Cobra Girl (1963)

Also known as Naag Rani, this movie is a perfect example of how the so-called “B movie” genre contains gems (no Naag Mani pun intended, or not much) of movie history which really need to be treated with more respect. I would rather watch this and others of its ilk a hundred times over than watch Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam or Mother India more than once or twice. Sure, those are great films; but they aren’t exactly uplifting entertainment! Why is such pure uplifting entertainment as this so frowned upon and discarded? Very often the zany trappings overlay genuine emotional content and messages which are far more palatable to me than the stifling conservatism of mainstream Hindi cinema.

In any case, even without subtitles and missing a few of the lovely songs (by SN Tripathi), this is a treat. I can’t vouch for my interpretation of events as being in any way correct because most of the dialogue went way past my head; but you should just see it anyway for the opulently detailed sets and costumes, the songs which are present and accounted for, some very “special” special effects, and a whole zoo full of anipals. It is a little disappointing that despite the title and a promising start:

the heroine is generally relegated to a role which basically provides dancing entertainment (at least she is good at it!) and romance for the hero (Mahipal). But still, it’s good fun.

Ragini stars as the eponymous Snake Cobra Queen Anjana and my now-beloved Tiwari is her foe Shigali, a sorcerer who besieges her family’s kingdom of Naag Desh at the beginning of the film. As the battle rages, Anjana’s father is mortally wounded. In the temple, he gives Anjana—his eldest daughter—his crown, bestowing her with the title Naag Rani, and expires in the arms of her younger sisters.

His loyal Diwan (Nazir Kashmiri) urges Anjana to flee, and she escapes in her chariot as Shigali’s forces crash through the gates. Shigali wastes no time in appropriating the magic Naag Mani gem which decorates the snake god in the temple, although the god himself hisses his displeasure most satisfyingly.

Deprived of the gem, the god vanishes after (I think) telling Shigali that he cannot derive full power from the stone he has stolen until he has its twin too. I think he also informs Shigali that he’ll meet his death at the hands of the Naag Rani (not to be confused of course with the Naag Mani, easier said than done when you have no idea what is being said).

Furious, Shigali orders his men to find her. Diwanji asks his daughter to pose as the Naag Rani, ensuring that the real one (Anjana) will not be pursued and captured. Shigali, who is a sorceror, transforms her first into a bird which he puts into a cage and then back into herself, only miniature—and still in the bird cage. I love the attention to detail, right down to the water and food containers and a perch!

Diwanji himself is arrested and sentenced to death, but Anjana—now disguised unconvincingly as a man—rescues him. But alas, he is shot in the back as they escape on horseback. He fills her in on the goings-on at home (mother and sisters imprisoned along with the Senapati, Naag Mani plundered) before dying.

Noooo! I liked having Nazir and his bass-baritone voice around! I am somewhat cheered by the first of the lovely songs (and dances) in this: “Nigahon Se Dil Ka Salaam” courtesy of Anjana’s sisters Rani (Rani) and Madhu (a lovely Helen-makeup-and-blond-wig-free Madhumati).

They are so pretty, these two (when not mostly obscured by Shameroo’s logo and scrolling advertisements, *eye-roll*).

When the song ends, the two sisters attempt to stab Shigali, but are thwarted—and he turns them into little tiny people too. Bliss.

Shigali is still looking for the other Naag Mani gem and (I assume) frequently visits his chained prisoner the Senapati (Ulhas) to harass him about its whereabouts. The Senapati shares his dungeon space with Diwanji’s miniature daughter in her cage, and he is vociferous and energetic in his refusal to help Shigali in any way.

In fact one of my favorite things about these films is how enthusiastically everyone involved participates.

The unfortunate Senapati’s family lives in the village: the cheerful Sagar (Mahipal) and his Ma (Mridula Rani) and sister Chanda (Surekha). There is a lot of “room talk” which escapes me, but Sagar eventually sets off with his servant Damru (Maruta). They take a room at an inn, where Sagar meets Anjana (still wearing men’s clothes) and quickly discovers her ruse by taking her hat off, whereupon her long braid tumbles out. I’m guessing she didn’t really want to be taken for a man since she never bothered to cut her hair, and she does seem happy to turn into a girl again.

They have a long conversation about a Rajkumar and Rajkumari but in the end all that matters is that Sagar gets her into the palace in the form of a dancing girl gift to Shigali. Perfect excuse for another great song, and I am thrilled to see my friend Edwina (sister of Ted Lyons, and background dancer plus “decent extra” extraordinaire) playing the harp!

