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.

Kshana Kshanam

RGV’s Kshana Kshanam opens with an intense robbery and chase that takes place in the dark of night. There is no dialogue in this episode, the visuals and the very dramatic score tell the story. Finally one bad guy kills another bad guy and takes the money… So far so good as my DVD doesn’t have subtitles. From this point on, I am making things up.

Satya (Sri Devi) works in an office, struggles with over sleeping, has a nosy neighbour, and seems to have her life sorted. Satya unknowingly picks up the left-luggage receipt for the robbery loot. When things go wrong for her, Sri Devi is excellent at showing her fraying nerves and building fear as well as a gritty determination. There’s a bit of crying and whining, but Satya retains some dignity (despite the wardrobe in some songs) and is a likeable girl who is way out of her comfort zone and trying desperately to get back to her old life. Sri Devi’s expressions and timing are brilliant, often very funny, and she conveys so much with her simple gestures and reactions. I like her so much as a feisty heroine.

Paresh Rawal is the villain Nayar. It was his gang that did the break and enter, and his man who has double crossed them all and taken off with the loot. Nayar is on the traitor’s trail, and will stop at nothing even if he has to kill his entire gang one by one. He is a psychopath who can sweetly ask his victim to tell the truth even as he is snapping the guy’s fingers. It’s an over the top performance (he has a high pitched giggle, a love of filmi tunes and a mad eyed stare) but Nayar is genuinely scary when it counts.

Nayar and the gang pursue Satya, and RGV really does know how to ratchet up the tension in the pursuit. A rowdy follows Satya to her apartment and is injured when she defends herself. He is finished off by an unseen colleague and Satya believes she killed him. She decides to run.

And runs into Chandu (Venkatesh). He is a thief, an occasional police impersonator, but smart and fundamentally decent within his own moral code. Chandu uses Satya to escape the police he thinks have come for him, and they go on the lam. They team up since everyone else is chasing them, although it takes some time for them to work out why. I really loved the sight of Sri Devi in the midst of the motorcycle chase demurely sitting sidesaddle behind Venky as he sped through the traffic! Venkatesh is convincing as both the charming trickster and the gutsy hero. He has a boyish quality that suits the lighter scenes and he attacks the action scenes with conviction. His mullet seems to adopt more or less volume depending on his mood.

They escape into the jungle. Chandu shows his decency by not looking up Satya’s skirt and she shows her city girl ways by freaking out at absolutely everything. Chandu looks concerned then perplexed and finally amused as Satya calls on God, bemoans her fate and worries about being killed by tigers.

He doesn’t bully or belittle her, but he can laugh at the situation. Each allows the other actor to shine, and it makes the romance seem more natural as they have low key but convincing chemistry. I also liked seeing that as the film progressed Satya used her initiative in taking the next steps in the relationship. It’s a nice element to balance the darker suspense storyline.

Satya is overcome by the beauty of the landscape and trills a song, only to be asked to sing something more ‘mass’. Naturally this leads to:

A fabulous way to maintain a covert presence, I’m sure. I like Venky’s lawn bowls hat. And I love the male backing dancers who really make it their own.

After running into Nayar in the jungle, they realise that Satya has something besides her good looks to make all these men pursue her. And I have to say, no one made any effort to be stealthy so I was not surprised Nayar found them, only at how long it took.  Chandu beats up the baddies, Inspector Yadav (Rami Reddy) and his police stumble onto the path and in the mayhem Chandu and Satya escape by stealing Nayar’s car.

Once back in the city they encounter Brahmi and do a spot of comedy shopping. Then the plan is to break into Satya’s apartment to retrieve the receipt. The break in was both suspenseful and slapstick, with cops and rowdies running up and down stairs, and Satya and Chandu narrowly evading all parties. The adversity really brings out their song and dance side, as there are several musical interludes which are mostly fun. I do have an issue with Chandu – THIS is how he dresses in his wealth fantasy song.

Sri Devi sang on the track but I don’t recommend you seek it out. It’s an aural and visual assault.

