Nagadevathe (2000)

nagadevathe-poster

Sai Prakash’s 2000 film Nagadevathe is snakecentric, packed with special effects, and Soundarya and Prema are more than capable of shouldering the lead roles. The film is available on Youtube in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu so you can choose your own adventure without subtitles, and it has also been dubbed into Hindi under the title Naag Shakti.

The story as I believe it to be goes something like this. Gauri is regarded as a bad luck omen in her village, possibly just because she is barren. She and her husband offer hospitality to Shiva and Parvati who are pretending to be travellers. The gods tell Gauri why she is infertile – she accidentally killed a clutch of snake eggs and has been cursed. But they tell her how to stop them from continuing to punish her. Soon after, Gauri discovers she is pregnant. A difficult labour nearly ends badly but a glowing mystical snake appears and turns into Nagamma (Soundarya), who ensures a safe birth. There is a backstory involving a man who foolishly kills a snake and is cursed, his household goods transforming to snake mounds. He and his family do penance and after giving the deceased snake a proper funeral, his home is restored. Nagamma moves in to the termite hill to keep an eye on them or something. A shrine is built around the main snake mound and over time, more and more people come to pay their respects to the snake goddess. Nagalakshmi is born to be a devotee of Nagamma, and they have quite a warm and personal bond right from Nagalakshmi’s birth. Grown up Nagalakshmi (Prema) meets Shivaji (Sai Kumar) and love blossoms. There is some kind of conflict between their families and I couldn’t work out if it was an old feud, the rich boy poor girl thing, or just garden variety mother (deliberately turning her son into an evil possessed snake) issues. Nagamma tries to protect her favourite humans, and they could all benefit from some better decision making. Things get worse before they can get better, and the effects team are kept busy with magical healings, snake assists, helpful talking parrots, attack vultures, heaven, hell and the kitchen sink.

I enjoy the snake film genre for a few reasons. Often the female characters are more prominent and powerful or more nuanced, or both, and that makes me happy. There is usually a pervading sense of right in the film’s world as the snakes are able to enact justice that is missing for the masses. Snakes may act out of common sense or compassion, unlike many non-magical humans. Snakes are alert to every opportunity to get their groove on, with varying degrees of success along the scale from Jeetendra to Sri Devi. And the outfits are frequently a bit special. On many levels, from the very shallow to only slightly less shallow, Nagadevathe delivers.

I think Soundarya is lovely and in this film she maintains an air of benevolent authority in even the most trying times. Given that she often only has her face to act with (the rest of her having been replaced by a giant CGI snake), she does very well.

In one scene reminiscent of Ammoru, Nagalakshmi has summoned guests to eat at a special pooja. They are turned back by the Evil In-Laws but Nagamma calls on her sister deities to come along. She gets the undivided attention of the effects and saree teams as she personifies water, wind, earth, fire and more.

I admit to some disappointment that despite a most excellent spangly body suit, the obligatory “nagin assailed by been-wielding baddies” scene resulted in a disappointing dance. More like she was rolling around on the floor looking for a lost (blue) contact lense at times.

I liked Prema a lot in Devi, and her performance is solid. She has a flirty but down to earth tone with Sai Kumar, and a nice rapport with Soundarya. Prema is tall and elegant looking but has an energy that lends equally well to comedy and romantic shenanigans. Nagalakshmi has the strength and faith to stay on task and Prema really showed the power and intensity of her determination as well as her softer side. I could see why the snakes would want to chip in at her wedding. She was a good friend and fundamentally nice without being a pushover. Nagalakshmi knows what’s what and once she finds out the truth of her situation she takes steps to protect her loved ones and engage some divine assistance to sort out the problem. I recalled musing on the toxicity of Chiru’s bodly fluids in Punnami Nagu, and Shivaji also appears to have a lethal, um, bite. I have never been so glad to see so many silly interruptions of a wedding night.

Sai Kumar is Shivaji. He seems so nice and yet… When his snake nature dominates he is predatory and poisonous. Now I was confused as to how a snake goddess could be unaware her favourite disciple was marrying a serial killer faux snake, but maybe there are cosmic rules about that kind of snake-by-venomous-inoculation. Shivaji was unaware of his snakey activities and oblivious to the black magic worshipping going on around him. Nagalakshmi was often in peril and I was quite worn out from yelling at the screen for her husband to either wake up to himself or to get away from her. I’m more used to seeing Sai Kumar as a villain or an elder statesman so seeing him as a romantic lead was novel. Even if the effects team did seem to take too much pleasure in distorting his face into a snakelike mask.

The support cast includes stalwarts Babu Mohan, Tanikella Bharani, and other familiar faces doing familiar shtick. I couldn’t put names to all the faces but I was largely able to place which characters were Good and which were Not Good.