Shigali is very pleased with Anjana indeed, and invites her to stay as his guest. He shows her his little miniature person collection and she is horrified indeed to see the fate of her sisters, although they are glad to see her. The profoundly unfunny CSP now intrudes for some time, with Maruti and Manorama at center stage as unhappy husband and shrewish wife, with smug little boy (Master Dube) and cute white pony Raja (Pony Moti, according to the credits) in the middle.

The upshot of it all is that Damru pisses off one of the townspeople, who goes to Shigali now and tells him about the Senapati’s family and Chanda’s upcoming wedding in particular. This is just the ammunition that Shigali has needed to make the Senapati tell him where the other Naag Mani is.

But wait! The Senapati remains defiant, telling Shigali that he could give up the happiness of one hundred daughters for his country, and that his family are as patriotic as he is. Furious, Shigali sends his men to “ruin Chanda’s wedding!”

He is such a mean guy.

The song which Chanda’s sahelis are singing to her in anticipation of the baraat’s arrival is absolutely lovely, and picturized so sweetly too (“Babul Ki Ladli Bhiya Ki Pyaari”)—do look it up and see it, it is wonderful. Plus, Tun Tun!

It’s all the sadder then when Shigali’s henchman rapes and murders poor Chanda after luring her away to “meet” her brother Sagar. It is truly heartwrenching:

and made only worse when Ma dies too, unable to bear the loss of her daughter. Everybody weeps as Sagar lights two pyres, especially me. It’s nice to see something so vile as rape and murder appropriately mourned.

Sagar is now a man possessed, and he wastes no time in going to the palace to seek his revenge. But shape-shifting Shigali is not a man to be easily defeated, when he’s not drunk! Will Sagar (and hopefully Anjana, it is supposed to be her movie, na?) succeed in taking the kingdom (and the one Naag Mani) back? Will Sagar be reunited with his father? Where is the other Naag Mani? Will the three poor miniature girls be restored to their regular size before a predator gets them?

Watch Cobra Girl to find out! Watch it even if you don’t care, because it is chock full of Fantastic. The art director deserves an Oscar for this one: just look at the detail in these sets. Even the innkeeper’s (comparatively) modest room is so inviting!

Tiwari doesn’t cross-dress in this one unfortunately, but he is just so good at being bad.

There are lots of animals (and reptiles!) in this providing help or acting as obstacles to the triumph of good over evil.

My favorites are Raja the CSP pony (who looks as sad when Chanda dies as the people do):

And these lovely big cats, who look very well-trained and -cared for and not at all like stock footage.

Lovely, lovely, lovely. They are excellent stunt cats, with no need for stuffed doubles; if there are times where their wrestling is obviously more playful than menacing I don’t care, and I am happy when I can see them still breathing after they’re supposed to be “dead”. There is some disturbingly realistic animal-on-animal (alligator-crocodile, hyena-leopard) violence, but I fast-forwarded through most of that and prayed that there was some sort of SPCA type on site to keep them all safe.

Even at its most tedious (ie the CSP, which veers from irritatingly dumb to racist):

there is so much to look at that it is easy to bear. I particularly love Shigali’s “vehicle” that more closely resembles a plump Chia pet sparrow than the majestic flying eagle it is supposed to be:

The film itself seems to have mostly survived in pretty good shape, until it fell into the hands of Shameroo and was chopped up, defaced (the periodic scrolling advertising is beyond intrusive), and squeezed onto a VCD. I can only hope that someday the print will find its way into the hands of someone who deserves it. If that day comes I will be the first in line to celebrate and actually pay for a copy! (*Memsaab sticks her tongue out at Shameroo*)

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43 Comments to “Cobra Girl (1963)”

  1. Waah waah, once again I get the opportunity to be the first to comment. It is becoming a habit now. :D

    I must say I have become a convert to B movies after reading your reviews of such movies. Indeed these movies are great fun with no pretentions of any preaching/message/pontifications, unlike the A grade movies.

    • They do contain messages, along with all the fun, that’s the nice thing. They aren’t as preachy and pompous for sure, but this one for instance, had plenty to say about patriotism, about treating people as you would have them treat you, about responsibility to duty. The women in it were basically just *people*, not objects to be treated badly (the woman who was treated badly was grieved over) or worshiped unrealistically. So refreshing :)

  2. Wow, sounds to be good!
    I love such magic-films!
    And I love the way Mahipal inflates his nostrils when being emotional!

