Nagin (1976)

Fate has conspired to push snake movies at me from all angles this month; so be it. Until Doodh Ka Karz came along this was my topmost favorite of the genre and it is at least still tied for first. I love it for the ridiculous special effects, the Seventies style, the star-crammed cast and the shape-shifting, vengeful ichchadhari nagin Reena Roy. These things more than make up for the heavy-handed (at times) preaching on a wide number of subjects: marriage, wifely duty, religion, sacrifice, revenge, redemption. I was only planning to mine this for screenshots for my “Nahiin! Face Gallery” (coming soon), but I couldn’t stop watching once I began. There are lots of Nahiin! Face moments, but there are some surprisingly sensitive ones too. All in all it’s an odd mixture of things, almost none of them boring.

Vijay (Sunil Dutt) is a professor studying the legendary snakes who, when they reach the age of 100, can change themselves into human form. Out looking for them one day he saves a man who has been attacked hilariously by a stuffed hawk. When the young man (Jeetendra, dressed like he’s just come off the Dharam-Veer set) hears of Vijay’s interest, he confesses that he himself is one of those snakes and that he is to meet his lover that evening—he invites Vijay to come and watch. To prove that he’s telling the truth, he transforms into a shrinking paper doll and then to a snake in front of Vijay’s eyes and allows him to watch a seductive dance with his beloved (Reena Roy).

Meanwhile Vijay’s best buddies are introduced to us via a birthday party, much like Agatha Christie dinner guests. None of them are very likable at first sight. Kiran (Anil Dhawan) is shooting at balloons inside the house—with children present—then invites a pretty girl to step outside with him for some sweet sweet love. Suraj is Sanjay Khan (and therefore, unlikable) and it is his daughter Anu (Master Bittoo, in a refreshing change of pace from girls playing little boys) whose birthday they are all celebrating. Rajesh (Vinod Mehra) is there with his fiancee Rita (a voluptuous Yogeeta Bali); Uday (Kabir Bedi) shows up without his god-fearing wife Sheela (Neelam Mehra), complaining about their incompatibility (he is a proud atheist). When she finally does arrive, he insults her in front of everyone. The last to arrive are Raj (Feroz Khan) and then the lovely Sunita (Rekha), who has brought a letter from Vijay for his friends.

Vijay has written to invite them to come gawk at the evening’s snake entertainment. None of them believe in his magic snakes, but accompany him into the jungle that night anyway. They are stunned at the sight of Reena in her skimpy gold outfit (so am I), but as her mate approaches her in snake form trigger-happy Kiran shoots him to save Reena from being bitten. Vijay is appalled, but I wonder why he didn’t foresee this happening, given their skepticism. I’m thinking he might have asked them not to kill the snake.

Reena (I don’t think she ever has a name in the film) is devastated and who can blame her? Her lover was such a sexy, sexy beast.

There is a bunch of stuff about him fixing his killers in his eyes and sending the images to Reena, and he expires tragically. It doesn’t take Reena long to dispose of Kiran (it seems to me that the friends get knocked off in order of their star status). She wakes him that same night and tells him that she is a simple snake charmer who was held captive by the snake, and that she’s grateful to him for saving her. Being the flirt (at best) that he is, he takes advantage, leading her by the hand into his room and locking the door. He realizes when he sees their reflection in the mirror that—oops!—he’s not holding a snake charmer’s hand, but it is too late.

One down!

…and off she slithers to dispatch number two.

Her second victim is Rajesh, and she accomplishes her seduction of him by changing herself into Rita’s form. It has to take a little longer (if they were all killed as quickly as Kiran the movie would end in about ten minutes), so Jagdeep is introduced as a snake charmer, and then Rajesh and “Rita” go off on a picnic or something, get caught in a rainstorm, have to check into the Sun ‘N’ Sand Hotel to dry off, and are forced into a dance competition there by friends who include Aruna Irani. The real Rita shows up at Rajesh’s house; when Vijay arrives soon after that and realizes the implications, they all rush to the hotel to save Rajesh.

But Reena bites him before they can get there. As Rajesh lies dying, Reena changes back into her Reena form and her despair at losing her beloved is palpable. It is very easy to be sympathetic to her, especially given Rajesh’s taste in underwear, but it’s also apparent that all this revenge isn’t really making her feel better.

Two down!

