Friday, August 05, 2011

Nag Panchami Film Fessssstival: Naag Lok

In honor of Liz's Nag Panchami Film Fessssstival, I am thrilled to bring you Naag Lok, a very fun snaky revenge film from 2003.* Snake films are woefully lacking in my repertoire, but so strong are many of the key snaky elements here that even only having seen Nagin and Sheshnaag, I was easily able to recognize its fabulousnesssssss.

Having an academic bent by upbringing, profession, and personal taste, I submit the following paper analyzing Naag Lok using the criteria set forward in the most reputable published source on the subject of filmi snakes, the Filmi Snake Spotter's Field Guide (Jenni et al., Melbourne, 2011). This paper will examine, illustrate, and critique Naag Lok using the six major points laid out by the authors of FSSFG in order to posit the film in the larger phenomenon of subcontinental serpentine cinematic culture.

1. Sex

The "snake universe" of the title is primarily centered in the text on one female character. She is introduced as an infant who is protected and nourished by a female deity at a snake temple, thus firmly locating the protagonist and her strengths not only as feminine but also quasi-divine.

Fig. 1: the heroine as an infant found at a snake temple.

Fig. 2: the heroine at a snake temple being nursed by an idol who has anthropomorphized from a multi-headed serpent and "come to life" in order to protect the infant.

Fig. 3: the aforementioned serpent statue at the snake temple that is the scene of the establishing action of Naag Lok.
Overall, the she-snake is identified as sympathetic through narrative elements common to Indian cinema such as loss of parent and other loved ones, witnessing extreme violence, being bound in an undesired matrimonial relationship, and steadfast devotion to the divine.

Fig. 4: the protagonist as an adult at a snake shrine.

2. Actors

In Naag Lok, the central snake character is performed by the most renowned and accomplished member of the cast, Ramya Krishna, who was most recently analyzed by this author as a sensible, hardworking, loving mother in Konchem Ishtam Konchem Kashtam. Research of this performer's work as recorded and compiled in the popular social networking and media-sharing website Youtube indicates that she is widely and significantly regarded for "item girl"-like qualities and/or scenarios as measured by the frequency of synonyms for "physically attractive" and "sexually stimulating" seen in descriptions of her body of work and in user comments about said performances.

3. Clothing
Surprisingly, the lead snake of Naag Lok does not conform to the standards of attire outlined in FSSFG (points 3a and 3b(i)). As seen below, she is generally outfitted in nondescript contemporary Indian and Indo-Western costumes commonly seen in Hindi films in depictions of "average" characters not further defined by other socioeconomic indicators. These choices are consistent with the outward appearance of other characters in the film, perhaps reinforcing the lead's "normal" personality and thus also the surprise inherent in the revelation of her true identity.

Fig. 5: the protagonist in typical attire in a domestic situation. Note the serpentine lines of her household decor.

Fig. 6: in one scene, oversized but designer-name attire is preferred.

Fig. 7: the protagonist in the only "sexy" outfit of the film, a fitted shirt with lace sleeves; the stimulative appeal of this outfit is mitigated by the large and discordant shirt curiously tired around her waist. This choice is perhaps an unexplained nod to the "grunge" fashions of the early and mid-1990s. If so, its inclusion indicates not only the continuation but also an expansion of the "Indian Film Fashion Time Warp" phenomenon as discussed by many commentators in the populist medium of web logs (or "blogs") devoted to popular Indian cinema.
It is possible that the filmmakers chose such a wardrobe as a deliberate inversion of the archetype of both the typical filmi snake and of star R. Krishna's celebrity persona. Such an inversion forces the viewer to examine their expectations of the film's use of humor and/or droll commentary on cinematic culture.

Regarding points c and d (jewellery and headwear, respectively), Naag Lok is in closer conformity with the standards established over decades of cinematic discourse. When engaging in dance (ref. FSSFG point 6b; description to follow), her costume is tighter and she is accessorized in a much more striking and luxurious manner. Her torso accoutrements are perhaps somewhat unusual; further research is required. Her headwear is limited to type (i) Everyday Use; however, comparatively and within the world presented by the text, it is a marked departure from the character's usual look and thus underscores her dual identity, power, and generally awe-inspiring appearance.

Fig. 8: Naag Lok conforms to "the gold standard" relished by fashion-savvy filmi snakes.