  3. Don’t know why Mahipal chose to do such adventurous B-grades after a classic Navrang (1959). Truly beats me !

    • Probably because they were FUN. Hopefully he understood what I understand, which is that these films are worthy entertainers and he should be proud to have been part of them.

    • Most probably he didn’t get any better offers!
      But truly,can you imagine Mahipal doing a Yahooooooooooooo?
      He was good in what he did!
      Wonder what he did after quitting the movies or the movies quit him?

  4. Have just finished seeing this.

    What can I say?

    WOW!!! From the first scene to the last, I was just marvelling at the sets, the art decor, the gold, the attention to detail. The fantasy is really lots of fun and very imaginative – the way Tiwari and Ragini keep morphing into something else during their epic fight in the end, the animals, the statues, EVERYTHING.

    And the dances/songs are also really nice – I sometimes fast forward these in old movies if I don’t know them and just want to get on with the story but in this case, I did not. Not only did I like them but they were usually in such a grand setting that I did not want to miss out on the setting anyway.

    The only thing about the content that I found irritating was the CSP – it was thankfully not particularly long but it was (as CSPs very often are) quite unnecessary.

    Greta, I can tell you that, without subs, you’ve done a fantastic job here! You’ve got the story almost completely correct – it is indeed a case of two gems needed to be rubbed against each other together to give the person having them power.

    I won’t reveal any more of the story than you have, but I’ll elaborate on what that Damru pissing off the villager was all about (in case you didn’t get it – but you may well have).

    The villager is the village goldsmith who had made the ornaments for Chanda’s wedding. But he suddenly refuses to give delivery of the ornaments until his now-hiked-up price is paid. Damru assures Sagar that he’ll sort it out – the horse (Raja…I share my name with a horse, having shared it with a dog and an elephant in other movies ;-)) snatches it from the goldsmith. That is when he gets pissed off and complains to Shigali.

    I also felt bad when Nazir Kashmiri dies – you finally see him in a reasonable role and they finish him off.

    There were a lot of fun scenes. When the snake bites the horse, for a moment I thought the horse had actually died (and my heart went “Noooo!”. I was SO relieved to see the horse alive. It cracked me up when the horse began talking. :-) ).

    Was very impressed by the patriotism and steadfastness of the Senapati, the Diwan, all the female characters. The Diwan sacrifices his daughter, the sisters are willing to sacrifice themselves as Nag Rani, the Senapati is willing to sacrifice his entire family for his country…all very impressive.

    Tiwari was also SO much fun with that booming voice and those occasionally suspicious eyes.

    I even liked that magician’s act – the whole chopping of the guy into two was done quite realistically. I cracked up when I saw him pulling out a cauliflower from supposedly the stomach of the guy. :-)

    All in all, to me, THIS is what an entertaining movie is all about. It may not have comedy for entertainment but it has visuals to die for. Throughout I was just imagining how much effort must have gone into all those special effects. Indeed, Oscar-worthy stuff in this movie, considering it was made in 1963!!!

    Btw, any idea who that henchman of Shigali is? I’ve seen him in other movies also.

    • If you mean the one who kills Chanda, no I don’t know. The henchman in the dungeon is Rajan Haksar, but the above-ground one is a mystery to me. Glad you liked it, I knew you would! :)

      • Yes, I was talking about the guy who kills Chanda.

        Btw, one of the things that pissed me off about the Shameroo VCD was that there were chopped scenes (like the first time Sagar and Nag Rani meet is completely chopped off) but there was plenty of space on the VCDs for promoting other movies! In this case, one cannot say the chopping off was necessitated by VCD space constraints, as is sometimes the excuse. I hate it when scenes get chopped off.

  5. So glad I own this. (Of course I’m going to buy a movie called Cobra Girl sight unseen.) Now, thanks to you, I’m that much closer to actually watching it. I like the point you make about Indian B films providing a welcome break from the conservatism of mainstream Bollywood movies. You’re definitely less likely to find the same heavy handed moralizing and rigid enforcement of traditional roles in these types of films. This is where Indian cinema goes to play.

    • Of course I went to you first to see if you had reviewed it already so I would not need to ;-)

      And yes—sometimes when I just want to scream at the slightest whiff of a soggy pallu, there is no place to turn but to these. The worst crimes these films ever commit is that they can get boring (well, maybe only to us, with our elevated WTF requirements) but they never irritate me on moral grounds.