I did get a little confused at times since without the benefit of subtitles, I rely on the visual cues. Thankfully the signs are generally clear and umabiguous. Nagamma’s arch enemy is an evil mystic who favours an eagle motif and prances about in a shiny red outfit with a fluttering black cape. I liked that his cape was attached to the sleeves of his onesie as that helped ensure some vigorous and character appropriate flapping. The effects team worked themselves into a lather of laser eyes, snake shaped shadows, nasty afflictions, sparkly things, space monsters and of course giant multi-headed cosmic snakes.

Some key scenes are very similar to ones from Devi (1999) or even Ammoru (1995). Although this time around Prema was not the cosmic snake, and Soundarya was the powerful goddess. The story is laden with a bit of everything and the commitment to the theme is unquestionable. I can’t say the commitment to logic is equal.

See this if you like to see competent actresses take centre stage and if you enjoy a bit of a spectacle en route to a good comeuppance. 3 ½ stars!

Advertisements

Filmi Snake Spotter’s Field Guide

We are delighted to have a special guest post for Liz’s Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival by BollyWhat’s resident snake fancier, jenni.

THE ILLUSTRATED FILMI SNAKE SPOTTER’S FIELD GUIDE

If you have ever seen the film Nagin (1976) you will know what I mean.  That is, that you are really much better off if you can identify a vengeful snake, before you are…well….dead.

If only they had been able to access my handy Snake Spotter’s Field Guide.

 original photograph located at  http://www.flickr.com/photos/dramaqueennorma/122105967/

Introduction

In this guide we will illustrate only a small sample of the many hundreds of filmi snake species featured in subcontinental movies, but sufficient, we hope, to show enough of those commonly spotted varieties, and a selection of rarities, to satisfy the beginner and excite the specialist.

Habitat

We have concentrated on snakes that are hardy enough to have tolerated subtitling and You Tube exposure.  The filmi snakes in this Guide are restricted to the DVD and VCD habitats.   Those filmi snakes only found on videotape and 18mm film are extremely rare and outside the scope of this particular guide.  Indeed, VCD snakes are often difficult to glimpse and are dwindling in numbers to the extent that some may even be endangered.  This is due to years of neglect and the gradual encroachment upon, and degradation of, their natural environment.

Methodology

The following observations are based on extensive work in the field and hours of YouTube research.  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.

Instructions:

It is a simple case of frequency.  The more of the following identifying characteristics present in any film, the more likely you are to have bagged yourself a filmi snake!

 

General Filmi Snake Identifying Characteristics

1. Sex

Most important filmi snakes are female.  Male filmi snakes are generally underrepresented and play a comparatively small role in the proceedings.

2.  Actors

If the actor is an item girl (or even an actor who has repeatedly appeared in item numbers), the likelihood of that person being a snake is increased.

3.  Clothing:

a.  Amount of clothing

It is particularly the case in post 70’s movies, that more of a  ‘reverse proportionate’  factor in clothing increases the likelihood of the wearer of said clothing being a snake.  i.e.  the less, and more skanky, the clothing the more likely the wearer is to be a snake.  This appears to be a rapidly developing characteristic of the filmi snake, likely a genetic evolutionary response set in motion to impede the threat of extinction.

b.  Style of clothing

(i)  Female:  Body hugging attire is generally favoured by filmi snakes, therefore traditional south Indian sari tying styles or short half saris are often seen.

In more western style garb they are not averse to a body suit.

(ii)  Male:  Fairy tale princely garb often involving some kind of tunic, puffy shirt or ruffles are often found in the male of the species in the north of the subcontinent.

Southern males appear to prefer the body hugging styles of their female counterparts.

c.  Jewellery

Snakes are, by and large, nicely accessorised.  In human form one has to forego scales which have a natural glitter and sheen, and frequent attempts are made by filmi snakes to replicate this characteristic.  This is generally achieved with either metallic fabric, or substantial amounts of jewellery.

d.  Headwear

Most snakes appear to have headwear, ranging from

(i)  Everyday Use Headdress: a more subtle form (although still often elaborate from a human perspective) often daywear, frequently features a simple cobra head, usually in gold (often a give-away this one).

(ii)  Big Night Out or Ceremonial Headgear. Most snakes appear to have elaborate and bejewelled headwear for special occasions.

(iii) Confrontational Headgear:  Even more elaborate and intimidating than ceremonial headgear. As in their reptilian form, (e.g. cobra hood), this serves to make them appear more impressive and sexually desirable, more commanding and important, or just more threatening.

4.  Eyes

a.  The more eyeliner that is worn, the more likely that the wearer of said eyeliner is in fact a snake.  Heavy application of eyeliner cannot be underestimated as a hot spot indicator for the filmi snake spotting novice.

b.  Coloured contact lenses are currently popular in the filmi snake community.  There appears to be an evolutionary factor to this characteristic, in that the widespread availability of coloured contact lenses has only occurred since the mid 1980’s.

c. The “I am a snake experiencing murderous thoughts and I mean business”  Look.  Often, The Look will be highlighted with a lurid coloured camera lens filter for extra impact.  Sadly, if you are only recognising the snake at this point, you do not have much longer to live.  However, if you can identify this look when it is directed at others you still have a chance, not only of accurate filmi snake identification, but to execute a hasty exit.

