a review by
Muffy St. Bernard
with a bonus page:
The "Worst Male Wig" Competition!
It's an old, hoary cliché that sequels are always worse than the originals...but clichés often come about for a reason, and -- except for "Mr. India" (AKA "Shaan, part 2") this usually seems to be the case. This might be because the original film needs to be good enough or popular enough to warrant spending the money on a sequel (or at least, enough money to buy a few snakes and paint them black). So a sequel automatically has some stiff competition.
The year after "Nagina" came out (1987, now known in some circles as "AN," or "After Nagina"), Harmesh Malhotra must have had some divine artistic inspiration, and I bet it went something like this: "I know! I'll direct a sequel and make a big load of cash!" When contacted to play the daughter of the character she played in the original film, Sridevi probably said "Neat-o, sure!" and do you honestly think Anupam Kher was going to refuse ANY role, especially one where he was not only PERMITTED to sweat profusely, but was ENCOURAGED to do so? Also reprising his original "Nagina" role is the guy who played the servant in the first film -- you know, the one who always complained about how fat his wife was -- but I don't know anything about this particular comedian other than that his landmark scene in the film "Suparman" involved him having to go to the bathroom really, really badly on an airplane.
So you've already got a rather...well, shall we say uneven cast. Throw in Sunny Deol as Sridevi's snake-boy paramour, and you've got a lopsided film built much like one of those strikingly irregular asteroids that NASA keeps discovering, with incredible talent and potential on one side, and pedestrian money-grubbing treatment on the other. I've always suspected that, considering how those lopsided asteroids are shaped, if I put one on a stick and started spinning it around it would break apart into tiny pieces. This is what happened (figuratively) to my "Nigahen" DVD when it started spinning around in my DVD player, so I figure I just saved NASA a lot of money by doing their experiment for them.
For starters -- just to sort of ease into this review -- let me enumerate why I like Sunny Deol so much:
1) He is attractive, in a rugged, bruised-up sort of way, without looking unnatural or blown out of proportion through the use of steroids and exercises which probably involve a cricket bat. As a result, he's allowed to keep his shirt on in his movies, for which I'm eternally grateful.
2) He plays characters who are simultaneously sweet and tough, and he usually spends more time being nice to people in his films than he does smashing their heads through car windshields. Usually.
3) In his first big movie -- "Betaab" -- he threw live chickens at Amrita Singh...and he got away with it! Though no doubt she sent her bodyguards out to beat him up years later, and I bet she jumped around during the beating yelling "Kill him, bodyguards! I won't spare him! He threw chickens at me!" or some other such filmi dialogue.
With all of these things going for him, Sunny Deol does a passable job in "Nigahen" playing Anand, a young man with a rather disturbing childhood history. You see, when he was 7 years old he was kidnapped by Garaknath, an evil sadhu played here by the sweaty-wigged and bug-eyed Anupam Kher. But instead of just chopping little Anand into pieces or selling him into child slavery (which is what more reasonable lunatics would have done), Garaknath threw black beans at him and turned him into a snake. As if that wasn't bad enough, he kept little Anand in a basket for 14 YEARS, while his widowed mother sat at home wondering if her son was ever coming back and if she should just go out and buy the groceries herself.
Why did Garaknath do this? Well, that's a little hazy. But it involves his never-ending quest for "the gem," a magical item which his mentor -- Bhairavnath -- died trying to steal from Sridevi in the first film. It seems that Garaknath hasn't quite clued in that this gem is bad news: even though it's supposed to offer limitless power to those who touch it, everyone who DOES touch it gets killed by Sridevi's snake guardians, which is a pretty raw deal if you ask me.
Meanwhile, the triumphant couple from the first film -- Sridevi and Rishi Kapoor -- have died in a car crash, leaving their daughter Neelam in the care of Raaja Saab. If there was a "best male wig" competition between Raja Saab and Garaknath, it would be a toss-up who would win. Besides, what sort of prize could be offered? What do you give a man who's already got a great wig? Well, maybe we could get Raja Saab some common sense...at one point in the film he decides to just "give" the gem to Garaknath:
ANAND: Don't give it to him! He's insane!
