Nagina (1951)

I think this film was subtitled by someone with narcolepsy who kept suddenly falling asleep and upon awakening would simply continue working without going back to see what he had missed. Only about a third to half of the dialogue is subtitled, so I am not sure if my finding the plot difficult to follow was my fault, the narcoleptic subtitler’s fault, or the filmmaker’s fault. In any case, despite this handicap I found this highly entertaining. First of all, the Shankar Jaikishan songs are beautiful (although much of the background music is from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf—which is not a bad thing); secondly, it’s one of Nutan’s first films and she is lovely; and her hero is Nasir Khan (Dilip Kumar’s brother) in the first leading role I have seen him in. It also succeeds pretty well as an atmospheric mystery-suspense-thriller (it was given an “A” certificate by the censors).

According to Shammi Kapoor in this Screen interview:

I was friends with Nutan since childhood because of my father’s friendship with her mother Shobhana Samarth. I remember escorting Nutan—she was not yet 18 then—to the premiere of her adult film Nagina as heroine and she was actually not allowed in as she was underage!

Srinath (Nasir Khan) is the son of Shyamlal, a man who disappeared 12 years earlier after being accused of murdering a woman. Srinath’s mother is steadfast in her belief that he is both innocent and still alive, and she is resisting pressure to divide his property (a huge beautiful house on the beach no doubt ripped down years ago for a high-rise of some sort) from her in-laws. She is very striking in a gaunt but large-boned kind of way—does anyone know who she is (not Anwaribai, apparently)?

She begs Srinath to find his father, and he sets off. On his train journey a man is murdered and a mysterious woman flees the scene. Srinath chases her into the bathroom, where she denies knowing anything and begs him to save her honor.

She disappears after the train is stopped and the police board it, and they arrest Srinath on suspicion of the murder. He is cleared eventually by the train conductor, whose daughter Lily (Mohana) catches the attention of Srinath’s friend Dixit (Gope). We are treated to a fabulous 40s-style swing dance by the catchy name of “My Dearo Dearo Mummy Nahin” which I have to rewind and play over a few times before I can move on.

I’ve only seen Mohana before in Insaniyat—she is lovely, with a flashing smile and dimples, and I think Gope is awfully cute too.

The song is totally fab and Tom happens to have uploaded it!

Srinath plans to search for evidence of his father’s innocence in an old and reputedly haunted house nearby. The dialogue isn’t subtitled, but he talks about a Nagmani (which turns out to be some sort of magic ring) and says that Shyamlal was accused of murdering the mistress of the house. He doesn’t seem too worried about the rumors of a violent bhoot which swirl about the place.

The spooky mansion is owned and occupied by a mysterious and sketchy character by the name of Raiji (Bipin Gupta) and his ginormous mute servant Gunga. When Raiji becomes suspicious of his visitor’s motives, he sets Gunga after Srinath and much chasing, skulking and breaking down of doors ensues. Srinath eventually finds his way to a rooftop chamber belonging to a mysterious woman, who doesn’t talk or let him see her, but points him to a secret escape passage with a finger adorned by what I assume is the Nagmani ring referred to earlier.

I manage to deduce that Raiji’s wife was the woman whom Shyamlal is accused of murdering. And surprise! Raiji’s daughter (and the mysterious ring wearer) is Mukta (Nutan)—that same girl Srinath had met on the train. He finds time to romance her as he embarks on an elaborate cat-and-mouse game with Raiji, looking for clues to Shyamlal’s fate. I love Nutan’s and Nasir’s chemistry; they are sweet and cute together.

Mukta has only recently returned to the house, to her father’s displeasure. After her mother’s murder she grew up with her grandfather, but has missed her father. She is an unhappy sort but seems to have a knack for skulking about—perhaps it’s bred into those born in creepy havelis.

She soon discovers a man chained in the dungeon of her father’s house and tries to rescue him; it is Shyamlal, and Raiji has kept him there for the past 12 years. Shyamlal also has a Nagmani ring which he keeps hidden under his thin mattress although Raiji and Gunga don’t think to look there. They seem to prefer the “I’ll kill you if you don’t hand it over” tactic.

To further complicate matters, a nasty man named Nihal (Hiralal) now appears looking for the Nagmani ring as well, and he also wants to marry Mukta. Raiji moves Shyamlal to a new hiding place after he finds out that Mukta has seen him. This is one of the best things ever—it’s a banyan tree whose trunk is the entrance to an underground dungeon.

