The supernatural and horror genres don’t attract me much, although the Indian versions are more interesting than mainstream Hollywood’s—usually because they are pretty low-budget and not at all scary, and chock-full of WTF-ery. I do love a good (or bad) snake movie, however, so when I saw this one directed by someone I am curious about—BR Ishara—I decided to give it a whirl. The few early 1970s film magazines that I have refer to Ishara’s work as “bold” with undertones of “sleazy” implicated in every other line. I know that he made a film considered quite radical for its time called Chetna, which is sadly not available anywhere that I can find, and that he eventually married the beautiful heroine of that film, Rehana Sultan, whose promising career was seemingly hampered by her willingness to push the envelope in films of a certain reputation, undeserved or not.
The only other film of Ishara’s that I have seen is Rahu Ketu, which I liked but which confused me enough to prevent me from writing anything coherent about it. I felt unequipped to understand its oblique references to vedic astrology, a subject I know (and care) nothing about, although maybe I will watch it again some day. In any case, I decided that a snake-reincarnation film with Shatrughan Sinha, Reena Roy and Danny Denzongpa directed by Ishara just might be the thing to give him another try.
This is just as confusing and strange. Unwilling to let the director defeat me twice, though, I am going to attempt to make some sense of it. It is not dependent on flashy special effects (much) like other naag-related movies I’ve seen, and the storytelling is very serious in tone; but even were I willing to believe in magic snakes (hey, why not?) the plot never really came together for me, although parts of it were entertaining.
The credits roll over some wonderfully funky music as a man (Shatrughan Sinha) runs along a dark road. He lands up at the house of a judge (Manmohan Krishna) and confesses that he has just murdered someone.
His name is Ravi: he is the son of extremely wealthy and over-indulgent parents, who has grown up like a 70s-era male Paris Hilton.
The imagery below is used throughout the film, and I will confess right now that I have no idea what it might symbolize. These pictures appear whenever Ravi is disturbed but I’ve got to say that it just looks like some coral and a bird on a wire to me, and I have no idea what the correlation of those two things are to each other or to Ravi’s angst. Logical Memsaab wants to say that it’s just pretentious, but Irrational Memsaab wants to know WHY.
Disaffected with debauchery and increasingly unhappy, Ravi takes to the road, wandering for several years until he stumbles upon a place in the wilderness (credits say it is near Mysore) of great beauty and a sparse local population. He finds a very spacious room in a local inn, which is serviced by a strange man named Raju (Danny Denzongpa) who carries a snake around in an inside pocket and considers himself a snake charmer.
Ravi soon meets the daughter, Rani (Reena Roy), of another snake charmer. He is instantly smitten by her lively manner and echoing laughter, which irritates me beyond belief but in which he finds the peace that he’s been searching for.
She takes him to the local temple, where, she tells him, she prays for the same thing every single day.
When Rani was born, the astrologer who made her birth chart warned her father that Rani would be killed by a snake. Her father has taught her to pray every day in an attempt to ward off this fate, but as Ravi soon discovers from other locals (including a jealous Raju) she is followed night and day by snakes, and considered dangerous to befriend.
This does not deter Ravi, however—he does not believe in such things as destiny or fate, or astrology, or magic snakes. We are now treated to a dance where Rani writhes gracefully to the sounds of been and drum played by Raju and her father, respectively. I do love a good snake dance!
Sadly, I found the rest of the songs in this film (music by Brij Bhooshan) pretty uninspiring.
Rani’s father tells Ravi that the same sage who predicted her death at the hands of a snake told him not to get her married either, since her groom would suffer the same fate. And as Ravi and Rani roam around together holding hands and singing, it becomes apparent that she is, indeed, being followed by a very large cobra.
Envious Raju is spurred by her burgeoning romance with Ravi to ask Rani’s father for her hand in marriage despite the sage’s warnings, saying that he is a snake charmer himself—so what could possibly go wrong?
What, indeed? His suit is thwarted when Rani outright refuses to marry Raju. She is of course by now in love with Ravi, although her father warns her against any further involvement with him.
