My Year of Prakash Raj

Some people spend a year
cooking Julia Child's recipes, or following all of the rules in the Bible, or reading books by people who spent a year doing something. My quest is to watch the 200-some films of South Indian character-actor-extraordinaire, Prakash Raj. (It'll probably take more than a year... and I'll post about some Prakash-less films here as well.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chiru and Prakash's Secrets to Film Acting

Happy Birthday to Chiranjeevi and welcome to my entry in Cinema Chaat's Mega Birthday Celebration!

Prakash Raj and Chiranjeevi have appeared in 8 films together:  Hitler (1997),  Choodalani Vundi (1998), Sneham Kosam (1999), Mruga Raju (2001),  Indra (2002),  Tagore (2003), Andarivaadu (2005), and Stalin (2006). I've watched them all, and am pleased to present "A Visual Guide to 10 Secrets to Successful Film Acting, Featuring Megastar Chiranjeevi and Gesturing Star Prakash Raj."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Devi (Nag Panchami Film Fessstival)

My final entry in the film festival is the Telugu film Devi (1999, directed by ), which I watched in the Hindi dub as Goddess. I first watched this about a year ago, and again for the fesssstival, and I actually liked it a bit better the second time.
From the back cover of the dvd:
Spectacular special effects and sumptuous musical numbers will take your breath away in this Bollywood fantasy-thriller! A rich and handsome man falls in love with a charming, beautiful woman... but he doesn't realize that she is the snake goddess Devi in disguise. Devi must battle to protect her lover from the vicious, evil snake deity Dantra in this classic Hindu story brought to vibrant life. In Hindi with English subtitles
Hmm, I'm not entirely sure about the "classic Hindu story" part, but this story did align nicely with some other mythological films, in that the divine characters were there to help and protect the faithful human characters. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hindi Snakes in Black and White (Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival)

Note: I'll be offline for a few days and will finish up with a few more posts next week.

For the Hindi portion of the Film Fessssstival, I decided to see if I could track down some of the earliest filmi snakes. Although I didn't have the time to find and watch the whole film (next year!), I did locate videos of some of the songs.

From  Nagin (1954), we have "Man Dole Tan Dole", in which Mala (Vyjayanthimala) the daughter of the Nagi tribe's chief, is mesmerized by music of a flute, only to learn that the singer (Pradeep Kumar) is the son of her family's sworn enemy.

From Nag Panchami (1953) here's "O Naag Kahin Jaa Basiyo Re Mere Piya Ko."  
I believe that's Nirupa Roy getting all misty-eyed singing to the snakes and cuddling with Manohar Desai.

If readers know of other early snake films or songs, please share them in the comments.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bangla Snake Fight! (Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival)

My quest to watch a Bangla snake film did not fully succeed (lack of subtitles, really poor video quality, and other things to do proved too much of a hurdle.) But I did end up slithering down some interesting paths of internet video, which I will share here:

At first I set my sights on Beshea Vora Nagin,  but I was distracted at part 5, with this epic fight between the two snake-women:

It caught my attention because a) it's awesome, and b) my googling had found a youtube hit for "bangla nagin fight", so I was sure that it must be this scene from the movie.  But NO! It's a different, but very, very similar snake fight, from another film:

Two immediate questions, which perhaps Jenni can answer in the Second Revised Edition of the Filmi Snake Spotters Guide:
-In the first video the snake ladies writhe around head-to-head (like the snakes), but in the second they are feet-to-feet. Which is the correct snake-fighting method?
-In the second video, it seems that one of the ladies is sometimes a snake, sometimes a mongoose. Are mongoose-nagin-ladies a unique subspecies of Bangla films?

More searching turned up this song in which a child sings soulfully to a snake:

And this song, which is a more traditional "snake couple in love" song:

I also found Dui Nagini, which is posted in full on google video, in which an awesome lady, who I assume is the  Nagini, sports a snakey-patterned blazer, hotpants, and headband combo and rescues maidens from guys with bullwhips:

Looking for images from Dui Nagini led me to a small image of the dvd cover of Naach Nagini Naach Re--love the nagin/naach combination!
This led to more discoveries of Hindi films with nagin and naach in the title:

Naach Nagin Gali Gali                  Naach Nagin Baje Been

Definitely lots to look forward to for the 2012 edition of the Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Tiny Snake steals the show in Anandabhadram

The Malayalam entry for the Nag Panchami Film Fessstival is Anandabradram (2005, directed by Santosh Sivan, based on the novel by Sunil Parameswaran.) For a more thoughtful questions about Malayalam snake films, check out Katherine at totallyfilmi's post on a song from Sarpakkadu.
Here's a synopsis pulled from the film's website:

The story begins with Anandan, played by Prithviraj, who makes a maiden trip to his native village, Sivapuram. His purpose? To make good his promise to his recently deceased mother that he would dissolve her ashes in a river near Manthrikapura, a mystical garden, and light a lamp in Sivakavu, a strange and dark place in Sivapuram. Interestingly, Anandan, when he was young, had heard so many bedtime stories from his mother about the people and the places in Sivapuram. However, as soon as he lands in Sivapuram, Anandan finds out that what he heard and what he sees are two different things. To start with, the villagers warn him not to light the lamp in the forbidden Sivakavu. Since Anandan doesn't believe in anything supernatural he enters Sivakavu but only to find out that his life would never be the same again. Is there really anything supernatural happening to Anandan? If yes, then what is really happening and who's doing it? Is it Bhadra, his uncle's daughter and his lover? Or is it the enigmatic Digambaran, a mysterious person? Or is it Bama, Digambaran's lover? Or is it Chemban, her blind brother?