There must be banyan tree hideouts all over India! Or if not, there should be! As Srinath gets closer to the truth (I think) Raiji has him killed, or so he and Mukta believe. And when he returns to the mansion, he begins to believe that Mukta is in cahoots with her father.

Will Shyamlal be found? Will his innocence be proved, and will he be reunited with his wife and son? Can Mukta and Srinath find love despite the many obstacles? What is Nihal’s role in all this? What is the Nagmani and why are people willing to kill for it?

There is lots of good stuff in here, even if I never do find out the answers to some of those questions (well, only the last one—but maybe it’s something that all Indians know, and someone here will share it with me). The love songs are very pretty albeit a bit mournful, although my favorite two tunes are those picturized on Gope and Mohana. Here is the other one, “Humse Koyi Pyar Karoji”:

Gotta love it! Even Hiralal enjoys himself—and look how handsome he was: hero handsome, in my opinion!

I could have wished for better subtitles (or at least more of them) and I am pretty sure scenes were missing too (the flow was very choppy), but even so I recommend this film. Nutan and Nasir are especially good together, and I want to see more Nasir Khan! He is a sweeter, kinder version of Dilip. His playback singing too is done by CH Atma, whose voice has a lovely quality—can anyone tell me more about him?

Lots of questions in this post! I await your answers.

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56 Comments to “Nagina (1951)”

  1. Nagmani is supposed to be a red coloured gem (some say bright light) on the forehead of the cobra.

    The person who has this gets superior spiritul powers

    • oops pressed enter too quickly before commenting on Nagina, not that I’ve seen it, but Nasir Khan really looks like Dilip Kumar. Didn’t know he had acted as a hero, opposite Nutan too! He lacks Dilip’s sexiness (well at least for me ;-)
      Thanks memsaab.

      And that’s Hiralal? WOW!

      • I saw Hiralal in another early fifties film and developed a crush on him without realizing who he was :) Wonder how he got typecast so early as a villain? And I liked Nasir a lot–as I said, he’s a softer, gentler version of Dilip but looks very like him.

        I thought while I was watching the film that he is Niles to Dilip’s Frasier :)

        None of the people going after the Nagmani in this had any hope of spiritual powers :) They were evil, selfish and rotten!

        • humm.. I heard stories about “Nagmani” growing up in Bangladesh. I didn’t know about its spiritual powers (maybe I don’t remember), but its said to be worth a millions, equivalent to *7 kings’ treasures!* –so maybe that’s why the “evil, selfish & rotten” were after it?

          i was just way too creeped out about about stealing a gem from a cobra’s head (how do you do that??) so maybe that’s why i’m not a millionaire yet!! 8-D

  2. I was just looking at my copy of this film yesterday, and thinking that I need to watch it! And I didnt realise that Nasir Khan was Dilip’s brother until I looked him up because he looked so much like Dilip in profile. I’ve only skimmed through the first two paragraphs of your review and will read the rest after I’ve watched the film. The few glimpses I had yesterday, I thought the songs were lovely and Nasir Khan looked really handsome, inspite of wearing more make-up than Nutan (who of course, looked lovely). Cant wait to watch…

    • Oh do watch it and let me know what you think (especially about the plot, because I really don’t know if I am just stupid, or the subtitler/editor/filmmaker was to blame! Nasir looks a lot like Dilip although they are not identical by any means. Expressions, smile, those are the same. But he is very different as a hero. And Nutan has a moustache, bless her!

  3. “There must be banyan tree hideouts all over India! ”

    And there are! Betaal (Vikram and Betaal stories are Sanskrit folklore) the vampire lives there. When I was young I would walk very quickly if I was under a banyan tree for fear of all the creatures lurking there. The only banyan I’ve seen in recent years is the gigantic one in the ‘Yeh dosti” song in Sholay so no worries.

  4. I really did think this movie just oozed atomosphere when I watched it about 3 or 4 years ago…had forgotten about the subtitle problems, though.

    Memsaab, when (if?) you get around to the fantastical Sridevi NAGINA/NIGAHEN movies of the 1980s, you will begin to know much more about the nagmani!