The others gather, realizing that they are all going to be targets. Vijay takes them to see a fakir (called O’sage in the subtitles) (Premnath) and he gives them each an amulet which will protect them from snakebite. Uday rejects his and scoffs at the notion that the amulet will work, nastik that he is. O’sage proves it to him by carrying a cobra past his friends; they remain unscathed, but when the snake reaches Uday it bites and he is only saved by picking up the amulet. He is cured—cured, I tell you!—of his atheism, and devout Sheela is thrilled. He apologizes to her for his earlier treatment of her and suggests it’s time to make their marriage real, wink-wink.

Alas, their new happy and religious married life is doomed. It’s Uday’s turn (Kabir’s international career had not yet been born), and Reena sends a telegram calling Sheela away to tend to her sick brother.

She takes on the guise of a village girl (Prema Narayan) whom Uday saves from being raped and takes home to dry off (more rain). She puts on his wife’s “bridal attire” which seems presumptuous to me, but Uday doesn’t appear to mind. He offers her some brandy and seems very tempted to seduce her despite his new fondness for his wife  When her attempt to bite him fails, she sees the amulet and realizes she will have to find another way or get him to take it off. Thwarted by yet another of Vijay’s convenient arrivals—she puts venom into Uday’s brandy but Vijay sees it and knocks it from his hand (is snake venom really blue?)—she disappears, and reappears on a hilltop pretending to be suicidal in order to attract the attention of Ranjeet in an afro wig.

He is astonished and pleased when she calls him bhaiyya: it’s not a common occurrence for him since he is, well, Ranjeet.

Anyhow she convinces him that Uday is her husband, bewitched by an amulet given to him by the prostitute he is now living with and calling his wife. Of course he believes her instantly (oh! the power of that word bhaiyya!) and vows to make things right, with predictable results. Kabir may be tall and handsome and God-fearing, but he’s no match for Ranjeet.

I love the delicious irony of Ranjeet trying to do a good deed which turns into disaster. Three down!

Reena skips and laughs in the forest but then—like the previous two times—is lost in memories of her beloved. These little episodes are quite entertaining, involving as they do a lot of snake-like writhing and contorting on the part of both Reena, who actually does it fairly well, and Jeetendra, who looks awkward and uncomfortable and makes me giggle. I am probably supposed to reflect once more upon the fact that vengeance does not take away the pain of loss or bring back the dead…but I just giggle.

O’sage is still pursuing the female snake too with apprentice Jagdeep, whose ineptitude for snake-charming forces O’sage to magically reproduce himself.

This tactic works, and O’sage’s been playing forces Reena to change back into a snake, which O’sage easily now captures. He leaves her in the care of incompetent Jagdeep and goes to tell the three remaining friends that they are out of danger. They aren’t so sure and want to kill her, which prompts another lofty speech from O’sage about the sanctity of life and how God is the only one who has the right to give it or take it away.

They turn to Jagdeep, who is easily bribed into giving them the poor snake. Raj somewhat gruesomely shoots her head off and I fret once again about animal safety on the sets.

But can it be that easy to kill an ichchadhari? I guess it was pretty easy to kill her mate, but there’s still another hour to go!

If my theory about star-power regulating the order in which they die holds true I figure Suraj-Sanjay must be next (actually I would have put him first but maybe that’s just me). And so he is, and I’m pleased when it’s accomplished with little fuss or plot contortion. The snake menaces his daughter Anu, and he gives up his amulet and his life for his little girl.

The peaceful look on Suraj’s face as he accepts his fate and waits for the snake to strike is touching—he is happy to exchange his life for his daughter’s. He is also, interestingly, the only one Reena does not attempt to seduce in some form. Vijay rushes in (conveniently again) and promises to care for her as Suraj dies. Four down!

The death of Suraj is the last straw for Raj. He tracks Reena down in the forest and tries unsuccessfully to shoot her in her human form. She taunts him that he’s next and nothing can stop her and vanishes. As he broods and drinks in his bachelor pad, a pretty girl appears in his doorway.

She introduces herself as Raj Kumari, fresh from London, whose mother wants her to marry Raj.

Is she really the nagin? Or is she who she says she is? Is Feroz a big enough star not to be killed off or will Raj suffer the same fate as his friends before him? And what about the ever-present Vijay? Will his beloved Sunita (who has sadly been mostly absent from the movie) be the instrument of his death? How did the nagin survive having her head blown clean off?

Plus, snake fight (which distresses me)! And a cat-fight too. This is an interesting film from a feminist angle: the women in it are all very self-confident and strong, but they are also the means by which the men die. Sex (or attempts at it) equals death, and the female snake is implacable and unmerciful in her quest for vengeance. “Women are scary” kind of seems to be the message, especially if they stray beyond traditional roles, but the women in this film are mostly fairly modern girls and they aren’t the ones killed off.

