adventures in a subtitleless and otherwise wild and woolly land: Sheshnaag

I am pretty certain I missed at least a third of what was going on in an average scene in Sheshnaag. Based on what I could understand, however, I'm not sure that detracted from my enjoyment of this eyes-a-bulgin' scenery-chompin' tale of two good snake-people, one very, very evil villain, and the people who get mixed up in their conflict. Pesky details like why the people are involved in the good/evil conflict will be glossed over, partly because I do not have any concept of some of them and partly because they probably don't matter much. Here is what I do know.
  • Jeetendra and Madhavi are the two friendly and helpful snakes. At the beginning of the film, they are called into existence (or immediate presence?) by a jolly-looking priest who does some kind of ritual at a snake-themed temple (or his basement?) using a special golden lingam and snake idol during a lunar eclipse.

    The new snake-people show the gathered humans great treasure under the floor, and the humans crate it up and carry it away. Therefore the humans are maybe sorta bad even though the snakes are nice to them? *shrug*
  • Danny Denzongpa hangs out in a creepy lair with devilish idol and lots of skulls., rough-hewn look of this statue reminds me of the shaitan in Ajooba.
    Most of his lines are delivered by shouting and then amplified further with an echo effect. He really, really hates Jeetendra and Madhavi and tries to kill them. I have no idea why.
  • Rishi Kapoor is the village idiot. He plays the flute and can soothe and beckon animals with it.

    Like the root of the good/evil issue, I do not know what Rishi has to do with the snakes/Danny story. Rishi's character seemed to veer towards disposable comic side plot, though with more screen time than someone like Jagdeep probably would have had. I think the only real point of Rishi was to serve as a link to Rekha, who is his sister.

    Rekha is married to abusive and utterly useless Anupam Kher, and in the middle of being assaulted and nearly raped by his cronies in a poker game, Rekha is suddenly possessed by, or inhabited by, or something, the female snake, so we get very little more of Madhavi on screen but lots more of this, which is totally fine by me:

  • Rishi needs a love interest - 'cause who wouldn't swoon over 1990 vintage Rishi playing a simpleton - so enter Mandakini, whose father Raza Murad and fiancĂ© Dan Dhanoa are definitely on the bad side, though not as evil as Danny. Raza wants Mandakini to marry Dan (maybe for money or business interest?), but with the snakes' help Rishi is able to steal her away because they are in true movie pyaaaaar - with bubbles!
  • A bunch of other stuff happens and we see the possibly-bad humans from the beginning again and there's a huge fight that even involves Shiva and then the right people win at the end. Ta-da!
Even though my comprehension of what was going on much of the time in Sheshnaag was impaired, I cannot in good conscience disagree with this user comment from imdb: "If you want to see a film on snake world, this is a very right movie to watch." Let's sample some of the evidence for this argument.
  • For starters, this closeup appears very early on:

    Yes. Danny is so evil that when a snake bites him on his tongue, the snake dies.

    Speaking of Danny's mouth, he either has amazing teeth or the wardrobe department spent half their budget on his veneers. Look how even they are!
  • Such a bad man deserves a suitable hangout, and Danny's lair is appropriately tricked out with flames, a waterfall, and rocky faces with fangs.
  • Danny tries to off Rishi by biting him. Rishi was annoying enough that I felt some empathy for this quest.
  • Jeetendra teaches Rishi some fighting skills. Think about the implications of that sentence for a minute before proceeding to the picture of Rishi training (?) to be tough (?) by breaking pots of color (?) with his head (?) with his hands tied behind his back (?).

    This is a method of instruction from a snake. Snakes being known for having hands and bashing things with their skulls.
  • Jeetendra can fly.
  • Snake-Rekha projects memories on the outside of her head, usually emanating from her bindi.

  • Amrish Puri-style eye-bulging is par for the course.

  • Rekha spits venom at Danny, causing his head to separate from his body.

  • In a movie full of very special special effects, the head-separting was perhaps my favorite, but there are many others to admire.

  • There is a never-ending parade of animal cameos (canimaleos?): in addition to snakes, there are goats, a bear, elephants, big cats, boing-boingy deer, and a bunny.

    Which is more useless: the bunny that appears only in this scene or Mandakini's hair bow?
  • Rishi bashes his head against a lingam until he bleeds. (If only he'd already had his pot-head training! Alas, it came after this scene.) Again, I don't know why - a general act of contrition for being such a fool? - but I can't say that I thought it was a definitively bad idea.
  • Speaking of, Shiva is very helpful throughout.

    The snakes coil around a lingam and inch with it out of the reach of flames hurled by Danny,

    and a much larger one proves a very handy weapon in the supernatural dishoomery at the climax.

    (Side note: during this battle, Danny also jabs Rekha in the throat with his trident and leaves it there, yet she can still talk perfectly fine. It's a miracle!)

  • Snake-Rekha lives in a house tastefully appointed with not inconspicuous clues to her true identity.

    But there aren't mere knickknacks. Oh no. They can turn into the real thing when needed!
  • Snakey outfits!

    Best. Headpiece. Ever.
  • Snakey dancing!