Satya wants to turn the receipt over to the police, Chandu wants to keep it, but once again Nayar’s gang are too close for comfort. Finally Chandu goes to collect the loot but nothing is that simple. The ending is impressively action packed and people get what they deserve.

Kshana Kshanam is visually compelling. The fast edits and angles in dramatic scenes created a sense of urgency and menace. There are cameras mounted in and under cars and on motorbikes which added a feeling of speed and the panic of the chase. The background score throughout is very dramatic and while it often helps set the mood, sometimes it was distracting. Think heavy percussion and strings, occasional 80s power guitar and a dash of jaunty brass. Some scenes relied on ambient sounds from the background action, others had just the score, some had a blend of both and the transitions could be abrupt. The sound was a bit off at times – one rowdy ran across a floor and sounded like 4 people tap dancing, and everyone seemed to have the same soles on their shoes. It was odd in a film that was so accomplished on a visual level and had such a well crafted story. The MM Keeravani songs are hit and miss, but generally fun to watch although the dancing is suspect at times. There is a definite sense of time inside the story, and I wondered how much of it was shot in sequence (songs aside) as it felt as though the scenes were really unfolding one after another.

I’m not a diehard RGV fan as I find when he is good he is very very good, but you know, then there’s RGV ki Aag. See this for a great cast in a well told story with a deft balance of action, humour and suspense. It certainly lived up to the title, as every second counted. 4 stars!

Heather says: I really love this film. It combines suspense and action with just enough romance and has the benefit of two very attractive leads. RGV keeps it simple and as a result the story moves along well and despite the lack of subtitles it’s compelling viewing. This is probably because the romance is left to take a back seat through most of the film, and the focus is firmly on the action. Both Sridevi and Venkatesh are equally important in these action scenes and Sridevi is no useless hand-wringing heroine but is quite capable of making her own decisions, disastrous at times though they may be.

There are some great lighting contrasts in the film which also frequently add to the atmosphere of menace. The opening scenes heighten the expectation of what is to follow as the lighting is dim and no-one’s face is totally clear. When RGV finally moves to introduce Satya, the change to bright light and the intimacy of her bedroom completely alters the mood. This introduction also serves to accentuate the difference in circumstance later on when Satya ends up sleeping rough in the jungle. It really doesn’t take long before Satya’s initial confusion and fear change to a determination to fight back and I think this is a very natural reaction for her character and also suits Sridevi very well.

Sridevi is absolutely gorgeous here and perfect in her characterisation. She is excellent as the scared girl on the run and even better as she sets out to solve the puzzle of why everyone is after her. The romance with Chandu also grows very naturally throughout the course of their adventure and there is good chemistry between Sridevi and Venkatesh. While I think Venkatesh is very good in his portrayal of the happy go lucky thief who gets pulled along for the ride, I do think he is somewhat overshadowed by Sridevi in their scenes together. However he is excellent during the fights and action sequences and looks good in the songs too, although his mullet is a little distracting at times. At least I can put this and his rather variable wardrobe down to the fact that this was filmed in the early 90’s which does explain a lot. Paresh Rawal is great as the villain and is totally over the top in his psychotic shifts from raving bad guy to being scared of heights and pushing his henchmen into danger first. Plus he has a great moustache. The only downside to this film is the lack of subtitles. I’ve been told that the dialogue is very good as well, so it’s a real shame that I haven’t been able to track down a subtitled copy, although I may have to eventually succumb to the Hindi dubbed version. Thanksto KB for the recommendation. 4 ½ stars from me.

SP Parasuram

My DVD collection has grown more through whim and serendipity than any clear acquisition strategy, and I don’t always come up with gold. This is not a quality film. It probably should be something I refer to as a guilty pleasure, but I feel no guilt! I just love it for its stars, the songs, the outfits, the action, the insane plot twists and the sheer style.

The villain of the piece (played by Sharat Saxena) makes, of all things, snuff films. I really wasn’t expecting that.

We have two girls drugged and abducted (one raped, both murdered), a confrontation between police and the murderer/rapist/blue film talent (Mahesh Anand seen  here in his fluffy pink dressing gown) and a further show down between SP Parasuram (Chiranjeevi) and Mahesh Anand resulting in the criminal being rendered comatose before the onlookers send Chiru on his way with a polite round of applause and he revs them up about social justice and eliminating corruption. That takes care of the first breathless 10 minutes. And the level of happenings rarely drops for the rest of the film.

