Thwarted in my previous snake-movie viewing attempt by Sky Entertainment’s poor quality control, I moved on to this long-overdue-for-watching one and was much happier in any case. Not only is heroine Neelam not smacked in the face every other minute (although her father does want to kill her at one point, but he is Amrish Puri so it’s to be expected); but there are a lot more snakes and Aruna Irani (or her representative) lactates onscreen. She also (a la Smita Patil before her) sets out to pump her newborn son full of hatred, albeit somewhat less successfully, possibly because Jackie Shroff doesn’t have to also learn disco. Or maybe because Jackie has more snake backup than Mithun so doesn’t need to be as angry. I don’t know. I just know that I would much rather watch snakes massing in military formation and launching themselves like missiles than watch men pounding each other to a bloody pulp (although there is some of that too).
As reflected in its title, much of this film revolves around the idea that when one is nursed at a breast, one then owes a huge debt to the owner of said breast. Breastfeeding is now worshipped in western culture too, and I confess it annoys me. Every female mammal on earth can lactate, including me. There’s really nothing that special about it. Also, a quick Google search reveals that snakes don’t actually digest milk very well and it can even kill them.
Khair. Let’s leave logic behind and get on with our story, shall we?
Anything beginning with Amrish Puri in jodhpurs is going to end in tears for someone, but I am pleased when from the get-go there is someone even more evil than Amrish in the movie. Bhairav Singh (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) connives with a prostitute (Kunika) to blackmail his friend Thakur Raghuvir Singh (Amrish), hoping that the need for cash will convince him to steal the diamonds adorning the cobra head in his ancestral temple. Raghuvir and their third friend, Sampat (Prem Chopra in a deliciously understated turn—for him—playing a coward), are reluctant at first but eventually sign on.
(Yes that is Sudhir in the screencap to the left, and yes, Bhairav kills both of them. He is so evil.) Meanwhile at that same temple a snake charmer named Gangu (Kuldip Pawar) and his wife Parvati (Aruna Irani)—who is in labor—have taken shelter to escape a storm while Parvati gives birth. They are accompanied by Gangu’s prized king cobra who is unfortunately not given a name (at least not in the subtitles), but whom Todd in his extremely funny and much pithier review of this same film has dubbed Charles. If it’s good enough for Todd it’s good enough for me, and this is most definitely a snake who needs a name.
The priest (Ram Mohan) goes off to find a midwife, and as Parvati gives birth Raghuvir, Bhairav and Sampat sneak into the inner sanctum where the diamond-studded cobra sits. They pluck them out and kill the priest when he returns and catches them.
Of course the theft of these diamonds and the murder of the priest cannot go unpunished; when some other worshippers (it’s a very busy place!) arrive they see a horrified Gangu pulling the knife out of the priest’s body, making him obviously guilty *eyeroll*. And so Gangu is made the scapegoat for the theft by the gleeful trio of Raghuvir, Bhairav and Sampat. They whip him to death in the town square as the bloodthirsty population watches and Parvati screams for mercy, baby in her arms. Charles thrashes in his basket trying desperately to escape, and his beady little eyes memorize the details of Raghuvir’s distinctive diamond necklace.
As Parvati cremates her poor husband, the baby cries and she whips out her breast (seriously!) to nurse him. She notices that Charles is sitting there too and realizes that he hasn’t been fed in two days. Close-up of same breast squirting out milk onto a pottery shard (seriously!). She feeds the snake, and then implores him to leave them as she can’t take care of both “sons” on her own. Then she somewhat unwisely, in my view—given she has a baby to pump full of hatred—goes to Raghuvir’s house with a machete in hand to take her revenge, and overhears him gloating about the theft with his friends. Raghuvir’s father (Kamal Kapoor) arrives and she informs him that his son is responsible not only for her husband’s death but also the theft of the diamonds and the murder of the priest.
He believes her (he knows his son well it seems), and, somewhat unwisely, in my view—given that Raghuvir is now holding Parvati’s machete—turns his back on them all in order to call the police, with predictable results.
Bodies are piling up and we haven’t even gotten to the credits yet! The three villains chase Parvati and her son until she falls down a hill. Believing them both dead, the three friends return home, but of course Parvati isn’t dead or the story would end here. She and baby Suraj are rescued by a blacksmith named Dharma (Goga Kapoor). Dharma and his wife give them a home and help raise Suraj along with their daughter Kajri.
