Friday, December 17, 2010

The Nagavalli Review

There was a time when P. Vasu was a great director. In 1998, he made his splash in 'Suyamvaram'; in 1999, he burst onto the horror scene with the spine tingling 'Hogi pyaar ki jeet'. Of course, his best film was 1996's masterpiece 'Love birds', but he also made 2004's 'Apthamitra', and its 2005 remake 'Chandramukhi'. Somehow, Vasu lost his touch, with junk like his failed 2008 remake of 'Kadha Parayumbol', to his uninspired but successful sequel 'Aptharakshaka' and 'Gajibiji'. Those movies, however, look like cinematic works of art compared to his latest film remake. Neither the spooky antagonist's novelty nor Vasu's horror skill have aged very well, as evidenced by the schlocky 'Nagavalli'.


It is a sad state of affairs when the trio of Anushka, Richa and Venkatesh can star in something as misguided and flatly written and filmed as 'Nagavalli'. This film leaves you with a groan: a groan that this tired series may not yet be over; a groan that you blew hard-earned cash to see it; but most of all, a groan that you've just lost 150 minutes of your life that can never be recovered. Nagavalli's got loud music, it's got cringe-inducing humour, it's got jarring camera angles and sinful psychosis. It's only a matter of time before it's declared a sacrilege. As in most desi horror films, there isn't much character development, just a lot of screaming, dancing, pouting, gasping, eyebrow arching, costume flaunting and makeup. There are a few surprises and some attempt at a plot, but generally, despite a promising start and generous footage of Richa Gangapodhyay quivering, this movie fails to rise above the muck of the horror genre.


There is, in fact, an awful lot of hokey lore to absorb in the story - the characters spend far too much time telling each other (and the audience) a lot of mumbo jumbo that presumably they already should know. They also regularly remind each other of the rules of ghost hunting (Rule No. 10: You can't ever buy a big mansion as it will most certainly be haunted). Keep track of all this because there's a quiz before they'll let you out of the theater. Here we have a wealthy bloke (Sarath) whose eldest daughter Gayatri (Kamlinee Mukherjee) dies after being gifted a painting of a certain medieval dancer in Revlon and Maybelline (Anushka).  Naturally odd things begin to happen, and Mr Cash calls Head Shrinker (Venkatesh) for help. Like in 'Apthamitra', 'Chandramukhi', ' Aptharakshaka' and 'Bhool Bhulaiyya', the psychiatrist moves into Mr Cash's home to solve the case. Forget prayers and jadui tabeez: it takes a lot of aggressive hamming and singing to subdue a ghost enough to get her out of a dark shelter. 


All of the added humor does not make 'Nagavalli' a good film - just a campy one. In fact, the film's big problem is just that, being too over-the-top too much of the time, from the acting (the dreadful Shraddha Das in particular) to story developments (yes, six leading ladies and Venky wearing jewelry are a treat to watch, but still...). Even a film called Nagavalli could use some restraint and be all the better for it. The most disheartening thing about Nagavalli, however, is not its campiness, but its lack of scares; it's hard to believe the same man who made the elegantly scary Captain Vijaykanth classic 'Sethupathi IPS' directed this piece of schlock.


What Nagavalli does get right is atmosphere. A great deal of credit goes to the cinematography by Shyam Naidu, and Rama Rajamouli's costumes which are convincing and, yes, less than repulsive. Venkatesh's insufferably smug performance makes the character even more unsavory. He is into his I'm-just-holding-on-to-sanity-by-a-thread persona here. Anushka in her minuscule role harnesses a certain look in her eyes and various gradations of trembling to convey a striking range of conflicted emotions. Richa's telepathic frissons help deepen the film's basically irreverent stance.


There is not an ounce of intelligence, or excitement in 'Nagavalli'. If anybody out there doesn't have enough corn in his life already, consider giving Vasu's newest remake a whirl. I do admit his prowess behind the camera and his ability to make you unintentionally laugh, although not his creative ability.






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