  6. Memsaab you keep making me add to my list of must-sees. And I should know better because…well, Wardat. This sounds delightful! I totally agree with your point about some B films being more playful and less self-consciously Worthy (and I see Todd has said that beautifully too).

    • Ha! I do not think I recommended Wardat, only said that you would likely enjoy Surakksha! Which you DID!!! :D

      • You mentioned the plastic locusts so how could I resist? You know my weaknesses. And Surakksha was so much fun, even on crappy VCD with no subs, that another round with Gunmaster G9 wasn’t too hard to sell.
        I like a good snake movie, but I love a B snake movie so this does sound amazing :)

        • That’s fair enough :) This is relatively snake-free until the end, which more than makes up for it. But there is plenty of other stuff to keep us busy until then!

  7. @Memsaab – glad to see that you are back with a bang as you had earlier promised. As far as this movie goes, Cobra Queen would have made for a more apt translation, but who am I to complain. I will try to watch this, sometime. The sets look gorgeous and I too am partial to movies that feature the big cats.

  8. Cobra is “Naag”in Hindi. Boa and python are “Azgar”. snake is “Saanp”. Hindi movies are mostly fascinated with “Naag” and other kinds of snakes have been neglected.

    Personally I never cared much for these “saanp” movies, but now, thanks to Discovery and other such channels, I am quite fascinated by the huge pythons that can swallow huge creatures alive.

    • Ah, thanks Atul! My daily Hindi lesson, yay! I do not much enjoy watching pythons swallow things and boas squeeze them to death…but I do love a good Naag Rani! :)

  9. (*Memsaab sticks her tongue out at Shameroo*)

    So does dustedoff. And at Friends, Priya, Eagle, and some others too!

    BTW, in that screen cap with Shigali and the Senapati, is Shigali really dressed more like a medieval European gentleman than anything else? That plume in his hat (the hat!), the deep pink showing in the slashes of voluminous sleeves… I love the gay abandon with which ‘historical/mythological/fantasy Hindi films play around with costumes!

    • T Series!!!! They’ve just put a bunch of films out on dvd with not a single subtitle on them anywhere! CURSE THEM!

      Shigali’s outfits (Mahipal’s too) were very historically diverse, and Elizabethan in particular. Just too much fun! Wish I could get my hands on some of them!!!! :)

  10. Thanks Memsaab for another golden goodie! Like Todd, I also purchased this VCD simply due to the title…haven’t watched it yet, however…but I must, and soon! Oddly, I did see Surekha in a film just today, the Meena Kumari weeper AARTI (1962).

    As I understand it, Shemeroo, and other companies, don’t edit or cut these films, it is just that so often the prints they end up with are already chopped to pieces. It is annoying, but I am just happy that even a cut up version of a film can be seen. Even in the old Hindi movie magazines this is mentioned often..theatres continually showing movies that are missing scenes and have been cut up. Sadly, those are sometimes the only copies these DVD companies can find…not that they are likely to bother looking for a complete or perfect copy, anyhow.

    As for the scrolling ads and constant on screen reminders of who released the dvd…for shame on all of them!

    • Surekha is really beautiful, I think.

      Sadly, you are wrong about vcd/dvd companies…very often the vcds are missing content that is readily available in vhs versions of films; they DO willfully chop scenes and songs in order to fit them onto the media with room for plenty of advertising (in addition to the scrolling ads they inflict on us). Then when they go to make dvds, they just transfer what they put on vcd onto dvd and slap a higher price on it. Thus, what was chopped from the vcd is chopped from the dvd, and whatever original complete prints might be languishing somewhere are ignored and neglected. It is just criminal.

  11. Nice writeup and I LOVE the screen caps! The second one is my favorite… And Ragini’s man disguise later is unconvincing, indeed. That’s funny, because she always played the male role in the early years of the Travancore Sisters, being the tallest one and the skinniest one back then… I guess she could have been better at this here if she wanted to be (or the director wanted her to be). I recall that she was pretty good as the boy Krishna in some film dances (and I guess it’s OK for Krishna to be really pretty, right?)… On the other hand, she wasn’t a convincing man in that dance in Kalpana where she was courting herself, but at least there, she bothered to wear a mustache above the heavily applied lipstick.