    I don't know what had happened to Jeetendra by the time this film was being shot, but he simply cannot keep up with the women. They are sinuous and fluid and serpentine; he is jostling, lurching angles (click here for an example) - "bhangra uncle," as Temple said. Rekha more than makes up for it with the fantastic "O Saphere Dushman Mere." There is all kinds of crazy happening in this song, and Rekha owns it like nobody's business.

    Laxmikant-Pyarelal's riffs with the pungi are great too. This song is a fabulous example of all the elements working together to make an effective, evocative, memorable piece that fits seamlessly into the story. Costumes, choreography, music, light crew, stars, backup dancers, and situation all get a hearty vah vah! from me and the song is going into my personal record book of best Rekha numbers ever.
See? Very right. And a great note on which to end Rekha Month. She is totally into the spirit of this film and gives an energetic, dramatic performance - and tones it down appropriately when she is playing her regular human character (Rishi's sister before and after being possessed by the nagin) - while leaving the most egregious scenery-chomping to Danny. If he weren't in it, she might look ridiculous, but as it is they are beautifully matched foes. Even if none of the rest of this appeals to you, watch the song embedded above. It's a respite of masala perfection in a film full of slithering silliness.


Rum said…
Woah this looks like the epitome of crazy snake films! Was this film unsubtitled for you? If so then you must be getting better at just Hindi and figuring out inane plotlines like these!

Also I am loving all these bugged eyed shots of Rekha, she looks like she more fierce than Sridevi in Nagina! And some of this head gear and outfits look totally Lady Gaga
Rum said…
DUHHHHH Shoulda read the title instead immediately looking at the picture of a crazy looking Danny!
Temple said…
Ecellent work Beth! My DVD does have subtitles but really, it doesn't make the film seem any more sensible. Actually my DVD is a 4-in-1 with Nagin, Nagina, Nigahein and Sheshnaag. Just pause and consider that combination. Danny had, according to my susbtitlers, drunk the venom of 1000 snakes so he was pure concentrated poison hence the snake dying after biting him. And he was tired of the snakes donating wealth for social welfare and wanted it all for himself, plus immortality. Or something.
Rum - You must see this! Danny is soooooo over the top and fun and Rekha matches him wonderfully! Rekha is extremely fierce in this. I'd love to see Nagina but it's hard to imagine anyone doing it better than she does!

Temple - I am quite envious of your 4-in-1 DVD! It makes the head spin! Do you recommend Nagina or Nigahen?

I can see how drinking the venom of 1,000 snakes would wig a person out. I am also glad to know that that beginning scene of the people scooping up the treasure was for good, not evil, purposes - I really couldn't tell without the words, since there were no establishing shots of orphans, widows, poor farmers, etc.
Yunus Perveez said…
hehehe awesomeness!
Danny can do no wrong in my book ( TIIIGER, MERE BIWI, MERE BACHEIN-Hum!!!)

I would start with Nagina, I think Nigahein was the sequel to that.

Banno said…
Wah, wah! Just loved your review. Mandakin's bow and the bunny. :)
Must see this, Rekha and Danny seem quite a team.
This is hilarious, i really want to see this too, i saw the same t series dvd at induna and they claim it had subtitles was yours a vcd or dvd please let me know

Here's the product details at induna and they claim it has subs
pawan said…
I remember this film had opened really well. But then in it's second week, Rekha's husband comitted suicide. And the film bombed.
desipolitan said…
"Amrish Puri style eye bulging" - how very apt and hysterical! Speaking of crazy snake movies - how about Mallika Sherawat's Hisss - she's promoting it like crazy but methinks it'll be horrible. And on another note, why is the crazy snake always a nagin - why aren't there movies with crazy he-snakes??
Temple said…
@desipolitan - I have a copy of Chiranjeevi's "Punnami Nagu" in which he plays a snake/man who is a killer but his human side doesn't know it. I haven't watched it yet but it looks quite dark.
Anarchivist said…
I'm very impressed with how well you followed the plot. The version I saw did have subtitles, and I think you made at least as much sense of it. :)
Sujoy said…
OMFG. This one was crazy shit when I watched it the first time (on VHS, I guess I was 10 or 11 then :P ). All I can remember was how badass Rekha was as the Ichhaadhaari Naagin. And Danny Denzongpa is exactly the stuff of which nightmares are made.
The good thing about your information is that it is explicit enough for students to grasp. Thanks for your efforts in spreading academic knowledge.
Anonymous said…
Temple, Punnami Naagu is a great choice. It's been a cult hit and has some great music. It's a moody snake movie, not the usual garish trash.

Yunus - I'm with you on Danny! The more I see him, the more I like him. And: MORE SNAKE MOVIES! :)

Banno - Yaaay! Do see it - they are a fabulous flare-and-stare belligerent jodi :)

Pawan - Sad!

desipolitan - I do need to get my hands on Hisss! All but one person I know said it was horrible but SURELY it is at least entertaining?

And what a good question! Maybe someone out there can find us a crazy he-snake film!

Temple - Did you watch it yet? We are dying to know about it!

Anarchavist - Hee! It's a gift.

Sujoy - I can only imagine how amazing this must have been at 10 years old :)

Akshayefan - Glad you confirm Punnami Naagu as a good choice!

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