In any case I can be totally on board with the “vengeance is wrong” message, and that’s the main point of the film. I’ve now gone on even longer than usual so I’ll end with: just watch it, and have fun.

55 Comments to “Nagin (1976)”

  1. This is one of the first Hindi films i saw, thanks to an article on the 5minutestolive gray market tape/dvd-r site (another was Waqt, just rewatched some of that last night). I’m impressed you didn’t take any screen caps of the hawk! I don’t think I’ve seen another movie similar to this one, it’s not always good but it’s interesting as you say.

  2. I wonder how the director could convince so many stars to act in his film. So far as I see nobody had big role in the film, all had tidbits. The director must surely have had great persuasivepowers!
    Great review once again!

    • I don’t know if Feroz Khan, Sanjay Khan, Kabir Bedi, Anil Dhawan, Vinod Mehra were in the same league as that of the major stars of the 70s. I would certainly rate a Dharmendra-Amitabh Bachchan-Vinod Khanna starrer in the 70s as a true multi-starrer.

      Mumtaz was on the verge of retirement post marriage when she signed this film (the credits show this as her last movie). Rajkumar Kohli never had problems getting Reena Roy and Rekha for a film I guess (Jaani Dushman – 1979) was another.

      • Ah yes…Jaani Dushman. Now THOSE are some special effects! It’s a pretty solidly star-filled movie even without AB-Dharam-VK.

        Mumtaz did make a few others, but she was definitely winding down with this one. She’s gorgeous in it :)

    • Or he was a good blackmailer! Maybe it was that they could shoot their parts of the film pretty quickly and it is a loony tale—I would have said yes if he’d asked me to be in it! :)

  3. I love this movie more than anything. Your writeup makes me realize how much it has to teach us about 70s Hindi films overall: moralizing, star billing, the implications of sexy clothes….

    • Ha ha ha! Yes. Sexy clothes…there were a LOT of those. Women in sexy clothes are scary!!!!! And probably a snake in disguise!

      ***SPOILER***I actually wondered how Sunil didn’t know that Rekha had been taken over by the snake when she showed up in that unbelievably sexy black outfit at the end…up until then she had worn pretty modest outfits, fabulously fashionable as some of them were!***END SPOILER***

  4. Haven’t seen this movie but according to elders in the family – this was a super hit movie which set a precedent for other snake theme movies.

  5. Jeetendra just coming off Dharam-veer sets borrowing Dharmendra’s clothes :-)

  6. I just saw this movie yet again, a few days ago. It is so much fun. I love the array of stars, so difficult to see nowadays, all packed into one film, the clothes, the nag and nagin dances. Jeetendra does make a sexy naag, for whom any naagin would want to take revenge. :)

  7. Another movie that I have seen, and liked. What can I say? My taste in movies is suspect – but I *love* these snake movies, fantasies etc.! Now I have to go and watch it again. You are a wicked woman, Greta. I haven’t seen a movie for the past three weeks and my to-watch list is growing beyond belief! I have even gone to the trouble to listing them as ‘to-watch’ and ‘to re-watch’.

  8. i only impressed with a song of this film. i think it would be first song of the film. it really amuse the viewer. you must comment over this song. honestly speaking! there was nothing to remember in this film.
    Mem sahib……
    you must see and write about film ‘Nagina’ and ‘nigaahen’. both are sequel and comment on it. Sri Devi starer film completely subdue the viewers with its ‘been’ music and beauty of Sri Devi. I m waiting for you next article and thought of yous……………….

    • I didn’t like the songs, actually—they were my least favorite thing about it. Sorry! I have seen Nagina and Nigaahen with Sri Devi. I liked Nagina but I remember that I really didn’t like Nigaahen. But maybe I’ll be visited with snake film urges again, although Sheshnaag is right up there to watch first.

  9. I think this was the original snake movie that set off a trend. What I do like about this is that it is unapologetic and for most part remains focused on the revenge theme, providing some entertainment on the way. Above all it celebrates 70s Bollywood stardom. I do recollect this film being a big hit and subsequent reruns too attracted crowds.

  10. I am very surprised Mumtaz is in this movie. I thought she got married and quit movies in 1974

  11. This movie was a big multistarrer movie of its time and a big hit. I watched the movie but I do not at all remember the story of the movie, since those were he days when I watched movies just for the sake of watching them. :)

    The question that I had asked earlier still remain unanswered. What happnes to the lothes of an ichhadhaari naagin when she changes from the human form to snake form, and how does she reppear into the human form with the same clothes ?

