Naag Devi
India 2002
Directed by Balaji Shah.

A Telugu version of Rajkumar Kohli's 1976 film Nagin, from 2002. You might think the film would benefit from the advances in film production in the 26 years that separate the two films, but instead it achieves a quality in both story and special effect dramatically worse than its inspiration.

Sometimes the makers of a new version of an old tale know the old one so well that the stages in the story become ritual, and the rational of moving from one place to the next is lost. So in this story, concerning a female snake goddess taking revenge on a group of men for the accidental killing of her mate, there is a moment after one of the men shoots the snake, that they suddenly decide they must bury the dead snake quickly or they will be doomed. They look for the snake, can't find it, and leave. What they forget to mention in this version is that the snake is supposed to have the image of its killers imprinted on its eye at the time of its death. And sure enough, with his lover finds his body, she gets convenient Polaroid snaps of each of the men, framed by his retina. Only viewers familiar with the original story would understand this, the point not being explained here. There are several moments like this. NAAG DEVI goes through the motions, but forgets to create character.

The snake goddess, or Naag Devi (Sudha) is a bit heftier than you might expect, as is her unattractive, hairy chested mate, and when they do their snake-mating dance, it is frankly rather clumsy and unpleasant to behold. Sudha acts mostly out of her nostrils, which are constantly flared, eyeballs open so wide they may pop out of her head at any moment. This means, I gathered, "I'm vengeful."

The music is not memorable, and in some cases, just plain bad. There is one butt-slapping disco number early on that was sort of fun, but not very. The choreography is dire. The lyrics are subtitled, a relative rarity on Indian DVDs.

In the last fourty-five minutes, NAAG DEVI diverges at last from the plot line of Nagin, and becomes a full fledged devotional picture. Telugu cinema is very serious about its god and goddess worship, and this movie is no exception. The wife of the remaining surviving man (the only passibly charismatic one of the bunch, Charan Raj), increases her devotions. She talks to a mystic who tells her she must get 22 married women to pray for her for 22 days. But the snake ruins it. The statue of the goddess Parvati, consort of Siva, then gives her a different prayer recipe: 5 days, offering food to married women and getting their blessings. Once again, the snake ruins it. And so on, until Durga, the mother of the universe and an aspect of Parvati, must intervene in the flesh. By getting the gods to tie everything up, though, the remake manages to miss out on the moral of the original, that vengeance is all consuming and ultimately ruinous. Which is what made the original film worth watching: it had a point, NAAG DEVI does not.

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on November 29, 2004.

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