5. Habitat

a.  If the said scantily dressed woman is out late at night in an isolated and often forested place, there is an increased chance that she is a snake.

b.  If there is a snake charmer/holy man present with a bedazzled snake charmer’s pipe (been), it is likely that a filmi snake is nearby.  If said snake pipe is being played, the chance a snake is likely to be revealed soon, is high (see Sound).

c.  Actual snakes or snake houses in the frame increase the likelihood of a genuine filmi snake sighting.

d.  Likewise, an environment filled with snake statues is generally a dead giveaway.

e.  (i)  The Jeetendra Effect 1 – Jeetendra Proper:    For reasons unknown Jeteendra’s presence in any film increases the chance of an appearance by a filmi snake.

(ii) The Jeetendra Effect 2 – Munchausen’s Jeetendra:  Sometimes even a Jeetendra look alike will serve this function (e.g. Naag Muni).

6.  Snake (Been) Music

Snake music appears to serve a number of functions and consequently has a complex relationship with the snakes themselves.  Essentially, snake music can provide a state of ecstatic release and abandon for the snake while in human form, through the medium of dance, albeit only briefly  (for more on Snake Dancing see Activity, part b).  Whilst initially snake music can liberate the snake from the confines of the human form, if this state is maintained for too long, or with sufficient intensity, all vestiges of the human state will be shed and the snake will revert to their inner reptilian nature and eventually, their reptilian form.

Reaction to snake music is not always helpful in discriminating filmi snakes from filmi humans in that both snakes and humans will typically experience strong reactions.  It is the underlying reason for the reactivity, however, that is the singular determinant in accurate identification.  Snake music is often cacophonous to human hearing so they will often cover their ears as a deterrent to an adverse auditory stimulus.  Snakes however, though they might also attempt to mitigate the auditory stimulus, have an adverse reaction only because the snake music in the presence of humans renders their camouflage ineffective and therefore exposes them to increased environmental threat. This is because, as previously mentioned, prolonged exposure, particularly at the hands of a trained professional (i.e. sadhu or another snake), can force any snake in human form back to its reptilian state.

Despite the complexities of the interaction between snakes and their music, for the purpose of snake identification the following is a given: If there is snake music, there are generally snakes.

6.  Activity

a.  A snake orchestra usually indicates that filmi snakes are nearby.

b.  Snake dancing provides a reasonable likelihood of a filmi snake sighting in many instances, as long as the following provisos, contraindications, and cautions are observed:

(i) Proviso

Snake devotees rather than the snakes themselves perform a number of snake dances.  These can generally be distinguished by their comparative lack of eyeliner and relatively modest attire.

(ii)  Contra-indication

For the beginner, an oft-made mistake is the misidentification of women emerging from wicker baskets being real snakes.  Although snakes in their reptile form will often perform for human audiences in a wicker basket under contract to snake charmers, snakes in human form will generally not, and if they do, it is usually only as a ruse.  The tradition of women emerging from wicker baskets draws heavily upon both snake myth and stereotype.  These snake charlatans are generally involved in the entertainment industry and bear nothing more than a passing resemblance to the real filmi snake.  At most this is a symbolic plot device to illustrate an underlying jealous or vengeful nature on the part of the character. Otherwise known as the Snakeus Imposterus or, more commonly, Fake Snake.

Snakes love dancing. Genuine snake dancing most commonly can be categorised into five major categories (there are also minor categories beyond the scope of this guide).  An illustrative example for each category is provided.

1. Discovering Your Inner Snaky Nature dance.

When snakes have been reared with humans, they are sometimes unaware of their inner reptilian nature.  Snake music at maturity will allow these naïve snakes to touch their inner nature and sexuality, eliciting both a sense of freedom and power, sometimes conflicted with a great deal of associated confusion and fear (similar in some ways to the experience of human adolescence).

2.  Mating dance.

Can take the form of either an anticipatory mating/attracting the mate or an actual mating dance with the partner.

3.  Work dance.

Either undertaken in royal snake courts, temples, or (usually in snake form) in conjunction with snake charmers for mostly human audiences.

4. Hunting dance.

This dance has the sole purpose of attracting prey (this skilled re-enactment rather than actual footage is provided for illustrative purposes, given that the actual dance is rarely witnessed – at least by someone who lives to show the video evidence).

5.  Confrontational dance.

May occur when the snake is directly under threat and may involve transformations from human, to reptilian nature revealed but still in human form, to entirely reptilian form.

General Cautionary Afterword

The previous are general guidelines, and for every guideline there is an exception.  Snake spotting can be a dangerous activity so it is best to always maintain a state of being alert (though not alarmed).

It is hoped that this guide enhances both the accuracy and safety of your Sssnake Ssspotting experience.