a snake, and sees Paro at the fair. He impresses her with his snake, and she is immediately full of dreams of love as well as thoughts of garam garam jalebis and thandi thandi kulfi.

 

My Hindi vocabulary is small and selective so I may not have captured all the nuances of her romantic fantasy. Paro is the daughter of local bigwig Chaudhary Charanjit Singh and is out of Shiva’s league.

No one wants these youngsters to get together and this leads into not entirely boring Romeo and Juliet territory. I was concerned the snake theme may dissipate, but Shiva uses snakes as part of his courtship ritual which was an interesting approach. Paro can’t stop thinking about him, his snake, and possibly those jalebis and so love blooms.

They’re so young! So pretty! He’s in a floral blouse!

Romance blossoms despite Paro’s father arranging attacks on Shiva using black sorcery, beatings and guns.

 

Of course, merely locking Shiva in his room cannot keep them apart, not while clever snake Naga Raj is there to unlock the door.

Shiva’s people want to keep him away from Paro too as they can see she is trouble for their boy.

Shiva and Paro scamper around the forest looking like the poster children for young love and carefree premarital fumbling.

Until the revelation that Paro has been married since she was 3 years old to some unseen Rajput scion. Guess who that boy was? Sigh. Shiva has to perform at her wedding (oh the tragedy!) before Paro is sent to live a widow’s (I’m guessing the widow bit as she wore white, no sindoor, and cried non-stop so it was quite funereal anyway) life at her in-laws and mopes around a lot.

Note: Re the village belle –  Despite her clothing usually erring on the correct side of the fabric to flesh ratio for a snake, she does fail other snake tests and is a Fake Snake.

Anyway Paro’s change of address propels Shiva back to his family home and into Snake Queen territory. He does a lot of pining and trying to lure Paro out with his snake music, which is just asking for trouble.

Naga Raj saves his human from the Snake Queen which made me wonder about the Snake Code and what did a snake have to do for other snakes to turn against it, and did they have to show just cause if they were opposing a more powerful creature?  And also, what were her responsibilities towards lesser snakes? Was she justified in attacking them? It raised so many questions.

I did like this song where the Snake Queen impersonates Juhi, but is caught out by her excessive accessories (compared to the pristine white of the real Paro). She misses a couple of easy bites. I really had to question this whole selective bite placement thing that filmi snakes seem to have.

It emerges that the uncle snake charmer knows Shiva’s real identity. Shiva’s father rejects the idea as some attempt at magic although I wondered if that was really to protect his son given that the vengeful snake was likely to still be around. All unaware of this peril, Shiva and Paro return to the forest and I think they sort of get married. Wedding rituals in the snake charmer village seemed quite straightforward, and there was a robust approach to courtship. Basically, if you can catch your person and subdue them, you’re as good as married.

Having set Naga Raj to wait outside (after a bit of a chat about the privacy required on one’s wedding night), Aamir and Juhi are alone. He does lots of nuzzling and she looks like she has passed out. But the Snake Queen takes the opportunity to attack.

 

Can Shiva’s magical powers save Paro? Will there be flying snakes? Will it involve a ritual both very silly and slightly icky? Will someone go up in a ball of flames? Will people just learn how to get along? What do you think? (If you really have to know, I can’t help you thanks to Shemaroo – who don’t care enough to release decent quality DVDs but will stop you watching this on youtube. Sigh)

This is not a good film but I was entertained enough and don’t regret the time spent. I can’t say that for every film I see! Tahir Hussain hasn’t created a masterpiece but he has made a pretty solid snake revenge romance. The soundtrack by Anand-Milind is pleasant, and there is some nicely energetic dancing. And you know, Aamir, Juhi and those snakes. 2 ½ stars!