    • Atul if you are to enjoy these movies you have to leave your need for logic aside :))) You might as well ask how on earth a snake can change into a human as to worry about the clothes!

  12. This is the only nagin movie I like. So much masala, such eye candy.

  13. Absolutely LOVED this review, Greta. Was ROFL-ing all the way. I sometimes pick out a line or two from your review which had me in giggles but this is one long giggle-fest. :-) Especially your comments about Sanjay Khan and Ranjeet. :-) And the order in which the guys get knocked off. :-)

    I remember this movie being a pretty big hit in the 70s. It is easily THE movie that made Reena Roy. Till then she had had just an OK career, a few average hits, a few flops, one of many aspiring heroines at that time (like Sulakshana Pandit and Yogeeta Bali).

    This movie absolutely made people notice Reena Roy. It was HER movie all the way, inspite of its array of actors. And although she spends a lot of time as a snake in the movie, she does carry off her non-snake role fairly convincingly IMO.

    I LOVED the movie – it is a LOT of fun. I just LOVED the relentlessness of the snake’s pursuit. Heaven may have no fury like a woman scorned, but heaven, earth and the nether world have no fury like a woman-snake-woman scorned!!! :-)

    Though I’ve seen this movie multiple times, the last time was about 10 years ago – and I’d forgotten many parts of the movie. The part I very distinctly remember (it made quite an impression on me when I first saw the movie as a schoolboy) was that rope scene towards the end. Thanks to your review, I feel like the movie’s happening in front of my eyes right now.

    I don’t think getting so many actors together at that time would have been that difficult for Rajkumar Kohli because, except for Sunil Dutt and Reena Roy, all of them had only near-cameos. And the sets must also have been pretty local. Getting the snake scenes would probably have been a bigger challenge.

    I remember Jeetendra once talking in an interview about his dance-song with Reena Roy. He said that when the scene was described to him, with the skimy dressing and the writhing, he’d felt a bit apprehensive and uncomfortable about it. But apparently, when the camera rolled, Reena got under the skin of the role so quickly and comfortably – and was so professional about the whole dance-song – that she put him totally at ease and they managed it quite easily. It was a hit song – though a lot of people did frown at it for obvious reasons.

    I remember most of the songs of this movie being hits. At least they used to be regularly played on radio.

    Thanks for an absolutely delightful review, Greta.

  14. Please! No more snake/animal films for a while. I am a die-hard animal lover (and human hater for the way we are brutally raping the planet and its countless species for instant gratification).

    I hate the way animals are handled in general in India (*) and on Indian film sets, their lives are reduced to unbelievably cheap and mindless entertainment. Poor Charles! Poor all those animals.

    (*) worship dogs as Bhairav, elephants as Ganesha and monkeys as Hanuman, but then go ahead and stone them all when they are seen in streets, etc.
    P.S: I have nothing against religion, it is all about the hypocrisy that gets my goat!

  15. @Atul,
    > What happens to the clothes of an ichhadhaari naagin when she
    > changes from the human form to snake form

    Ahhh, my good man. Still fresh from reading this other review, I see

    More to the point, where does she keep/take her ginormous wardrobe….


    Ahhh Filmi logic…

    Roger Ebert keeps a full glossary of it:

    1. The Chased Woman Conundrum
    When a woman is chased through a forest by an aggressive man, she will be unable to traverse 50 meters without a tree root appearing and tripping her up. Men are so seldom chased by aggressive women that tree roots have not evolved for them yet.

    2. Magical Death Hand Wave
    When a relative or partner of the hero is murdered, and the hero must view the body, always still at the scene of the crime, the hero will pass his hand over the eyes of the victim, and (viola!) magically, the eyes will remain closed.

    3. Fruit Cart Scene
    An ancient tradition. Any vehicular chase sequence must involve the upturning or smashing of a cart of fruit, such as one would find along a street or in a farmer’s market. These crashes (which may occur in mid-chase, or as the grand finale) precipitate much strategic leaping by merchants, shoppers, and other pedestrians (played by stunt persons) who fling themselves out of harm’s way in the nick of time.

    4. The Well-Thrown Blade
    The Well-Thrown Blade. In any action sequence, whenever a knife is thrown but misses its intended target, it will nonetheless lodge itself, blade first, in the wall behind him. It never bounces off the wall and clatters to the ground

    5. Headphone Invincibility Rule
    Vacuuming a room while listening to music on large headphones guarantees your survival through natural disasters and other calamities.