    • I’ve seen those Sridevi snake films! Sigh. Was probably so disturbed by everything else going on that I couldn’t focus. I do remember that mostly I was thinking ‘YIKES’ during them. The mind, it was boggling…

  5. Now I know that I have to see this film sometime (as you know, I’ve been enjoying the songs for a while :) …

    If Gope’s cute in this, he’s even cuter in Patanga. LOL

    So Nasir Khan really is Dilip Kumar’s brother? And he plays his brother in Gunga Jumna too…

    Those are two films with him that I would like to find and watch soon; the third is Saudugar (1951) (though more for Rehana, of course).

    Too many films I still need to look for; thank goodness I can keep watching the songs. (They may disappear sometimes, but they always reappear in one place or other. ;)

    I’ve seen those Sridevi snake films too, btw. I don’t remember anything about the plots. All I remember is Sridevi.

    • Yes, I am pretty sure that I ordered this after I saw the first song linked in the post at your blog :) THANK YOU.

      Ditto for me on the Sridevi thing, although I remember Amrish Puri and his EYEBALLS OF HATE too.

  6. Oh, I need to see this! The only film in which I’ve seen Nasir Khan was the same one which Richard mentions – Ganga Jamuna, and by then he and Dilip Kumar looked different enough from each other. Here, of course, there seems to be an obvious resemblance, especially in that ‘broken mansion’ screen cap. And Nutan, much as I admire her more serious acting – Bandini, Sujata etc – is also delightful in the more masala films!

  7. Nasir Khan, I only saw him in ‘Ganga Jamuna’ and thought he was a bad actor.

    Nutan, with a mustache, I must see. She’s lovely, I think.

    As for tree lairs, reminds me of Enid Blyton. I’d love a tree lair, but I’d be scared if it was in a banyan tree. :)

    • Enid Blyton!!! You are SO RIGHT. I have no ability to judge acting I have decided. I thought he was just fine in this, although he and Nutan both seemed a little tentative. But they were so cute together that it didn’t matter :)

      • Oh Memsaab, you must be one of the few Americans who knows Enid Blyton (but then you did some of your growing up in Rhodesia.)

        • Yes, I grew up reading her—from Noddy books right up to the mystery series and girls’ boarding school books. One of the biggest crosses I had to bear when we moved here to the US permanently was the lack of Enid Blyton. I was very sad, and it wasn’t until the advent of the internet and eBay that I was able to buy Enid Blyton books again! :)

  8. I’m confused: Why was this movie given an “A” certificate?

    • I think because it was a “scary” story…ghosts, creepy mansion, chained prisoners with weird head gear…ooh, I forgot to screen cap that. It was very interesting—Shyamlal was forced to wear a very strange bondage-like thing on his head which prevented him from speaking.

  9. I have heard that Nutan appeared in a bathing suit in her first film. Maybe thats why it was given an A cert. But the scene seems to have been chopped out of this dvd.

    • I don’t think there was any scope for a bathing suit in this! She did famously appear in one in Dilli Ka Thug but that was much later….probably some lazy journalist along the line decided that DKT was her first film and started rumors :)

  10. As for many people, when one says Nagina, I get the image of the Sridevi film before my eyes and a nahiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin comes over my lips!
    But this sounds wonderful.
    Nutan referred to the fact, that she was nearly not allowed to enter the cinema hall for the premiere of the film on the TV-Show ‘Phool Khile hain gulshan gulshan’ hosted by Tabassum, who was famous for her line “To phir aap filmon mein kaise aaye?”
    But she didn’t mention that Shammi Kapoor escorted her to the premiere. They in fact starred in three films together in seven years intervals [Laila Majnu (1953), Basant (1960), Lattsahab (1967)]. Nutan also told in the interview that after this movie she was sent to a Swiss finishing school and her schoolmates were full of awe, when she revealed that she was a ‘film star’.

    Well, as far as I know Nagmani/Nagina (the snake stone,not to be confused with nagin, which is a female cobra) doesn’t help you become spiritual but rather gives you magical powers like changing your body and/or something on these lines.
    It is a little bit confusing, since supposedly on the path of spirituality one also achieves these magical powers, but with such stones, you get them without having to do all the tedious stuff.
    By the way, the followers of the spiritual path are strongly advised not to touch these powers, since that would move you away from the destination and that would be to be one with the consciousness, Buddhists would say to attain nirvana.

