Nagin
India 1976
Directed by Rajkumar Kohli.


Two Snake Spirits are about to consummate their love in human form when some idiot shoots the male snake (Jeetendra). The female snake (Reena Roy), deprived of a good shag, vows revenge on the people who killed her lover. It's sort of a rape-revenge film, except instead of revenging a rape, she's revenging coitus interrupted. "Those rascals changed our copulation night to a mourning night," he says before breathing his last.

The snake killer meant no harm, really. They were all there because Ujay (Sunil Dutt) had saved the snake man the day before from a nasty vulture (suspended by visible wires). Ujay was writing a book about snakes who transform into men and so Jeetendra spilled the beans and let him know where he was going to be the following night. Uday got all five of his buddies together, and they went out to watch. Unfortunately, one of them had an itchy trigger finger, and when he saw the woman in human form and the man in snake form, he thought the snake was going to bite her and he shot it.

The guys leave, not sure whether to believe they are in trouble or not. But that very night, the guy who shot the snake is killed.

It might seem that such a tired revenge plot would be boring, but it isn't. Usually, when a killer is eliminating people one at a time throughout a movie, we don't sympathize with many of the victims. Often, they are two dimensional, or, if fleshed out, not particularly sympathetic. In NAGIN, it's different. The movie takes time to develop each of the men, their strengths and weaknesses, before the snake woman (or Nagin, hence the title) attempts to kill them. One of the guys is single, raising a cute little girl. Another is about to be married to a young hippie girl. A third cuts quite the rug and is also a romancer. Still another is an athiest who despises his devout wife -- at least he does, until the body count makes him think again about the possibilities of the supernatural. This character surprised me the most, in fact: I know from experience the athiest never survivies this type of film, usually they are taught the error of their ways before getting whacked. And while NAGIN followed the standard template in this regard, our friendly neighborhood athiest ends up being quite a bit more sympathetic than you might otherwise expect.

The Snake Woman is also handled in an interesting manner. She clearly becomes deranged with hatred. Her method of getting close to the men involves taking on the appearance of their loved ones -- giving the all-star cast of women some time both to be proper and respectable AND to vamp it up when playing the Nagin in disguise. The men have some protection: magic amulets, given to them by a fakir, and a few tricks: The Nagin apparently appears as her true self (a snake) when seen in a mirror.

The special effects are clumsy, homemade affairs compared to today's CGI work, but nevertheless endearing and occasionally effective. Cobras lunging through the air, changing back and forth between man and snake, and a snake charmer that can replicate himself are just some of the effects on display. The occasional shooting of a cobra and cobra-on-cobra fighting appear to be real, needless to say it is entirely likely that several cobras were harmed during the making of NAGIN.

NAGIN would be quite recommended were it not for the music, which is suited to fast foward. The snake woman sings endlessly about her lost love, who then makes post-death appearances in her songs to pick up the male vocal parts. One song about snake love is fine, but she just keeps going and going. In fact, almost all of the musical numbers in the film feature the snake couple frolicking. And I've got to say, one look at the snake man frolicking about and you want to take that girl aside and say, "there are plenty of snakes in the jungle, dear. Get over it."

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on November 28, 2004.


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