    6. Cleanliness is Next to Sexiness
    Female characters never bathe or shower except in connection with sex, violence, or implied lesbianism.

    7. One-at-a-Time Attack Rule
    In any situation where the hero is alone, surrounded by dozens of bad guys, they will always obligingly attack one at a time. Especially true in Arnold Schwarzenegger and martial arts films.

    … It is great fun!

  16. OMG I saw this film twice, though not from the start, and I hardly recognised Kabir Bedi at all!!!!! Thanks for this review memsaab…I remember him most from the Italian series Sandokan…and still I was unable to recognise him back then…

    • I’ve been meaning to look for pictures of him playing Sandokan but keep forgetting!

      • Having read your review, I now remember that this film was actually remade in Tamil, sometime in the 1990’s, with Nirosha of Chinna Papa Periya Papa fame playing the role of Reena Roy…personally, I find one of the most memorable aspects of Nagin is Reena Roy herself…she really looked her best in this movie…

        • She did, especially when she was being played by Mumtaz! (Just kidding, Reena herself is lovely :)

          • I agree,this was one of Reena’s most effective roles.
            I think Nagin was remade in Tamil as Neeya with Kamal Hassan essaying Sunil Dutt’s role and Sripriya playing the snake (sorry Reena Roy’s role). I am not sure if there were other remakes.

  17. The few differences i remember about the Tamil remake are, first, Reena Roy’s character is not killed in the end; second, her dead lover is actually resurrected! Plus, O’sage’s character also assists her every time she kills the bad guys ie those who killed her lover…

  18. Tamil actress Sripriya herself produced and directed(in early 90s`) a Kannada remake of Nagin as NAAGINI(starring Geetha, Late Shankar nag,Anant naag,Rajani,Roopini)But the film suffered very much as the Hero Shankar Nag died in an accident and later,the movie was completed with Shankar nag`s elder brother Anant nag giving Sripriya a helping hand in completing the movie.

  19. This is THE nagin film for me. All others in the genre are just imitation or just ok for me. The basis of the film is the folklore that a dying snake ‘records’ the killer’s face in his/her eyes – the mate sees those images and slithers off to take revenge… (which is why folklore further advocates that the killer burns the snake so that the mate will not be able to see the image of the killer……Howzzat!).

    Using multiple STARS and sex as bait really sent it zooming up the charts. One is kept on tenterhooks who is next in line to pop off and just how the NAGIN is going to bump him off (a woman downing a STAR at that!). The music is great and my favourite is the Feroz / Mumtaz song – but I have found the sound quality of songs on CD to have deteriorated; at least in the CD version that I have it is definitely sub par (I am lucky to have heard the songs of yester-years when they were not scratchy or deteriorated in quality).

    And I identify Reena Roy totally with this film.

    • I predicted correctly every time who was next in line to be offed :D But I have the advantage of hindsight I guess. I agree though, this is the best snake film that I know of (so far) (although DKK is right up there too—I just love the snake in that one. Such charisma!).

  20. Yes as you advised one of your readers (Atul), when I saw this film– a long time ago– I kept logic aside and just enjoyed this film.

  21. Greta, watched this movie on Youtube (just finished actually). And since Lalitha is not here to nitpick :)) –

    When it came to Sunil Dutt’s turn, why on earth did the naagin decide to use his revolver to kill him instead? Two, why was she singing a whole song instead of biting him the minute he killed the naagdevta who was following her?

    (Ans: He was the ‘hero’ of the movie. LOL)

    But I thoroughly enjoyed the film – snake and all. :) Thanks for reminding me what fun these films can be.

  22. Hello Greta… awesome review! I know I am very late in this, but I recently saw this movie and wanted to find your take on in. Looks like we have similar thoughts about this one ;)

    By the way, talking of snake movies, I remember an old one with same name (Nagin) starring Vyjayantimala and Bharat Bhushan. I do not remember the story but it had lovely songs for sure!

  23. Your review is hilarious. I’ve watched this movie so many times. Yesterday I was watching it with my daughter and we felt the same, stuffed hawk, snake on a stick, pretending to fly around and many trick shots. As a young kid, I was awed, but now, it’s a good laugh.

  24. I’ve discovered this blog relatively recently and become a huge fan, your reviews are so fabulously written and this particular one is simply brilliant with some great lines.

    Jeetendra, dressed like he’s just come off the Dharam-Veer set.

    Suraj is Sanjay Khan (and therefore, unlikable).

    it’s not a common occurrence for him since he is, well, Ranjeet.

    Pure genius, especially the latter two!

    Thanks for all you have written.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: