Sweta Naagu

Sweta Naagu was initially mentioned in a comment (thanks mm) and the idea of a film featuring a specially trained white snake was intriguing. Sadly though, it’s a fairly average snake movie that suffers from a surfeit of ideas which all muddle together to make a rather dull film. There are however a few good snakey moments and a rather memorable snake dance so it is worth adding in to the Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival.

The film starts with Madhumati (Soundarya) handing in her thesis on snakes to her professor. I have to say she wouldn’t get very far with her thesis at my university – where are the three bound copies with the title on the side – hm? At any rate Dr Parthasarathi seems very impressed by her work as she has investigated snakes as, well, snakes, rather than as mystical powerful beings.

Madhumati is very much the scientist, pouring scorn on her mother as she celebrates the Nagachaturthi festival and is dismissive of her mother’s ideals and beliefs. So naturally Madhumati is appalled when she sees a TV interview with Dr Parthasarathi, where he discusses his belief in the divinity of snakes. Shocked, she confronts him and demands an explanation. The best he can come up with though is a ‘personal versus professional opinion’ argument which is really rather weak. He does become more decisive later on, but the initial impression isn’t one of a confident and scholarly ophiologist. Instead he comes across as patronising and smug, and to add to his general ineptness, he can’t draw snakes!

Madhumati says that she will believe in the divinity of snakes only if she has hard evidence. So her professor tells her about the sacred texts called the Nagashastras which contain all the evidence she wants, although how he knows this is rather questionable since these Nagashastras are hidden somewhere in the Kollimalai forests and no-one who went looking has ever returned. Madhumati is on a quest though, and determines that she will be the one to find the Nagashastras and maybe get a better grade in her thesis as a result.

Once in the forest Madhumati is immediately and rather fortuitously captured by the tribe that have the Nagashastras in their keeping. They are snake worshippers and have a chief who believes in the power of animal print fabric.

The sacred texts are guarded by a snake which for some reason seems to approve of Madhumati despite her attempts to get her hands on the texts and her often stated belief that snakes are just reptiles. The guardian snake appears to Madhumati in human form to warn her that it is in her best interests to leave as soon as possible. We know from jenni’s excellent guide as soon as Madhumati opens the door that Vaasukhi is a snake since she has the required less clothing and oodles of eye make-up. However, just in case we were a bit slow to catch on (like Madhumati) the hair is a bit of a give away.

With this sign of favour from the local goddess, Madhumati is able to stay and continue her attempts to steal the Nagashastras. As a bit of a diversion, there is a strange tradition in the village that for any man to marry a woman he has to be able to beat her in a wrestling match. This gives us the only fight scenes in the film which are between local girl Chevandi and her suitors. Chief among these is Singam who finally does succumb to her kicks and body slams, recovering in time to be able to get married. This involves a ceremony at the Nagashetram where we first get to see the white snake as it blesses the happy couple.

After the party a swami shows up and determines to prove to Madhumati that her belief in practicality and facts is misplaced despite her total rejection of him. He brings the white snake to him with his powers and Madhumati is suitably impressed. However as she steps out of his sacred circle, the snake suddenly turns and spits blue venom at her, which sets a small tree on fire. This rather disturbs her, although it seems to be more the personal attack that she is shocked by rather than incendiary venom. We learn by flashback that in a previous life, Madhumati killed a snake and the white snake now wants revenge. The swami gives her a sacred thread to protect her from utter calamity, which sounds rather useful until, as events unfold, we realise that perhaps his idea of utter calamity isn’t quite the same as Madhumati’s.

After trying to set her on fire, the snake next tries to woo Madhumati and turns up in a dream sequence/snake dance ‘item number’ as a Freddie Mercury clone in tight white singlet and red track-pants before changing into gold lame and black pleather. We know he is the snake as he has blue contact lenses and iridescent clothing as, but he’s just not very snake-like otherwise. The backing dancers however show great dedication to the art of the snake dance and are actually pretty good if not totally co-ordinated.

Before the dream sequence can lead to anything untoward, Madhumati is called back to the city. Here, the snake starts to truly plot revenge, appearing to her in the guise of her fiancée and popping up in unlikely places around the house. Since this leads to Madhumati crying and yelling ‘snake!’ every few minutes her family eventually take her to see a psychiatrist. His useful diagnosis is that she will be fine if she gets married and has something else to think about. Can it get any more ridiculous? Yes – at this point the white snake gate crashes the engagement and ends up killing Madhumati’s pet dog, while Pravin’s family disown him for allying himself with a woman who doesn’t believe in the divinity of snakes. As a final stroke of genius, the professor organises a conference where Madhumati can tell the world about her experiences and reveal the true nature of snakes – as spelt out below.

