Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hisss: The Nagin's Gonna Get You, Boy!

Imagine that you are about to drink a class of chocolate milk – sweet, creamy, chocolate milk – and then when you get the glass to your lips and take a big gulp, it turns out to be orange juice.

Yuck, right? Even if you like orange juice, if you are expecting sweet and chocolaty instead of tart and pulpy, it won’t taste right. You might even give it
0.5 of 5 stars. If you hadn’t figured out the reason for my little metaphor, I saw Hisss this evening and it is a nice, frosty glass of orange juice. I enjoyed every sip – tart and pulpy.

Hisss, directed by Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena), is a straight-up old-fashioned horror film based around the myth of the Naag Mani, a power-giving gem held by the Nagin, the cobra goddess who can take human form. You see, a sick, dying, and batshit crazy American man (American character actor Jeff Doucette) gets it into his head that he is going to cure his brain cancer by forcing the Nagin to give up the Naag Mani. His plan? Kidnap the Nagin’s lover and use him as a bargaining chip.

Needless to say, the Nagin doesn’t take kindly to this and promptly transforms into human form (the otherwordly Mallika Sherawat) – the better to blend in – and goes on bloody rampage.

Meanwhile, across town, unflappable police detective Irrfan Khan starts putting the pieces together and it is quite satisfying to see how it all turns out, so I won’t give anything away.

Now, I’m assuming that most people reading this read the many reviews panning
Hisss and are wondering 1) why I liked it and 2) if they (you?) should go out and see it. I’ll address the second point first - Hisss is a horror film. It’s not masala or one of those new-fangled ultra-modern meta-horror-comedies all the kids are talking about these days (See Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, etc.) but neither is it torture porn like Saw or Hostel. Horror, in this case, means horror - gruesome killings, suspense, fear, and, yes, titillation. So, if the thought of watching a man get bitten to death by a giant snake doesn’t appeal to you, then you probably won’t enjoy Hisss and, by the same token, if you would only enjoy such a snake-killing if the snake and/or victim was spouting witting one-liners or “punch”-lines (bite-lines?), you won’t enjoy Hisss. The visuals are pure B-movie, including nice effect where the screen drains of color every time somebody is shot, and there is no romance, dancing, or singing.

The little boy sitting in the row beside me hated it and loudly complained at intermission that he wanted to go home.

Okay? If you feel like horror is not your thing, don’t go see it. That being said, if you are a professional movie critic do not pan it just because horror is not your thing and/or it’s not the campy
masala fest you were expecting.

But why did I like it?

Hisss plays on that age-old tension between nature and civilization. My first thought as the Nagin strode through the town was of those news stories from Colorado and California where houses are built too close to the edge of a forest and then they get bears wandering around the neighborhood. As much as we like to pretend otherwise sometimes, we human beings are animals and just as much a part of nature as bears or snakes. So, on the side of nature is the deadly but passionate Nagin and on the side of civilization is the kind but cold police detective. The Nagin remains unchanging but police detective Irrfan Khan gets to become more in touch with his ‘animal’ side.

I found the story and the plot very compelling. I always wanted to know what would happen next but events never felt rushed, even though the film only clocks in at about an hour and a half. Director Jennifer Lynch takes time to let the camera settle on people just living life – a Holi celebration, a couple at the movie theater, a giggling police officer, a little boy relieving himself, a
gunda with a Ghajini haircut. I loved these little touches that kept us grounded in the reality of the film.

And the performances! I loved everybody but Mallika Sherawat was phenomenal! While the critics were busy giggling and pointing at her nude scenes, I was impressed with how much she could convey without uttering a single word. I’ve always liked Mallika – she stole the show in
Welcome - but I wasn’t expecting her to be this good. The Nagin doesn’t wear clothes sometimes, sure, but that doesn’t make her nude - she’s just not wearing clothes and I think Mallika conveys that difference well. And even clothed – even dressed in a black robe and veil – Mallika does a lot with her big, kolh-rimmed eyes and even her posture. She doesn’t hold herself like a person in society would and she doesn’t feel emotions that way, either.

Irrfan Khan was also great as the unflappable detective. Nobody does blasé and understated like Irrfan! He underplays everything so much that when he
finally unleashes some emotion, it comes as a nice shock – almost more shocking than the snake murders. Divya Dutta did a nice job as his wife and Raman Trikha was very charming as Irrfan’s over-eager junior partner. Jeff Doucette gave just the right amount of crazy-town to his character of George and I would like to give a special shout-out to the woman who played Divya Dutta’s mother but I can’t find her name anywhere. Divya’s mother is senile and this was one of the least clichéd senile performances I’ve seen. Instead of being embarrassed or mocking her, the film shows her with a lot of compassion.

Hisss is that rare breed - a horror film for grown-ups. I enjoyed it a lot and am definitely planning on seeing the American release just to compare and contrast. A final note for any brave souls going to see it on the Indian release in Western countries – the film is in about half-English and half-Hindi but there are NO subtitles.

To those critics who dismissed the film as worthless, I say, “HISSSSSSSSS!”