    Nasir Khan does look good here. Wonder why Nutan never starred in a film with his brother, Dilip Kumar (Shubash Ghai’s Karma being an exception)

    A Banyan Tree lair is not hard to find, since they get hollow in the middle when the grow, just like the oak. But since most of them are revered and worshipped one is not allowed to climb them or do anything else but worship them!

    What is this about Hiralal? He surely looks good. But why the surprise?

    • I wasn’t surprised here, but I remember seeing him in Badal and being surprised—I was used to seeing him as a creepy bad guy in his later films. He really was very handsome though, wonder why he wasn’t offered hero roles?

  11. I got this movie thinking there were, in fact, mystical snakes involved. Fortunately, it was so entertaining (despite the subtitle issues) that I didn’t mind.

    At the time, my assumption about the Nagmani was that it’s sort of like the Pink Panther diamond, or Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone. That is, they’re jewels that are just really, really valuable, but because of shape or color or something about their history, they’ve taken on more mythical connotations– in this case, associated with the kind of magical cobra jewels that the bad guys in the Sridevi movies are always trying to steal. But that’s just a guess, based on the fact that these bad guys were obviously so worldly — not interested in any benefits in potential shape-shifting, immortality, or world-conquering power. :)

    • It is very entertaining despite the lack of snakes (although the ring is pretty spectacular with its hooded cobra). I really never figured out why the bad guys all wanted the Nagmani since it didn’t LOOK very valuable and def. didn’t seem to DO anything :) I wanted to see some sort of magical power out of it!!! which never happened.

      But still—good film as you say anyway! :)

  12. Frankly, I think you have superior Hindi film decoding skills, memsaab. I remember watching “Nagina” some time back and not being able to make heads or tails of it. Despite the hide-n-seek sub-titles, you’ve captured the plot pretty accurately I think.

    RE: Nasir Khan, a softer, more diffident version of Dilip Kumar is a good way of describing him. I actually find him easier on my nerves than the great Dilip.:-) Aaghosh (w/Nutan again), Aangarey (w/Nargis), Neelam Pari (w/Geeta Bali) and Daiera (w/Meena Kumari) are some other movies I’ve seen with Nasir in the lead. Enjoyed all of them, except for Daiera which I’ve been trying to get through for a decade now.:-)

    As for the lack of Nutan-Dilip movies in their heydays, they did sign and partially shoot for a film called “Shikwaah”(see clip below) in the early 50s. Nutan reportedly had some problem with Dilip and dropped out of the film and refused to act with him till “Karma” came along.

    • Thanks to you providing me rare and wonderful things without subtitles that I NEED to slog through anyway because they are rare and wonderful, I think my ability to decode is improving somewhat, Shalini :) But still. I have a long way to go!

      Thanks for giving more Nasir film names. His movies don’t seem to be readily available, sadly. And he died awfully young, did he not? Dilip K. is tough for me too sometimes—he is so gloomy early on, and then later gives me an arrogant vibe; plus the fact that so many actresses hated working with him puts me off him a little bit (the whole smoke/fire thing)…he is a fine actor, though, no doubt about that.

    • Thanks for the clip Shalini! Sad thing that they didn’t make the film! It seemed to have a strong message!
      Loved Dilip Kumar in this scene!

    • Thanks for this clip, Shalini.
      What a rare gem to have unearthed.
      Lovely to hear Dilip expressing my ‘pacifist’ views, even if rather noisily :-)
      I guess there was no other way when one was being forcibly removed.
      But loved him in the scene nevertheless.

      Regarding Nutan dropping out.
      Was/is that possible? Don’t they have to sign a contract or something?
      IIRC even Madubala and Dilip had to finish Mughal e azam inspite of their falling out with each other.

  13. I love the fervour of the girl with the rattles in the song “Humse koi pyaar karo jee”
    Did Hiralal have bad foul teeth? It looked like that in the song.

    • LOL, it’s entirely possible but I don’t care as long as I don’t have to kiss him :D

        • LOL!!!!!!!!!!!
          This sounds like a fun movie, will look up for it. Loved the songs. My my my dear, aao aao aao aao near, mummy nahin daddy nahin koi nahin ghar mein mujhko lagta hai darr – what a catchy number it is…I felt like dancing myself. Watched it 4 times already!
          Humse Koyi Pyar Karoji is nice too.
          Thanks Shalini for that clip!
          Though there are lots of Banyan trees around and have heard of lots of stories, never thought of it as a lair. Will definiitely be on a lookout next time I spot one

  14. Maybe that subtitle guy was doing it in real time and was a slow typer. Stranger things have happened – like Mithun movies.