A mysterious (and boho-stylish) woman named Radha (Sarita) now enters the picture.
She visits Ravi in his rooms at the inn, and tells him that she knows the truth about Rani’s story. She heard it from an old sage she cared for in his last days. He told Radha that Rani is the reincarnation of a long-ago village girl named Rukmani, who was in love with a village boy named Raju (played by Reena and Shatrughan in a flashback). She was forced to marry someone of her own caste instead and Raju committed suicide rather than face life without her.
Raju was reborn as a snake and has been living as this serpent for almost a century now, Radha says. When he reaches 100 years of age in a few days’ time, he will be able to shape-shift himself into any form, and he will attempt to meet Rani, for whom he has been waiting. If they do not meet, they will be condemned to an endless cycle of birth and rebirth. But somehow (this is where I become confused) when they DO meet, it’s not going to be a good thing either.
Apparently Rani is now a “Padmini”—that is, someone already possessed by a serpent, herself. Two snakes meeting will be dangerous (how and why is not explained), although it sounds like the worst off will be Rani herself. Radha tells Ravi that Rani will die as a result of the meeting, and her soul will be condemned to wander unless the serpent Raju is killed.
It seems to me now that the point of this film may be that it’s better to thwart centuries of destiny and unfulfilled love for the sake of living in the moment, but perhaps I am overthinking it. In any case, Radha wants to enlist Ravi’s help in killing the serpent when it comes to get Rani in human form, thereby saving Rani’s life so that she can live a happy life with Ravi instead. She gives him some homework to prepare for the ordeal.
This may be somewhat *spoilery* but it does not surprise me in the least when Ravi’s nascent yoga skills are never actually needed or used.
Meanwhile, thwarted human suitor Raju has decided that Rani’s refusal to marry him is not going to stop him. He traps her one evening and attempts to rape her, but is killed by her large cobra guardian. I am sad to see Danny go, but the large cobra guardian now reaches 100 years of age: he decides to use Ravi as his human form. This causes the real Ravi to fall into an unconscious state, while Snake Ravi romances the unwitting but increasingly hypnotized Rani.
Snake Ravi is kind of cool, and I think he might be voiced by Raaj Kumar although the credits don’t say so. In any case, there is a nice differentiation between Snake Ravi and Human Ravi although it goes unnoticed by poor spell-bound Rani.
Lovely bohemian Radha continues to give Human Ravi homework.
She is a bit like a CIA agent (or so I imagine) in that she only gives out bits and pieces of information and instructions at a time. She tells Ravi now that at the end of the month he will have to save Rani by thwarting the snake’s plans, which we find out now are to make both himself and Rani immortal by placing an amulet around her neck on that last night of the month. The plan’s rules make me laugh out loud.
I guess this might be one reason for Ishara’s reputation.
Radha explains a bunch of stuff to Human Ravi, but none of it makes any sense to me. It could be poor subtitling or maybe it simply makes no sense to begin with, I have no way of knowing. In any case, there is a lot of entertaining body-switching, been-playing, and suspense to come! Can Human Ravi save Rani from Snake Ravi-who-is-really-Raju, her centuries-ago lover? Will Rani even want him to? What is the point of it all, anyway? That immortality is overrated? That snakes are evil by nature? I have no idea. Other snake movies I’ve seen have celebrated both snakes and the idea of reuniting thwarted lovers, but this seems to do the exact opposite.
Much like Rani, I was sort of hypnotized by this film but that too confuses me. Truly, it had no “oomph” except for hippie Radha. I mean, this is the magic amulet which Snake Ravi wants to put around Rani’s neck. You can’t tell me that someone in the props department could not have found a better one:
My favorite thing about the film really was the mysterious Radha. She wore an assortment of colorful caftans with chunky jewelry and fringed leather satchels, plus great tiara-like headbands in her towering hair. Had I been Human Ravi I might have left Rani to her fate and run off with Radha instead. That would have been an ending that made sense!