4. Eyes

Again, R. Krishna is not given the visual appearance utilized by many other filmi snakes as documented in FSSFG. There is not a sufficient comparative female population in Naag Lok to determine whether her eyeliner (point 4a) is typical or atypical. However, her serpentine tikka augments the signifying cosmetics of the eye area. She also conforms to the standard of light-colored eyes (point 4b).

Fig. 9: detail of the protagonist's ocular apperance.
"The Look" (point 4c) is performed at an intermediate, though highly satisfactory, level of proficiency by the protagonist.


Figs. 10 and 11: "The Look."

Naag Lok
includes facial indicators of snakiness not previously encountered by this researcher and not documented in FSSFG.

Fig. 12: manifestation of snakiness.
In Figure 12 (above), the serpentine nature of the protagonist is clearly and literally displayed for public gaze and consumption. The eyes turn an unusual golden shade; the arms (not pictured here) and face are covered with scales; and the tongue transforms shape and protrudes in an extremely decisive and unmistakable manner. This manifestation of character will be discussed further in point 5 below.

5. Habitat
The snake in this text appears to live in a semi-urban environment that affords easy access to forests with many trees (5a), mountainscapes, large geological formations (Figure 13 below), deserted urban roads, deserted temple complexes, video arcades, water parks, and vast palatial facades, among other institutions and structures.

Fig. 13: a very rare anthropomorphized geological formation.
This environment also provides homes for large zoological specimens.

Fig. 14. confrontational dragon.

Fig. 15: confrontational bird of prey.
Her primary residence seems to be a contemporary home of fairly standard appearance for a post-millennial Hindi film. Interestingly, the protagonist reveals her true snaky nature in several different environments, including the domestic setting in the presence of her (villainous) husband.

Fig. 16: the snake at home.
Within the first fifteen minutes of this film, a man plays a been, thus eliciting the typical, even archetypal, reactions (Figure 17 below) as well as the startling manifestations in Figure 12 (above).

Fig. 17: effects of hearing been music.
In Naag Lok, the been music also causes the protagonist to disintegrate into a small tornado-style formation and disappear out of the door of the bus in which she has been conveyed. Additionally, the snake leaves behind a photograph of the culprits of her mother's murder (discussed in point 1 above). This significant physical artifact, following traditional filmi narrative structure, immediately falls into the hands of the very villains it condemns. A small snake then materializes and circulates in the photograph, severely startling these characters and prompting their further nefarious actions.

Actual snakes are also common in the film, and its three-dimensional representations of snakes have been discussed previously (points 6c and 6d).

Fig. 18: snakes treated as "real" by the text.
Jeetendra Proper (6e(i)) and Munchausen's Jeetendra (6e(ii)) are not present in this text. We can perhaps read these omissions as indications of shortfalls in production budget and/or as commentary on the inefficiency, impotence, or evil nature of most of the male characters in the film.

6. Activity
Snaky dancing is featured several times in Naag Lok. In most instances it falls under the category of "confrontational" (6b5). The dragon in Figure 14 is a key component of one of these dances. Also present in Naag Lok is motion set to music that is better described as "desolate, contemplative wandering" than as "dance." While the protagonist often acts quickly and decisively, even animalistically, she is not without the higher human faculties of reason, information-seeking, planning, and joyfulness. In this regard she is an easily recognizable member of the nag group embodied by the female protagonists of Nagin and Sheshnaag.

In addition to the snake-specific categories outlined by FSSFG, Naag Lok highlights cinematic traditions of self-reference, adherence to and dependence on the divine, unexpected special effects, and revenge.

Fig. 19: Midnight Masala, a blue film made by one of the minor characters.

Figs. 20 and 21: two manifestations of deities.

Fig. 22: special effects used to animate the vengeance enacted by a large idol against a transgressor of the established moral order.

Fig. 23: radiating power of a snake.

Figs. 24: the protagonist displays some of her "supernatural" powers in order to frighten, awe, and/or taunt her husband.

Fig. 24: after turning herself into a human skeleton, the protagonist bounces her husband's head in and out of his own torso.

Fig. 25: Naag Lok's small-scale effects are no less impressive; here the protagonist offers cups of tea steaming in snaky shapes, a trick she performs seemingly for her own amusement, thus indicating her capacity for humor and wit.

Fig. 26: in this example, a punishing snake emerges from a commonplace domestic object (the perpetrator's toothpaste).

Fig. 27: combining special effects and revenge, the protagonist becomes a sea serpent and consumes a criminal.

Fig. 28: the protagonist as a sea serpent in a water slide. The juxtaposition of severe punishment for previous misdeeds with a location of amusement suggests the filmmakers are participating in the typical filmi vocabulary of irony.

