Sadly Nanjupuram doesn’t actually feature a man with raised blue veins waist deep in snakes, which is rather disappointing since I did originally pick up the film on the basis of the cover. But what it lacks in blue-veined men, it does make up for in snakes. Bucket-loads of snakes in fact. There are snakes everywhere in the village where the story is set, and it’s also surrounded by a snake-infested forest which ensures that no-one ever leaves. Or at least I think that’s the reason since this was another ‘adventure without subtitles’ and personally I’d think twice before venturing anywhere near the place!
The story starts out with some long explanation, presumably about why the neighbourhood is such a snake haven, but does manage to convey that the locals revere the snakes and worship them rather than just moving to a more congenial neighbourhood. Despite all the snake worship, it seems to be acceptable to kill them, just as long as they get a proper burial afterwards. However, the big bad is to injure a snake and then let it escape. Snakes are apparently not known for their forgiving nature and (judging by the opening scenes where a snake rips out an eye in graphic detail – awesome!) they’re pretty good at the whole eye for an eye revenge scenario.
Our hero Velu (Raaghav) doesn’t seem too bothered by the ever-present snakes and even battles through the forest to get some classic witch-doctor style attention for one of the village girls when she is bitten. There’s no real explanation as to why he takes such a different view from his father and the rest of the village, but then again logic has no place in a snake movie anyway!
Velu is in love with Malar but since she is lower caste their romance is frowned upon by both Velu’s father (Nareyn) and Malar’s mother. Malar’s mother sells goat meat and their skins for a living but also moonlights as the mistress of the local headman (Thambi Ramayya). There is general tension between the upper and lower castes in the village and while the headman is happy to have a mistress from a lower caste, in public he abuses both her and her daughter. Velu’s father has a more charitable approach but still doesn’t want his son to have anything to do with a lower caste girl.
The first half of the film sets up the romance between Velu and Malar although the threat of the local snake population is never far away. Raghaav is good as the young and somewhat reckless man in love, although his terrible hair makes him look more sleazy than romantic when he is chasing after Malar. In fact I was prepared to hate Raghaav after the first dreadful song where he tries much too hard to be cool and raps his way through a number that has absolutely nothing to do with the story. But as the film went on he actually won me over – terrible hair and all – so he seems to be a better actor than his choice of film would suggest. Monica is also excellent as the somewhat naive Malar, and her role gives her a character with plenty to get her teeth into.
The second half of the film changes pace from romance to suspense when Velu injures a snake, and has to face the consequences of letting it escape. Despite his apparent disbelief in such things, Velu is sent by his family to live in a hut set on top of some long poles surrounded by a deep trench, since the local pundits have decreed that if he can stay out of reach of the snake for forty days he will be safe. The whole village is involved with some enterprising souls even selling snacks to the crowd as Velu ascends to his temporary haven.
The hut is an interesting concept but seems doomed to failure since Velu keeps popping back to ground level to meet up with Malar and the ever-present snake stalking the couple seems to ensure that we’re not heading for a happy ending. One of the more entertaining aspects of the film is to spot the lurking snake which is nearly always there somewhere!
Velu starts to hallucinate snakes everywhere which to be honest probably wasn’t really necessary since we’ve already seen that there actually are snakes absolutely everywhere in the village. However Raghaav is impressive and believable as a man slowly starting to mentally disintegrate although the reason for his breakdown isn’t at all clear. I’m assuming that the impetus was the strain of his prohibited relationship with Malar and the threat of snaky revenge which only hit when he lost his protective talisman but it seemed to be completely opposite to all the character development in the first half of the film.
Not content with acting in the film Raghaav was also the music director and composed some of the music. Apart from the first song which doesn’t fit the film at all, the rest suit the village flavour and are generally well placed in the narrative, although none are particularly memorable. The film tries to mix social commentary with psychological thriller but ultimately fails to connect with either genre, despite the best efforts of director Charles and good performances from all the cast. The physical threat of the snakes which started off so well loses impact when they become more illusionary and conversely all the tension that builds up with the hallucinations is lost when real snakes start attacking again. It’s never particularly thrilling despite the presence of an apparently unending supply of snakes and by the end I was hoping that the injured snake would finally catch up to Velu and exact some spectacular revenge. Sadly that wasn’t the case, but I do think that a few good snake bites and Velu turning blue-veined and snakey would have improved the climax immensely.
The caste issue probably would have worked better if I had been able to understand the dialogue, but it seemed to be the standard rich boy, poor girl and parental opposition. There were a few new twists, particularly in the development of Velu and Malar’s relationship that did make the romance more realistic and in particular made Malar’s character appear more natural, but the story still seems clichéd and predictable. Even with the addition of snakes!
Overall a film worth watching if you like your snake movies with a dash of realism (but only a small dash) and prefer to see plenty of snakes au naturel rather than morphing into human avatars to seek their revenge. It’s not terrible, and the performances are good, but a bit more attention to the story development would have helped. I give this film 2 ½ stars but will add an extra star just for the sheer number of snakes and the fact that writer/director Charles managed to get a snake into almost every scene! 3 ½ stars.