SP Ram Parasuram is the righteous cop with a wicked temper, and our hero. Sri Devi is Kumari, a petty con artist and thief. When Kumari is arrested, she spins a colourful tale to escape her cell. Luckily for us, the design team were on fire when they came up with this!

Ram lives with his father, brother and sister in a fabulously decorated mansion and seems to be the bossy one in the family. Kumari breaks in to steal from her persecutor, and perhaps to get an eyeful of this:

Her outfits are also quite eyecatching.

I love this song mostly because I get to see Chiru wearing a Koala print jumper. Maybe he was thinking about his Australian fan base or maybe it’s all the wardrobe guy could find.  The ankle boots, black socks and high baggy pants are not so pleasing, but it was the 90s…And Sri Devi didn’t fare any better.

The romance and action intersect when the blue film gang kidnap Kumari who escapes and runs into the only man she can trust. She can identify the gang so there is a lot of interest in shutting her up. A murder attempt renders her blind and temporarily safe as a blind woman is not perceived as a threat. If only they knew as much as I do about incredible filmi medicine they wouldn’t be so sanguine! What with providing security and seeing her and her orphans, Chiru falls under Sri Devi’s spell and they marry. It’s a quick process, as she is still bandaged around her head on the wedding day.

There are double crosses and betrayals all over the place, and a hefty dollop of tension as characters come so close to their doom and yet don’t quite succumb. A corrupt subordinate with a grudge (Devaraj as the sleazy Rayappa) gains advancement and Ram has to put duty ahead of personal desire. His trials don’t end there, but our hero is indomitable, using his precise manners as a weapon. Chiru almost draws blood just with the word ‘Sir’. Circumstances are manipulated to humiliate and undermine him but Parasuram never falters in his dedication although his temper is put to the test. There is some joy in his life as his marriage to Kumari is clearly happy and loving. But joy can be turned to pain and of course the baddies have another shot at eliminating the one witness that could potentially destroy them.

A poisoning attempt (spoiler – it’s unsuccessful), miraculous surgery and a the presence of a gang member in the household keep the drama dialled up to HIGH.

There is also a fabulous dishooming with a shoe when Parasuram is pushed too far. The final blood sweat and tear soaked bone-snapping showdown involves a runaway train and an impressive array of stuntmen flying through the air crying ‘Heeeaaaargh’. So much happens in this film!

I love Chiranjeevi and Sri Devi so seeing them together is just wonderful. I have no idea if they got along in real life, but they make a beautiful screen couple. The songs look fabulous and they both have such verve in their dancing. The relationship between Parasuram and Kumari is very affectionate and warm, and they are a lot of fun in some of their romantic and domestic scenes. The Paruchuri brothers dialogues strike the right note for this couple. Chiru is just the perfect hero for this kind of film and once again he gives an energised and committed performance. He plays the dramatic scenes with authority but also dives into the silliness in the dance scenes with some outrageous flirting faces. Sri Devi does much more than sit around and look pretty as she also enacts some pivotal scenes. She has great expression in her face and body language and the emotional range of Kumari’s character gives her ample opportunity to show off all her skills. Her charisma more than stands up to Chiru’s and the story feels quite balanced and the characters more fleshed out for having two strong performers at the core.

Brahmi occupies an unnecessary comedy sideplot but doesn’t take up too much time that could be better spent. The supporting cast do the needful, and Devaraj was certainly successful in being sleazy and hateful. Allu Ramalingaiah has a small role as a comedy policeman, and makes an impression in a fun scene with Sri Devi. I’ve seen more of Mahesh Anand than I wanted to (you only got the screencap WITH the dressing gown) but he was very effective as a bad bad man.

The MM Keeravani soundtrack suits the mood and stands up to the onslaught of visual delights. The production values are all up there on screen in stars, sequins and stunts.

This is a film that requires you to strap yourself in and just go with it. I love it and give it 4 and ½ stars!