To summarize, Naag Lok has so impressed this researcher as a recognizable example of filmi snakes while concurrently offering unexpected, and perhaps unique, filmi elements that a new term has been applied to categorize it accurately and evocatively. The term "superwow" has appeared on this site many times but has never before been utilized in typology for cinematic texts. In the context of "labels" as seen in this publication, it will imply that the film in question is amazing in some variable, positive way that may or may not be similar to or consistent with other instances of its application.

In conclusion, this primary source material is currently readily available for study through the auspices of BigFlix, providing readers with open access to the text. This author encourages others to take advantage of this opportunity in order to continue the important study of this very special text—a study to which this author hopes to have made a meaningful, if introductory, contribution.

* This film is not to be confused with Pancha Thanthram, a 1974 Malayalm film that goes by Naag Lok in its Hindi dub.

10 comments:

dustdevil liz said...

SuperWOW indeed. I should have read this after I brushed my teeth. Now I'm going to be worrying about whether a Nagina is lurking in my Toms of Maine spearmint-flouride.

I was just discussing on another blog how there are fictional films/plays/books/music I wish were real, and I'm going to add "Midnight Masala" to that list.

Beth said...

I know, right? Based on the happenings in Naag Lok, I also advise against going to water parks, arcades, and lakes; looking in your bathroom mirror; and opening a bottle of beer. Oh, and also against killing the mother of your child or the random stranger who reminds you of your sketchy ethics.

As to your toothpaste specifically, there is no indication in this text as to the flavor of toothpaste preferred or tolerated by naginas.

I think we should search Youtube for "Midnight Masala."

Temple said...

Tonight's project may involve opening a beer, setting a toothpaste tube on the coffee table and observing the effect of prolonged exposure to Jeetendra on said toothpaste. It's all for The Science.
Excellent work Beth, and I think you have extended the field of research, and suggested additional hypotheses for testing.

Ness said...

The Fessssstival is providing me with so many awesome films I am needing to add to my MUST SEE list and I think this is one of them. Dammit you guys, can't you find some clunkers to save me some time and money? ;)

Jay said...

Does that rock thing in Fig 13 have boobs?

Beth said...

Temple - So what happened? SCIENCE needs an answer!

Ness - Isn't it? Gah! This one at least is free, cash-wise. And I will soon be writing up one NOT to see, so if your list includes all potential subcontinental snake films, it will shrink by at least one :)

Jay - I hadn't noticed that til you pointed it out, but you might be right. Rock-hard pecs, apparently?

Temple said...

Well, I got distracted by the beer and the Jeetendra and took my eye off the toothpaste...and it disappeared. Yes I probably have a venomous tube of Vicco somewhere in my house.
Now, I have received a mysterious email with instructions to forward the message to you. It appears there may be an academic spat brewing in the hallowed halls of the Nagin Research Centre. So:

From The Professor
In addition to providing a coherent insight into the narrative structure and content of Naag Lok, Beth (Illinois, 2011) has elucidated some sorely needed scholarly analysis and critique of the assertions made in the The Subcontinental Illustrated Filmi Snake Spotter’s Guide (Jenni et al, Melbourne 2011). If only the level and quality of academic rigour in that guide had been as exacting as that in the aforementioned review. Ms. Watkins should be congratulated for postulating some theoretical genesis for such (omitted from that guide) characteristics of the transformative snake skin and the serpentine tikka as potential means of filmi snake identification (in addition to those previous glaring omissions of the roles of (i) venom) and (ii) the mongoose in filmi snake identification from the Guide) as part of her implicit critique. Beth (ibid) has done much to advance the evidence base of filmi snake identification and should be applauded for her work.

commentarytrack.com said...

What a marveloussssss review! "Superwow" hardly begins to describe it.

Helen

Á Go-Gojira said...

Is this a Tamil or Telugu film dubbed in Hindi? Any idea what the original name of the film was? I have some other films starring Ramya Krishnan directed by Rama Narayanan and it's just about impossible to dig up any information about them on the net.

..and thank heavens for the lack of Jeetendra in this film. His uncharismatic performances have ruined enough snake films as it is. Snake films is not really all that predominant in "Bollywood" anyway, you have to look southwards to find the really good ones.

Beth said...

Helen - Thanks!

Á Go-Gojira - I have no idea - seems I have had the same research roadblocks as you have.

I looooove Jeetendra but I might be alone in that! :D