    • True!!! Although I think I like the picture in my head of the narcoleptic subtitler at work better. Whatever the reason, I hope I don’t run across the fruits of his labors again :)

  15. “I remember escorting Nutan—she was not yet 18 then—to the premiere of her adult film Nagina as heroine and she was actually not allowed in as she was underage!”

    Wasn’t it the same with Linda Blair and the ‘The Exorcist’ premiere? Funny in a weird way.

  16. Lovely review. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
    As for banyan tree lairs, hopefully there are still plenty of them in India. There sure were when I was growing up. Loved the banyan trees – though many of them looked really scary. :-)

    I see we share an interest in Enid Blyton. When I was in school, I must have read every single book written by her. We had a huge library – and when we were asked for suggestions on new additions, we would look up the complete list of Blyton’s books and close the gap in the library collection. We were allowed only one book to be issued at a time but I managed to patao the librarian to allow me two at a time. The very next day I would be back for the next two. Lovely days ! Koi lauta de mere beetey hue din.

  17. As for the subtitling, I think you are doing pretty well now without subtitle assistance. Sometimes the subtitling is so much off-track that it confuses you more than anything. A few more movies without subtitles and you will not need them anymore. I thought that was the ultimate goal ? :-)

    • We would have been best friends growing up if we’d been neighbors :) I don’t find banyans scary, but probably because I didn’t grow up with all the stories about them. We had baobabs, which I also really love.

      I miss a whole lot of detail without subtitles (and, as you rightly say, sometimes with them too)…I need a full-time Hindi tutor—want the job? You’ll have to relocate though ;-)

  18. In answer to your query…Srinath,s mother is Anwaribai. She used to come in quite a few movies during that time- Anmol Ghadi, Shahjahan, Balam and acts as Raj Kapoor,s mother in Andaz as well. She is the maternal grandmother of Salma Agha

    • Oh! THANK you Sami. So then she is also Nasreen’s mother (Nasreen is Salma Agha’s mother and is also in Shahjahan)! I will add her to my gallery :)

      • You are absolutely correct! Nasreen is the daughter of Anwari and music director Rafiq Ghaznavi

        • Oh I always forget that Rafiq Ghaznavi was her father—I wish I could find some good photos of him. Saadat Hasan Manto wrote about him at length in my favorite book on the Hindi film industry, apparently he was very good-looking and quite the ladies’ man! :)

  19. Hi Greta,
    Thanks for your review of a Nutan film I simply hadn’t found very entertaining, coming after the Bandinis and Sujatas, perhaps! But it was certainly pleasant to read your take on it. For me, Nagina was a kind of “mythical” movie, a thriller with a rather unnecessarily spooky atmosphere which was both too dark and too boringly complicated, without any of the psychological depth of Sahib bibi aur ghulam, for example.
    But what a lovely picture of Nutan you selected for your header!

    • Hi Yves :) I’m glad you enjoyed the post. The film is no Bandini or Sujata for sure, but it was a surprisingly pleasant time-pass considering the bad quality of picture and subtitles!

  20. Hi Memsaab- I owned this DVD for a while, but your excellent review
    encouraged me to watch it. I was a little wary of older Bollywood
    because I watched Anmol Ghadi a few years ago and kept falling
    asleep. I really enjoyed this, partly thanks to your review.
    One possible correction. Prokofieff (Peter and the Wolf) is one of my
    favorite composers, and I never did notice any of that music in this
    film. However, I did hear Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Dukas) -more than
    once; also, Night on Bare Mountain (Mussorgsky) @ around 2 hours in
    when Nutan is trying to distract Hiralal with the painting of her mother.
    Also heard In the Hall of the Mountain King (Grieg) and Hungarian
    Rhapsody #2 (Liszt). I heard these last three pieces of music at the
    climax of the film and then Sorcerer’s Apprentice makes a come-back.
    Nevertheless, great pieces to use as BGM.

  21. My 2 cents worth nostalgia trip of the Nagina genre of Bollywood, and a due thanks to you for the Nagina part….:)))

  22. this msg is for MEMSAAB !!! I like UR comments ON actor HIRALAL

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