Are there real Yakshis, ghosts, in Sivakavu? Is it possible to transmigrate to another's body? Will Anandan succeed in dissolving his mother's ashes? Come and experience it all and unravel the mysteries behind the story. Find out about Sivakavu and the enigmatic Digambaran in a stunning film that would transport you to the mystical world of Sivapuram and leave you mesmerized by the magic of Santosh Sivan's visual poetry.

Yes, the film has Prithviraj, and Riya Sen, and a crazy sorcerer, and beautiful Santosh Sivan visuals, but the star of the film was the tiny serpent, Kunjootan.
The film starts in Anandan's childhood, as his mother tells him the story of the evil sorcerer who seeks to steal the nagamanikyam (a jewel on a serpent's head), which is protected by a tiny cobra.
(The audio is a bit off in this video, so you can also watch this scene without subtitles here:

We next see Kunjootan when Anandan and Bhadra go exploring in the magical cave.

Prithvi is also thinking "A tiny cobra, how cuuuute!"
After lots of machinations by the evil sorcerer, hyper-rational Anandan comes to appreciate the power of the supernatural, and there is an epic showdown fight in the cave. Anandan is pretty thoroughly trounced by the sorcerer, until Kunjootan pops his head up, and give Anandan the power/will to defeat the sorcerer.
You can tell from his expression that Kunjootan is thrilled to have the nagamanikyam back in his care.

And we wrap things up with Anandan and Bhadra lighting the lamps in Sivakuvu.
Watching all of these snake films is making me more and more curious/obsessed with the snake handling. Did they actually find a tiny, juvenile cobra? Is this just excellent scaling cinematography with a regular-sized snake? (The way that they made the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings movies look small compared to Gandalf.) In his miniaturized form, Kunjootan was less menacing and more adorable than other film snakes. 

If I ever meet Santosh Sivan, I'm afraid I will only pester him with these questions. That, and I'll ask him to explain his thing for waterfalls.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Nagamandala (Nag Panchami Film Fessssstival)

The Kannada film entry for the film fessstival is Nagamandala, 1997, which is an adaptation of the play by Girish Karnad.
This is the film that inspired the Nag Panchami Film Festival, since it combines two the things that I've been obsessed with: Prakash Raj and snakes! I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and it ended up leading me down some fairly intellectual paths. (Which I plan to make up for with some write-ups of a few more cheese-tastic snake films.)

The Story:
The film begins with a scene of magical lamps floating around, lighting one another, and presumably singing the song. It did a nice job of setting a magical tone, and is an interesting, visual adaptation of the framing devices of the play (see more notes about this later.)
We then meet Rani, a young village girl played by Vijayalakshmi, preparing for her wedding and interacting with her family and friends. Next we meet her groom, Appanna (played by Prakash Raj) as he works out at the local wrestling gym, and walks through his cobwebby home. We also meet the an old blind woman and her son who will prove important in the story.
Rani and Appanna get married,

but their first night does not go well, when Rani is frightened by Appanna's advances, and when they return to his village, he goes back to his mistress.

(For a long time, this video, titled "Sexiest scene ever-prakashraj enjoying vanitu vasu to the core" was the only evidence of the film I could find on youtube. It is fairly sexy, but did not feature any snakes.)

Appanna locks Rani in the house, but she is still able to talk to the blind woman through the window, who offers her a love potion. Rani cooks the potion in her husband's milk, but burns it/chickens out at the last minute and pours it out on the anthill near the house. Living in the anthill is the Naga, snake king, who drinks the milk and becomes infatuated with Rani. I thought it was interesting that the Naga was motivated by love, rather than revenge, and was essentially "tricked" by human action. At night he slithers in through the window and onto Rani's bed

Rani locks herself in another room, and the snake changes into the human form of Rani's husband, and remembers at the last minute to change his light-colored snakey eyes to dark-colored human ones.
He knocks on the door, Rani opens it, and he reassures her about her scary encounter with the snake, and proceeds to woo her:
The next night, when the husband leaves, the Naga returns for more sexy times:
I like how "slithery" Prakash Raj's body language is in this scene.

