Monday, August 08, 2011

Nag Panchami Film Fessssstival: Naagbharna: too much zzzzz and not enough sssss!

Despite its promising title sequence imagery


Fun fact: the only thing I could find online about this "dance" credit is that a choreographer with a very similar name was expelled by the Kannada Film Dancers' Association for crossing picket lines. Also fun: "This film is totally imagination and all the characters in the films are imagination."
and the appearance of a Munchausen's Jeetendra (point 6e(ii) of the Filmi Snake Spotter's Field Guide) wearing budget-appropriate accessories,

Naagbharna commits the ultimate movie sin: IT IS SO DAMN BORING. Even if I could understand Hindi well enough to really follow this un-subtitled snoozefest, I highly doubt anyone watches a snake movie for the dialogue. Even the grand finale is several solid minutes of misty-voiced moralizing by the local swami.

Yadda yadda yadda.
Snake movie grand finales should have confrontational dancing, hallucinogenic venom, flying snakes, imperiled children, thunder claps, and/or crescendoing been music—or at least quick cuts between good and evil snakes doing The Look (point 4c of FSSFG)—not pontificating. #SNAKEFAIL

"I wash my hands of this whole mess," proclaims the film's one actual snake.

In the interest of fairness, I am confident that this film makes more sense if you can understand all of the frail little grandmother's statements to her grandson or all of his wife's weeping histrionics. As is, I had no idea why grandson goes from being a generally helpful and cheerful sort to a creep who repeatedly tries to rape his own wife while his grandmother is in the next room. So much of ew! Nor did I understand why one moment his wife sobs while he assaults her and then the next throws herself at his feet or weeps when he takes a second wife. It's possible that this is a penetrating psychological portrait of the evils to society presented by divine power run amok (as represented by a crazy-looking, possibly demon-possessed woman who spends too much time...well, I think it's supposed to be cackling but comes off as more of a few seconds of a half-hearted mall Santa Claus chuckle looped over and over and over), as contrasted with the grandmother's steadfast faith in her grandson while still sort of protecting his wife, and that all the talky-talky was necessary as exposition of philosophies and moral principles. But somehow I doubt it.

Put it this way: this is a film that ruins its most thoroughly sound snaky moment—a very special amorous snake item dance (not involving the afore-mentioned faux Jeetendra, who is merely a pervy onlooker of the dance) in a forest at night attired in appropriate outfits like a basic apsara get-up and silvery top with a snake on it—by lighting it so poorly that you can't even see it.



The plot, as far as I can make out, involves an unfortunate but vindictive Nagina

Discount bin accessories at best (points 3c and 3d).

Passable attempt at The Look.
sent (or conjured up?) by Crazy Laughing Lady to interfere with the marriage of devout Weepy and (figuratively) schizophrenic Rapey (who is the grandson of Dadimaa).

Weepy and Rapey have enough problems; she is desperate not to consummate their marriage and he has a very hard time understanding that no means no. There is also a comic relief romance that doesn't bear mentioning. Nagina taunts and attacks Rapey a few times,

Confrontational dance (point 6b5) significantly enhanced by camera angles.


yet he survives thanks to...well, I'm not sure what exactly, but it appears to be a supernatural power in opposition to Nagina. Whatever this force it, at least once it emanates from the big snake idol (Weepy's usual sobbing spot) in the form of orange sparklers and heals Weepy as well.

The film says snakes; I say weasels.
Nagina then marries Rapey, apparently at the behest of Weepy, who seems to feel bad that her revolting husband has no one to get busy with. Weepy is very unhappy about this turn of events, however, and the film establishes her miserable righteousness by showing her crying at the foot of the large snake(/weasel/mongoose) idol several times

and then later in the storage yard of a snake sculpture factory. The director wants to be sure you understand that she is devout and has the approval of snake deities.

Really sure.

Really, really sure.


Eventually we get some kind of flashback explaining that Nagina was in love with Munchausen's Jeetendra, but Crazy Laughing Lady imprisoned him in rings of fire, at which point he turned into an infant.

I've watched the scene twice and am not certain, but I think the infant is picked up by Dadimaa, which would imply that he grew up to be Rapey. That would explain why Crazy Laughing Lady was so keen to send Nagina to attack Rapey, so that's the interpretation I'm going with. The one up side of the pontificating swami

is that he manages to reunite Nagina and Munchausen's Jeetendra

and, just as in the infinitely superior Nagin, the proper order of the universe is restored.

The one nice thing I have to say about Naagbharna is that, at least without the subtitles, neither of the female leads is particularly criticized for actions that other films might punish them for: Weepy is beaten several times by her husband for refusing to sleep with him, but it is abundantly clear that god is on her side, as is Dadimaa, and Nagina seems to be under the control of Crazy Laughing Lady, so tempting another woman's husband in order to kill him is not her fault. That's one of the things I liked so much in Nagin: even though she had killed half a dozen people, our heroine was still given her happy ending after having been wronged so severely. What I really don't understand is how Rapey went from being a nice guy at the beginning to a pillar of domestic abuse and sexual assault; perhaps he was brainwashed by Crazy Laughing Lady and I missed it.

Other than that, this is a truly dreadful movie. The acting is horrible, the action is slow, the dancing is stilted or all but invisible, the effects are of the "low budget but non-delightful" variety, and some of the singing is off-key, a dubious filmi first in my viewing experience. Since watching, I have discovered that this is 99% likely a Hindi dub of a Kannada film, and I'd love to hear from any of you who watch Sandalwood films if you recognize any of the people in the cast and crew. I did a lot of Googling to no avail, locating with certainty only the female comic relief actor. As even worse harbingers of low quality, I could find neither a blog post, message board discussion, Wikipedia entry, nor imdb listing for this film.

If you must see for yourself, you masochist, Naagbharna is free on BigFlix (and they seem to have the Kannada dvd as well). I leave you in the protective care of the Almighty Sparkling Weasel.

3 comments:

dustdevil liz said...

Hmm, only one actual snake, and the snake statue looks like weasels. Definitely not up to par. Although the shots of the snake statue factory are truly impressive.

I wonder if it's a dub of the Kannada film.

aham said...

the male actor looks like shobhraj to me,he is a kannada actor who has done telugu movies too,no idea about the rest of the cast,there is better movie you might be interested http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagamandala

Beth said...

Liz - SO disappointing, as much as I have grown to love the weasels.

Aham - Ooh good spot! Thanks!