This seemed like bad parenting in Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, and it seems like bad parenting now too. It seems Dharma agrees with me. As Parvati broods, Dharma treats Suraj with kindness and affection, teaching him blacksmithing skills although it’s soon clear that Suraj’s calling is the same as his real father’s. I will tell you this, if you like been (subtitled as “harp” for some reason) music (I do! I do!) this movie is chock full of it. He grows up to be Jackie Shroff and Kajri grows up to be the very interesting Varsha Usgaonkar (according to the credits, this is her debut film). Kajri clearly loves Suraj and dances when he plays his father’s harp, but he is oblivious to her feelings and treats her indulgently as a sister.
Parvati is less pleased with Suraj’s devotion to his father’s profession; she only cares about vengeance. But when Suraj asks her why she applies ash to his forehead every day she always says that the time has not yet come to tell him everything. *Minor spoiler in the screenshot below*
I have no idea what she’s waiting for at this point, but life is about to change for all of them.
These days there is trouble brewing between Raghuvir and Bhairav and Sampat. The latter two are upset that Raghuvir has hung on to the diamonds all these years, although he points out that their value has risen considerably in that time. He also tries to placate Bhairav (still the scariest of the three) by proposing that his daughter Reshma (Neelam) get married to Bhairav’s son Ajit (Gulshan Grover).
In reality, Ajit is a spendthrift good-for-nothing and he has run through his daddy’s money. Bhairav’s bank accounts are running dry and he needs either the diamonds or Reshma as a daughter-in-law.
Meanwhile, Charles the snake has been biding his time in that same temple where Parvati gave birth twenty-some years before. When Reshma goes to the temple on Nag Panchami to worship, she is wearing her father’s diamond necklace and Charles is roused from his apathy at the sight of it.
He strikes at her, but misses; as she flees the temple in fright he follows her. Later that day Suraj, playing his harp as usual, ventures close to her house and she is attracted by the sound. She leaves the house and wanders through the woods as Charles follows her (she is still wearing the diamond necklace). He strikes at her again and this time doesn’t miss, although fortunately she has come close enough to Suraj that he hears her scream. He sucks the poison out of her foot and they fall in love in three seconds flat.
This is naturally occasion for a song and I am forced to wonder if Neelam ever got tired of being upstaged by her own Hair. It even knocks Jackie over backwards at one point.
As you can well imagine, this romance goes down well with NOBODY. Dharma and Parvati want Suraj to marry Kajri (so does Kajri), and when Parvati discovers who Reshma’s father is you can imagine how ballistic she goes. Raghuvir Singh certainly doesn’t want a nobody-snake-charmer for a son-in-law, and the most evil person in the movie wants her to marry his son.
What will Suraj think when he finds out what his beloved’s father has been responsible for? Can our two lovers make it in the face of so much determined opposition? Will Raghuvir, Bhairav and Sampat ever pay for their misdeeds?
If Charles has anything to do with it, they will. And luckily he is just about to instinctively recognize his “doodh brother” and figure out who his friends—and his enemies—really are.
This movie has the most intense last hour of just about any movie I have ever seen. I absolutely loved it and unless you are dead or really highbrow (in which case you don’t even know this blog exists) you will too. There are so many things to appreciate beyond the usual WTFness of this genre—which it also has in spades, not to worry.
I really liked the character of Kajri: she is loyal, feisty and pretty. Actress Varsha Usgaonkar has gorgeous large green eyes and a very expressive face, although the makeup does her no favors as is usual for that era.
I said already too that I welcome the fact that Amrish Puri is not the most evil person in the movie. Sadashiv Amrapurkar is brilliant as the greedy, intelligent and manipulative Bhairav. He is a complete psychopath. It is also a relief that Thakur Raghuvir Singh is not the usual one-note Amrish villain; he isn’t terribly nice, but he isn’t completely bad either. Plus Bob Christo and Tom Alter get small appearances as bad-boy goras, which I have to love.
As for the others, Aruna is awesomely over the top as the unforgiving Parvati but avoids becoming annoying because there are enough other characters (Dharma, Kajri) to soften her a bit. I always find Jackie pleasant at least, and Neelam is certainly pretty.
But the real star of this film is Charles. Kya screen presence hai! He has an almost pet-like aspect at times, neatly coiled up like cat or resting his head on the ground like a dog. But of course when he wants to be menacing, it’s easy. Those cold black eyes, that threatening hood! Watchful, loyal, sad, pissed off: I have no idea how they did it, but I would swear to God that Charles is acting. And he is always ready for his closeup.
He might be my new favorite action hero. Did he do any other films?