Bollywood x Hollywood: Horror Edition

Hisss Poster.jpg

This isn’t your grandmother’s Nagin movie–this is “Hisss,” the Split Image Production directed by American Jennifer Lynch, daughter of the famous David Lynch. The story of the Nagin is a classic in Bollywood, and has been portrayed in film and television for decades, even by such high-brow names as Sridevi, Vyjayanthimala, and Rekha. Most often the tale follows the basic plot of somebody angering the mythic Cobra goddess by killing/capturing her husband-snake and thus she exacts her supernatural vendetta on said human. And of course, in true Bollywood style, there are a plethora of songs, some of which have become quite infamous. This formula for a Nagin movie may have been popular in India several decades ago, but for a movie to be successful in today’s India, much less in front of an American audience, a Nagin story would need a major re-telling.

If you can get past the cringe-inducing title, there seems to be quite a lot this film has to offer that many recent Bollywood/Hollywood crossovers failed at. In fact, while some may claim that the two cinemas are a perfect match, the epic flop of Hrithik Roshan’s recent movie, “Kites,” would show that it may be simply impossible to perfectly please both audiences. And now where superstars Rai and Roshan have left off, the sex symbol Mallika Sherawat steps in, along with the great Irrfan Khan, who, coming hot off a role in Slumdog Millionaire, is back on the world stage to play co-star to Sherawat. The idea of a successful crossover movie between Bollywood and Hollywood, one that truly combines the strengths of these different styles into something both entertaining and memorable, has been attempted many times without notable success. What makes “Hisss” different and hopefully more successful, is that it takes a classic Indian story and gives it western sensibilities. There aren’t any spontaneous song-and-dance numbers, but the story is still deeply set within the culture of India, by means of its mythos, religion, and festivals. And as “Hisss” is being billed as a creature-feature of sorts, there is action and gore, similar to what one would find in any other monster flick. Another really interesting fact about “Hisss” is its special effects–an aspect of Bollywood movies that has always been lacking. For the first time we will get to see an Indian movie with CGI that rivals any other blockbuster American film, courtesy of Robert Kurtzman, and a live transformation of the Nagin from its snake to human form! (I’m pretty excited about this because 1) that’s just freaking awesome 2) in previous Nagin movies the transformation usually went something like this–all props to Sridevi though, she’s amazing)

The west certainly has its share of monster movies, but after the past few years of Twilight-mania, and the hoards of other vampire/werewolf knockoffs that surfaced along with it, we could use a new type of monster to fear (preferably one that doesn’t sparkle) What Lynch and Sherawat are trying to do, introduce a new mythical character to the western consciousness, is no small feat and I commend them for their cross cultural endeavor. “Hisss” releases August 15th, just in time for India’s Independence Day, and right after Naag Panchami; just like “Slumdog Millionaire,” it will probably start out as limited release, but it may slither into a theater near you if it becomes popular like Slumdog was. Mallika Sherawat has already labeled her upcoming flick the “Slumdog of the horror genre,” and if her prediction turns out to be true, then we will undoubtedly see her in wide release in America.

The trailer contains brief nudity and not-so-brief gore & snake-induced carnage, so avert the eyes of the little ones

23 thoughts on “Bollywood x Hollywood: Horror Edition

  1. Lynch plisss. I especially like the “synopsisss” on their site. Oh and welcome Andrew.

  2. Welcome, Andrew!

    Interesting. I do not like creature-features generally, but this one interests me! Hadn’t made the connection between Harry Potter’s Nagini and Nagin.

  3. Interesting. I appreciate this being brought to our attention, but do not see it as a great film by any standards. If anything, it propounds stereotypes about “exotic” indians and their crazy old fashioned culture. Plus, it’s a very standard film – nothing new. It may well succeed (because it has an American director) but I don’t get it.

    People should be making films about how enterprising, innovative, intelligent, brave, courageous, forward-thinking Indians are, but I guess it’s easier to pander to stereotypes and play to the lowest common denominator than do something which showcases India’s positive sides, of which there are many.