    I think I’ve seen all the dances from Cobra Girl… Actually not my favorite Ragini dances, but even Ragini’s worst dances are going to be many times better than 99 percent of other actresses’ best… She does look adorable here. Well, OK, you know why I want to see this fim. :)

    • Ragini is not my favorite, I admit, but in the scenes in this where she was given some scope for being a kickass female she was good at it! Sadly they were few and far between. I prefer Madhumati and Rani’s dancing to Ragini’s too, although Ragini is fine (certainly she can dance better than many heroines) and I love the music. Love.

      It is a fun film, especially for a Ragini fan (she does kind of disappear in the middle for a while though, be warned) :) And let me know if you get it and want the subs for it!

    • Ragini is Padmini’s sister who appeared in Kajal (1965), Mera Naam Joker (1970). There’s one more sister whose name I do not remember. All the three were known for their dancing as they were trained in a classical dance – Bharatnatyam.

  12. I actually watched this last night. And here I find your review. What were the chances of that!

  13. “Memsaab sticks her tongue out at Shemaroo”…IOW, Shemaroo, shame on you!

  14. Memsaab…that’s a great review and fantastic screen shots! and I think we can add Malika Sherawat to the Nag Universe now with her hiss…. (a miss)

  15. Ah Madhumati, You are right. She is pretty when she’s not aping Helen. I met her a few years ago, she runs acting classes for aspiring Bollywood actors. A lot of fun watching her teaching all the dance steps, and emotional expressions. :)

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Ragini film. But ‘Cobra Girl’ seems the right introduction to her, if any. I’m sure, better than watching some preachy family drama, which the South Indian films were famous for at one time.

    • What fun to watch Madhumati teach—would love to have the chance to do that :) I’ll bet she is still beautiful too.

      Another good Ragini intro is the fab Shikari :) Either one! Both much, much better than preachy family dramas, and good fun all the way around.

  16. Hi Memsaab,
    I’ve been reading your blog for about six months now and I wanted to tell you how much I admire your efforts. Your comments are spot-on and so Indian. I’m amazed how many people have opinions close to mine regarding hindi films.
    Love Hindi classics but give me a good so-called B movie any day! The supporting cast always come into their own and aren’t relegated to melodramatic self-sacrificing or one-dimensional evilness unlike so called A-grade movies that rely too much on mega-stars hamming it up. Plus, they make no pretensions about morality which in some popular movies of the 50s and 60s is about women knowing their place (especially in unnecessary CSPs).In a film like Cobra Girl you can see the effort put into the production by people who take pride in their work.
    In addition, like everyone else commenting on your blog, I have a major issue with DVD/VCD companies with their terrible prints, mind-boggling editing and atrocious subtitles. Hey I could do a thousand-fold better job then whoever they don’t pay to write subtitles for them. (Rant over now!)
    Looking forward to reading your write-up on Yakeen, although, have ordered the DVD so will read it after I’ve seen it myself!
    Thanks so much for the blog and keep writing!

    • Thanks Anoushka, what a nice way to start my day reading this was! :) When I win the lottery and start up my own DVD manufacturing company rescuing overlooked but fantastic films I will hire you to do subtitles and testing for quality control!!! :D

  17. Fabulous!

    And it’d be so interesting to compare methods and subjects of moralizing in different types of films. My biggest step into B films was really well past B into, say, F with Shaitani Dracula. It _did_ irritate me on moral grounds, though admittedly that was not the biggest of its flaws, given that it tromped all over every kind of ground it could find – aesthetic, “use of precious resources like the viewers’ time, lycra bike shorts, and passing wildlife,” general sense of humankind, etc…. :)

    • An excellent Masala Zindabad topic perhaps. I am sure Todd would be an enormous fountain of knowledge on the subject! :)

      Shaitani Dracula is a different animal altogether than the “B” movies I am talking about…it is of later vintage for one thing, and it’s a horror film (horrible may be more accurate). It is Z grade if anything! There is no sense of dedication or actual hard work going into it behind the scenes, just shoddy incompetence (although I will give them that they are enthusiastic).

      By “B” movies I mean the ones mostly from the 60s, which were fantasy and/or historical films (sword and sandals, Arabian Nights, etc.), although I include some spy films in the genre too. They are just JEWELS: good clean fun with lots of action and an entertaining story and lots of pretty, without the preachy moralizing of the mainstream films of the same period. You can see the hard work and dedication put into them in every frame. I love them…think you would too :)

  18. Yay! the utube version while uploaded by Sheemaroo doesn’t have their logo. Thanks for writing this up and you have opened yet another mind to the “manis” of B movies. As an aside the sets are so lovely that I can scarcely believe this is meant to be “low production values”

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