But to Jennifer and Mallika, I say, “Brava!”


batulm said...

Filmi girl, I don't usually like horror, but I've been meaning to see 'Hisss' only for Mallika Sherawat. Though she's not a great actress, there's something about her that I like. Strange but true. :)

Horror for adults, sounds promising.

dustdevil liz said...

I'll have to wait for it on dvd, but will definitely check it out, especially since the visuals look creepy and cool.

Anarchivist said...

I have been SOOOOO looking forward to this! Fingers crossed that it comes to my town ... unlikely, but you never know.

josh said...

I completely disagree with your review. I'll put my own thoughts up on Twitch in a day or two. Worst film I've seen theatrically in a long time.

Filmi Girl said...

@batulm She is compelling as the snake-goddess, that's for sure!

@dustdevil liz It's worth renting if you like horror. :)

@anarchivist Hopefully it will get a spin through the art house circuit in January. :)

@josh The little boy sitting across from me hated it, too. It wasn't a film for everybody - I get that - and it certainly wasn't a perfect film, I just happened to enjoy it.

Filmi Girl said...

@josh Oh, and if THIS was the worst film you've seen theatrically, then clearly you missed out on I Hate Luv Storys... ;P

Shell said...

lol on the I Hate Luv Storys comment (I could add a few other titles in there as well!).

I am one of those souls who steers clear from horror movies, so I probably won't see this, but kudos to Mallika for knocking it out of the park! I'll be interested to see what Darshit thinks, since he is an avid horror movie fan.

josh said...

Oh, and I am a HUGE horror fan, so that doesn't even explain it.

josh said...

Last thing for now, do you know which nagin film was playing in the cinema immediately preceding the chase scene with the snake charmer? I'd like to reference it in my remarks, but I'm not sure which one it is.

josh said...

My first comment disappeared!

Anyway, haven't seen IHLS, and I think Hisss is only the 4th Indian film I've seen theatrically this year. They showed the trailer for Rakhta Charitra before the film and by interval I was wishing I'd gone to that instead. I think I've got a few more Indian films in me this year, we'll see.

Filmi Girl said...

@josh I'm actually looking forward to reading your review. :)

Did you happen to see Jennifer's Body? That was another one that I enjoyed but most everybody else seemed to hate. Same with Gentlemen Broncos (which I enjoyed so much, I saw it twice).

I happen to like over-the-top acting, odd-looking background actors, and aimless plots but I completely get that not everybody does.

I hope I made it clear that I don't think Hisss is for everybody but quite a few of the Indian critics seemed to be mad that it wasn't a campy masala film and that isn't the right way to review a movie.

But re: Hisss, I wonder if it has something to do with the aesthetic quality of the film? It is shot (and acted) very much like a 80s Bollywood B-movie in places - mostly the stuff involving "George," who is about as subtle a villain as any of the infamous white-ies who stalked the screen in years gone by. (See also "Bolly" Bob Christo.)

Rakhta Charitra looks amazing - I'm going to try to go today.

And I have a feeling that the film was probably the 1976 Nagin but I don't know for sure.

Filmi Girl said...

@josh OH! I forgot to ask - do you speak Hindi or did you get a subtitled print?

josh said...

I got no subs and I don't speak Hindi, so I'll refrain from making a completed informed review. More like my impressions of the film, the dialogue didn't seem exactly Tarantino-esque, so I don't think I missed much.

I did enjoy Jennifer's Body enough to see it twice in the theater. The evil whitey is a trope that I'm certainly used to, but this guy was particularly awful.

Anyway, I'll save the more in depth stuff for my blog. I tend to get far more literate when I'm writing for a wider audience, it is unintentional, but I seem a lot smarter when write at Twitch.

Filmi Girl said...

@josh Glad to see we agree on Jennifer's Body, too! :)

The dialogue wasn't Tarantino-esque but there was plot information passed along. The family relationships were quite nicely done, like how Irrfan Khan at one point says that he and his wife already have a baby - his mother-in-law. And the ties between the MIL and the Nagin, etc.

Anyways, I look forward to reading your review. Be sure to send me the link. :)

josh said...

The family stuff seemed to be the only part that worked, though it did seem somewhat irrelevant to the rest of the film.

Filmi Girl said...

@josh It was tied together because the Nagin legend - at least in this film - said that if you disrespect the Nagin, she brings infertility. Irrfan and Divya wanted to start a family - it's through his experiences with the Nagin and Nagin worship (through his MIL) that Irrfan accepts spiritual life and releases whatever block was keeping Divya Dutta from getting pregnant.

It's not the most original plot - hard-boiled detective finds God - but it's what tied the two stories together.

In this case, he just happened to witness the God bringing down wrath on some naughty people.

josh said...

You asked for it:

I tried not to address things that I didn't understand, but I think there was enough obvious evidence to make my case.

Michael Barnum said...

I have never met a NAGIN film that I did not enjoy (yes, even the C grade Kanti Shah ones!. I will surely be seeing this one as soon as it is out on DVD!!

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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