Snake are however vindictive, vengeful and able to impersonate anyone, so the white snake is able to totally derail the conference. There is then no other option but for Madhumati and her family to head back to the forest and find the helpful swami to solve the problem once and for all.

There are just too many ideas in here and as a result the plot gets messy and confusing. Writer Lalla Devi seems to want to add in as many snake film clichés as possible and it just doesn’t work. If the film had stuck to either a single reason for snake revenge or a science vs. divinity plot it might have made more sense, but the combination just doesn’t have a clear path to follow.

Soundarya is the best thing about the film, and she really works hard to make her character as convincing as possible. Abbas plays the role of Soundarya’s fiancée Pravin and is good when he actually has something to do. But his character has only a very small role and he tends to be overshadowed by Soundarya when they are on screen together. Jaya Prakash is fine as the village chief and seems to enjoy his role while Sarath Babu does what he can with the rather stupid professor.

There are some good lines in the film about science and divinity but they get obscured by the muddle of a plot. Also annoying and totally unnecessary is a comedy track involving the family cook and a thief who stole the cook’s money. This does at least provide a reason for Madhumati to have an escort to the forest but otherwise is just distracting. There is also a comedy scene with Brahmi during the snake conference which again doesn’t add anything to the plot and could very easily have been skipped. The side story with the romance between Chevandi and Singam is one which does work relatively well, but gets cut short, again to accommodate yet more unfunny comedy. The romance between Madhumati and Pravin is also skipped over very quickly and more detail of their relationship would have helped to explain why he was willing to defy his family over her. If only they’d concentrated more on the human relationships of the main characters and less on the comedy side-kicks this would have been a much more engaging film.

The effects generally work and the final face off between the white snake and the village snake goddess is a reasonable conclusion, although it’s still just a bit dull. The white snake is unusual though and it’s a nice change to have a snake seeking revenge as a man. Sweta Naagu gets 2 ½ stars, mainly for Soundarya and the white cobra.

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!

Punnami Naagu (1980)

Punnami Naagu is almost two films in one. It’s as though someone took a deck of cards marked ‘happy animal friends’ and shuffled it with the deck marked ‘a nagin stole my soul’ and voila!  It was an excellent opportunity to apply the principles in Jenni’s Field Guide.  Apologies for the crappy screencaps – the DVD picture is really grainy. And I didn’t have subtitles so I may have made the whole story up.

A local snake charmer uses his snake coercing powers to kill a priest after he had stopped the snake charmer raping a girl. The priest seems to make some dying invocation or curse, and leaves his young son an orphan.

The priest’s son is adopted by the landlord, and I think god sends an elephant to look after him. The elephant is very maternal, making sure Raju eats and washes regularly. It’s all very family friendly and sweet. When Raju moves in with the landlord, naturally his elephant moves in to the luxurious mansion too, and they grow accustomed to the good life. I would have had seizures looking at that decor, but apparently elephants rise above such things.

Meanwhile the snake charmer is in less happy circumstances, and his son Naagulu is growing up unaware of the curse that will take over his life. The father is feeding Naagulu snake venom in his food to help him become immune to snake bites, and he is being trained to take up the family business. It is lucky he is immune as his snake handling is a bit cavalier – I’m pretty sure they could fang you through a hessian sack. Nevertheless.

Naagulu’s heavily pregnant aunt has an animal helper of her own – a very useful monkey that assists with laundry and has exceptional empathy and communication skills along with basic midwifery knowledge. When little Laxmi is born, all the main players are set for the drama which is to unfold.

It’s a standard boy woos girl story, as Raju and Laxmi flirt and fight and make up, all under the watchful and slightly exasperated gaze of their animal friends who also help to patch up fights and carry messages. There is dodgy dancing, Narasimha Raju has an exceedingly voluminous coiff, the elephant and monkey are smarter than the humans, and that storyline is all quite cutesy. Laxmi (Rati Agnihotri) is bright and confident, their courtship is energetic and they get all the upbeat songs. Raju’s costumes are entertaining even without a story to go along with – Could his collars have been any bigger, his pants any higher? It’s kind of fun, especially a song and dance involving the couple wearing each other’s clothes. Laxmi does not fit any of the clothing or eyeliner indicators, so I suspected the snake thing skipped her side of the family.