When Appanna comes home the next morning, he realizes that Rani has been sleeping with someone, yet seems really happy too see him. Appanna has a watchman guard the entrance to the house, but when the watchman tries to break in on the lovers, the Naga goes out, turns into a snake and kills him. The next night Appanna and his friends try to flush out the snake, who slithers back into the house, where Rani nurses his injuries. Appanna hasn't figured out that the snake that killed the watchman and the guy with his wife are the same. Rani still doesn't know that he's a snake, but she does know that she's pregnant and tells the Naga. Word gets back to Appanna that his wife is pregnant, and he drags her out in front of the village council to accuse her of adultery. She sticks her hand in the snake burrow, holds up the Naga, and swears that she has never touched any male other than her husband and the snake in the burrow.
 (The snake is moving in this scene, so it's clear she's holding a live snake.)  

The villagers hail Rani as a Devi, and the mistress kicks Appanna out and he finally returns home for a night. He sees Rani arguing. He doesn't see who she's arguing with, but he does see the snake slithering out.
He follows the snake to the anthill, and the Naga changes into it's human form. They argue and have an epic fight:
The Naga (loose-haired Prakash) defeats Appanna (ponytail Prakash) but decides to let him go, at which point Appanna kills him. I suspect that the dialogue here is important to the story--I've actually ordered the play, and I'm looking forward to finding out what is said.

Appanna returns to Rani, changed into a loving husband, and the scene closes with the floating lamps putting themselves out.

More thoughts:
My main takeaway from the film is that now I really want to read (and see) the play, especially since so few Indian films are adapted from books or plays.

-according to this article ("Mythical Structures in Girish Karnad's Naga-Mandala") the lamps are actually just one of four layers of narrative structure, and the play includes some ongoing dialogue between the "playwright", the lamps, and a female storyteller.

-another article that I read, "Feminism in Girish Karnads Nagamandala" talks about female agency in the play. I'm intrigued about whether Rani really has agency, since she seems to think that she's with her husband the whole time. In other takes on a similar theme (Paheli, Le Retour de Martin Guerre), if I recall correctly, there was at least one scene where it was implied that the wife knew about, and was choosing the imposter husband.

-A search for Nagamandala turns up several hits for recent productions in the US (Shunya Theater, Houston and Rogue Theatre in Tuscon.) The most recent was the University of Southern California Theater School, which may have been in conjunction with Girish Karnad receiving an honorary doctorate.
More pictures here.
-I'd love to see how they stage the love scenes in the play. In the film, they were pretty sensual and explicit (This month I've seen at least three films with Prakash Raj in a lover role, and this one is by far his sexiest role, what with romancing two women.)

-I'd also love to see how they do the snake in the play. The film had some top notch snake wrangling, and the snakes looked good, were pretty active and were used in a lot of different settings as the Naga changed forms.

Here are some photos from the USC production and a production in Tuscon:

-Girish Karnad is a pretty interesting person. He writes plays. He directed Utsav. He was recently in Life Goes On, opposite Sharmila Tagore. He gives very thoughtful interviews and advice for engineering students.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Neeya (Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival)

My (sort of) goal for the Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival is to try and write up a snake film from all of the different Indian regions/film industries. So to kick things off, I'm starting with the 1979 Tamil film:

In this remake of the Hindi Nagin, a pair of serpents frolic about in the woods in human form. When the male serpent, played by Chandra Mohan* is attacked by the most cheesy looking eagle/hawk/monster ever, a young biologist named Kamal (Kamal Hassan) shoots the eagle and saves him.  By way of thanks, the serpent reveals his true nature to the biologist and there's more snakey dancing.

At a birthday party that evening, Kamal and his friends are hanging out in the woods, smoking, drinking and spying on the snake lady dancing in her human form (as you do at birthday parties.) When the male snake approaches her in snake form, Kamal's friend freaks and shoots the snake.

The female snake (played by the human Sripriya) vows to avenge her lover's death. She follows the friends back to the city, takes the form of various ladies, and one-by-one kills the friends. After each death, there's another song where she flashes back to dancing with her snake-lover. (But there are no dances with Kamal Hassan, which I don't understand.)

What I most enjoyed about the vengeance scenes was that each of the actresses got an opportunity to play the predatory snake spirit.
She just spit venom into the wineglass,
 and is about to hand it back to her prey.
She lured her quarry into the bedroom.

Once the friends catch on, they go to a questionable swami, who gives them all charms and then does something (tests the charms?) with a snake:

As the bodies pile up, the friends become more fearful. One of the men arrives home to find his wife/love interest reading this book, and accuses her of being possessed by the snake spirit:

Kamal is equally confused by the behavior of his lady love (is she another snake?)

At the end, Kamal flees with the surviving child of the dead friend and is pursued by the snake onto a wire/rope strung between two buildings:
Stunt Snake?
A few images of the snake in her serpent form. See how she blends into the carpet?


 In the end, our snake woman is reunited with her snake man:

As far as I can tell, it's the same Chandra Mohan who I've seen in a dozen Telugu films as a father/uncle. If it's too bad he doesn't get to dance anymore.