RAJA SAAB: This gem has divine powers. It shouldn't be with householders.
That's all fine and good, Raja Saab, but does that mean you should give it to the craziest freaking sadhu in India? Still, this fits in with a not-so-subtle message that pops up repeatedly in the film: you shouldn't kill hermits, no matter how dangerously insane they are.
This movie isn't really a "miraculous snake" film at all, and to it's credit it never claims to be. Neelam, unlike her mom, doesn't ever turn into a snake, but her primary power seems to lie in her gigantic eyes which -- after touching the miraculous gem -- have an eerie blueness to them. Continuing the Nagina tradition, Neelam is the REAL hero in this film...forget about Sunny Deol, he's too busy changing back and forth into a snake and driving his tractor around. But Neelam knows the score, just like her mom did. She's pretty tight with her two snake guardians, who share reptilian wisdom and power with her occasionally while she's just trying to get some sleep. Neelam is prepared to protect Anand at any cost -- she needs to, afterall, because he gets himself into a mess whenever she turns her back. She performs a sexy dance number to keep him from wandering off where he could get killed. She'll even catch a bullet in her bare hands if it means saving her handsome, naive, lunkheaded and stubborn husband.
Throughout all of this Garaknath stalks around trying to snatch the gem, recapture Anand, and kill Neelam. He's a very unlikely villain, looking more like some friendless, way-too-serious neighbour who's just stepped out of the shower to answer the door in his bathrobe. But Garaknath considers himself quite the evil hermit, and Anupam has thrown himself into the role with wild abandon. Unfortunately, in the process, I think Anupam missed the role entirely and ended up falling out a window or something. But still, he's entertaining for a while, especially when he starts muttering his magic words like a stockyard auctioneer in insulin shock.
A quick warning to those considering buying this DVD: It seems the esteemed people at "Spark Entertainment" decided that proper subtitles were too good for us common folk, and they discontinued them entirely after the first half hour. From there on in the movie's suspense really starts to build: "will the subtitles ever come back?" I kept wondering. I'm going to spoil the suspense for you: yes, they do, but they come back in a very mysterious way. You see, the subtitles in "Nigahen" come in 3 flavours: existant, non-existant, and delayed. In the final 90 minutes they each appear on the screen about 5 seconds too late, so that whenever somebody is talking, the subtitle you see is actually what the person BEFORE them was saying. This induces the same sort of brain-melting headache that you get from watching a 3D movie, but without the benefit of having Sridevi jump out of the screen and sit in your lap. Instead, you keep wondering "why would Neelam say THAT?" Believe me, you eventually get the hang of it, and it adds a bizarre new dimension to the film: time itself becomes fluid and relative, which is an effect few movies can boast.
Despite the warping of time, most of "Nigahen" was surprisingly dull and -- shockingly! -- devoid of camp. Sridevi is always entertaining to watch -- even when she hasn't got much to do -- and she REALLY shines during the last half hour when she finally gets a hold of her snake power. Anand, as I said, spends most of his time either looking puzzled, looking slightly frustrated, or looking like a snake in a jar, and his character is a bit of a buffoon as he is duped by Garaknath time and time again. Still, he spent 14 years in a basket...it's a wonder he can even speak or feed himself anymore.
My favourite Garaknath moments all occur near the end, when he starts a frenzied campaign to get the jewel as opposed to just dickying around. Using his magic been -- a boon from Kali -- he manages to hypnotize Neelam AND change her outfit. He also builds a mongoose out of bread, which probably results in a very yummy animal who kills snakes. The final dance number -- a reprise of the "Dushman" song from the first movie -- is a a lot of a fun, with Sridevi striking down her opponents one-by-one and doing an odd "duck-walking" maneuver while resisting the power of the been's music: which will give up first, Anupam's lungs or Sridevi's dancin' feet?
You can probably guess. With the combined powers of Neelam and Anand, how could a sweaty guy in a bathrobe possibly win?