Will Hisss click? The industry buzz
Mallika Sherawat is back to doing what she does best: Wearing skimpy clothes and lip-locking with her co-star. The actress plays the ultimate seducer, with her sensuous dance in a backless choli with a plunging neckline, romancing a snake in this week's Friday release, Hisss.
And going by her interviews, she claims to have enjoyed her experience with the reptile (well, she couldn't have said anything else!).
So what is it that takes to make a typical Hindi snake film?
A curvy, well endowed heroine (remember Pooja Bedi in Vishkanya), who is willing to prance around in tiny clothes, letting the camera pan on her slithering body as she transforms from a snake to a woman, a generous dose of superstition (remember we are a land of snake charmers and ichchadhari nagins who are out to avenge their boyfriend/husband's deaths from zaalim duniya), not to forget loads of melodrama (read Reena Roy and her flaring nostrils in the 1976 film, Nagin and Sridevi with her blue lenses trying to ward off Amrish Puri, the long-haired snake charmer in Nagina!).
We decided to speak to film critics and industry insiders to see if snake movies still work in these times.
Image: A scene from Hisss
'Snake films were usually made shoddily'
I don't think there is logic to or a thought process behind a Bollywood producer making a 'snake film'. It must be just a brainwave. Maybe because some of such films have done well in the past and the opportunity to exploit the curves of a willing heroine was a trigger. Those films never interested me, they were usually made shoddily," says Rauf Ahmed, senior journalist and former editor of Filmfare and Screen.
"Those days, there were not too many ideas that could be exploited. So it was left to B-grade producer-directors to cast a reasonably good heroine, of course, with a good body, throw in some good music, a bit of action and a revenge drama was ready," says a veteran film publicist.
"Nagin was a good example of that. The music was good (remember the haunting number Tere sang pyaar main nahin todna) and it did wonders to Reena's (Roy) career. Also let's not forget, these films worked very well in the interiors of our country because people there do like these superstitious stories with a good dose of mythology.
"Indian women, especially those in villages, find it very fascinating to see a female snake go all out to protect the male snake or avenge his death. They find it very entertaining," he adds.
Image: Reena Roy in Nagin
'The makers take liberties with the way they portray the heroine'
Films based on snakes have the potential to integrate everything required for a Bollywood mainstream film. There is erotica (the snake is an erotic symbol), there is obviously a love story between the snake and its mate, there is scope for revenge and as a sound, the been, the musical instrument, is hugely seductive. And yes, if the makers take liberties with the way they portray the heroine," says Indu Mirani, senior journalist and film critic.
"Also, stories involving snakes are full of fantasy and that also allows for interesting interpretations," she adds.
Image: A scene from Hisss
'The python was slowly crushing my bones'
Pooja Bedi, who did Vishkanya at the start of her career, says, "I never really played a snake woman. It was about this girl, who has been fed venom along with some medicines as a child. So as a young woman, she's become toxic and who eventually avenges her parents' death.
"Those days, there were not too many interesting films being made. There was only romance or action or brothers lost in childhood drama! If one film worked, they would make 20 other on the same subject."
Does she think these snake films gave the directors liberty to exploit the female form? "Well, I don't think so because there was also Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram or Mandakini under a waterfall. So why single out heroines of snake films?"
She goes on to talk about how while shooting for Vishkanya, she had developed a phobia for the reptile. "This snake would bite me every time. Once, I had to do a photo-shoot with a python wrapped around me and I was nervous as hell! I just couldn't get my expressions right and the python was slowly crushing my bones. Finally, three people had to take it off me," she said.
"And then imagine, when I shot for Khatron Ke Khiladi, one of the stunts had 70 snakes over me. Thanks to my Vishkanya experience, I was petrified! I managed to overcome it though."
Image: A poster of Vishkanya
'The audience can take only so much of nagin stories'
An industry insider remembers how a budding journalist was on the censor board panel and had to certify Vishkanya. "He was the only man while the other panelists were women. He was so embarrassed to see Pooja Bedi with her 'assets' tumbling out of her choli and was more shocked when the elderly women panelists thumbed down his suggestion of 'cutting' those scenes."
He adds in another instance how a heroine of the 1970s would spray perfume in the oddest of places before every scene lest her co-star decided to sniff a little closer.
Do these films largely cater to the masses? "Absolutely, because those days, there were only single screen theatres and films were only made for the masses. There were no multiplexes, so no niche films.Films like these had a better chance of succeeding," says Pooja.
"It does cater to the masses but it doesn't succeed all the time," Indu Mirani adds. "I remember when director Harmesh Malhotra made Nigahen, the sequel to Nagina with Sridevi, and it flopped badly. The audience can take only so much of nagin stories. If there were to be a plethora of them, they would bite the dust never mind how glamourous they looked."
Image: A scene from Nigahen
'Nagina proved a turning point in Sridevi's career'
They do work for people acting in these films or the behind-the-scenes people. Like for instance, Nagin had some outstanding music from Hemant Kumar," says Rauf Ahmed.
"Interestingly, Kalyanji was a musician in composer Hemant Kumar's orchestra and played a new electronic instrument called the Clavioline, which produced the sound of been in the songs of Nagin. It made him so popular that he formed an orchestral group called Kalyanji Virji & Party along with his brother Anandji. It eventually led to them turning music directors.
"Also, in the 1980s, Nagina proved a turning point in Sridevi's career. I think she spoke her own lines in a Hindi film for the first time. Until then, it was Habiba who dubbed for her. It was followed by films like Karma and Mr India. Maybe there was an element of a blessing!" Ahmed claimed.
And so maybe, Miss Sherawat would definitely be hissing (read praying) for some success of earlier Nagin films to rub off on her scaly venture!
Image: A scene from Nagina