But. The dark side of the film starts to emerge.

Chiranjeevi as grown up Naagulu is unaware that he is slowly becoming more snake than human. There are some annoying comedy snake charmers on the scene, and they perform with a troupe which includes a spectacularly flexible snake dancer in a bejewelled bodysuit. Naagulu berates the performers for using the gift as entertainment. He may not know why,  but he cannot control his response to the snake music. It was easy to pick the real snake here, bedazzled Fake Snake notwithstanding.

As his hormones kick in, the lust aspect of the snake character takes over when the moon is full. So it’s a bad idea when Naagulu falls for Raju’s sister Menaka after saving her from a rampaging roaring bovine. I applaud the enthusiasm if not the ability of whoever did the voiceover for the animal – I have never heard a cow go “Grrrr-aaaaaargh” nor have I heard one oink like a pig so I was very impressed. Menaka manages to be quite saucy even when barely conscious and Naagulu was smitten.

This can’t end well, what with Naagulu being lethal and all. He lures young ladies to a lonely spot, where it is always night and swirling with mysterious mists, and the venom contained in his bodily fluids is fatal to them. They are mesmerised by his snake gaze (blue contact lenses – tick!) and don’t seem to notice his odd mannerisms that echo some snake behaviours. In his human state he has no recollection of these interludes.

Back in Raju’s storyline, Naagulu’s father repeatedly stomps on a baby snake and the local snake deity eyes him with a vengeful glare. Duelling snakes ensue as Naagulu’s dad tries to kill Raju with his snake, and the deity pursues the snake charmer with eventual success.  Naagulu’s dad delivers a deathbed monologue which seems to include telling his son that he can never marry as he will poison any woman he sleeps with. This revelation came a bit late for poor Menaka.

Naagulu inherits a book that seems to explain his condition, but now he knows what he is there is no one to help him. Naagulu is devastated by what is happening to his body. His eyes change to those blue contacts, his skin is shedding, and he seems to be in agony as he sees these familiar but totally inhuman changes. And that’s what makes this a bit more interesting than I expected. It’s a strong performance in what started out looking like a fairly silly film. There is more to Naagulu than just the killing and being venomous, and Chiranjeevi shows the transition from carefree boy falling in love to tormented soul.

A new school teacher arrives in the village, and takes a photo of Naagulu that later proves his undoing. He offers to guide her to the village but the sun sets and his cobra nature asserts itself. When Raju sees the significant photo he confronts Naagulu. There is no real outcome, just a scuffle and then everything goes back to normal. I was struck by another snake indicator – venom. During the fight, Chiru bit a chunk out of a tree, which then appeared to ooze blue ink. Both he and Narasimha Raju looked a bit taken aback by that, as was I. Another thing the book clearly neglected to mention was hunting technique. Naagulu keeps trying to bite Raju’s neck, when I suspect a nip at the fingers that were pushing at his face might have been just as lethal.

Despite the rising body count, Raju and Laxmi are still flirting madly and Raju doesn’t seem to be too concerned about all the deaths. But then Naagulu is drawn to his cousin Laxmi and it all becomes much more dangerous.

Luckily Laxmi’s monkey Anji has a reliable mongoose supply and the peril is averted.

This scene was so strange – on the one hand very silly with a mongoose being thrown at Chiru’s face repeatedly as he emoted fiercely, but also a strong defining point in the character’s transition from troubled man to snake.

Naagulu makes an unsuccessful attempt at assaulting a blind girl – she couldn’t see his mesmerising gaze so escaped. Raju and a mob of villagers with flaming torches (led by the elephant) are soon on his trail. Naagulu reveals he cannot control the snake and has become a monster even to himself. Raju cannot help but feel sorry for him and tries to help. But what monster ever gets a happy ever after? And seriously, could Raju’s collars be ANY bigger?

Rajasekhar’s film gave  a bit more food for thought than I was expecting. The Raju-Laxmi romance was sunny and a good contrast to the Naagulu story. The animals seemed fairly un-stressed, with the exception of the spring loaded mongoose and the sacrificial snake, and their antics were highly entertaining if predictable.  It’s a strange mix but overall, I really enjoyed the characters, the unusual story, and the general WTFery. The only thing missing was a Chiru snake dance. 3 stars!