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.
The...er, 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 fiancé 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!
- 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.