  4. this actually looks pretty interesting! not sure how i’ll keep a straight face through the human-snake transformations, but in general looks like a well-made (read: funded) project. and irrfan khan is in it too!! when’s the release?

  5. Nicely written! Liked the line about the movie potentially slithering into a theatre near you. Unfortunately, it seems like Ms. Sherawat’s journey as a Bollywood startlet will be limited to smouldering the screen with her eyes, not her acting abilities.

    Not sure if this movie will make me curious enough to check it out in the theatres though.

    And Sugi – surprised you did not make the Nagini connection! It was the first thing I noticed when monstrous snake was introduced. :) Then again, I have been brought up on Sridevi and other assorted Bollywood heroines playing nagins.

  6. The human turning into snake part reminded me of a 70s movie SSSSSSSSS or was it Ssssssnake. I forget.

  7. The human turning into snake part reminded me of a 70s movie SSSSSSSSS or was it Ssssssnake. I forget.

    That was Sssssssnake! the trailer and the movie, both which I watched at Casino in Madras – off Mount Road on Adithanar Salai, close to the old Jaffar’s Ice Cream (the best ice cream ever, anywhere!) It is is a cheap B-/C grade movie with tacky F/X and terrible acting, and we loved it! I’ve got to see this one.

  8. it propounds stereotypes about “exotic” indians and their crazy old fashioned culture

    That thought feels a little too self-conscious to me. If vampires and were-wolves can be a big part of the pop culture today, why couldn’t/shouldn’t Nagini be?

    People should be making films about how enterprising, innovative, intelligent, brave, courageous, forward-thinking Indians are

    Yeah, but they’ll probably cast a white guy in that role and we’ll be back here complaining about that again :-)

  9. Seems a little too bloody for my taste. But Khan is a solid actor, and if Sherawat can show that she has more than looks – more power to them.

  10. it propounds stereotypes about “exotic” indians and their crazy old fashioned culture

    That thought feels a little too self-conscious to me. If vampires and were-wolves can be a big part of the pop culture today, why couldn’t/shouldn’t Nagini be?

    The difference is that in the West pretty much all you see are stereotypes of foreigners. So you need to combat those stereotypes by putting out meaningful films with strong characters so that people don’t think of all Asians as poor, dirty, ignorant brown people who need to be saved by someone. I’m surprised I have to even explain that actually.

    People should be making films about how enterprising, innovative, intelligent, brave, courageous, forward-thinking Indians are

    Yeah, but they’ll probably cast a white guy in that role and we’ll be back here complaining about that again :-)

    Well, that is sad but true, unfortunately.

  11. Andrew, You sure know a lot about Indian cinema for some one who has just recently rediscovered his desi roots :) Anyways I am afraid this movie doesn’t seem very promising to me, I am not much into gory flicks. However, recently there is a lot of good cinema coming out of India . Some examples: Rajneeti, Red Alert -The War Within , Udaan, Tere Bin Laden, etc. Udaan especially is a must watch.

  12. I don’t mind CGI, but I’m not a horror/gore enthusiast, so I actually prefer the Sridevi transformation clip to what I see in Hisss’s trailer. Khan’s being in this new film sorta kinda reminds me of SOAP snagging Samuel Jackson. But the title, “Hisss”? Cringe-worthy sounds about right. Certainly no Snakes on a Motherfuddrucking Plane.

  13. Haha all of you guys’ (and gals) comments are great! Yeah I definitely understand those of you who are aren’t thrilled at the gory nature and general horror genre, but I guess in many ways this film, if not a mainstream success, will most likely be a subculture hit. @Budugu & Critic: actually from what I gathered from watching interviews about the movie, the stereotyping of Indians and favoritism of western culture is not what this movie is about. In fact, the villain is not the Nagin or any brown person, but an American hunter who snake-naps the Nagina’s mate. The hunter, George States, sounds like he might very well be a pukka ignorant American (who happens to know about Nagin?). The hero of the movie is Irrfan Khan, who is supposed to be the skeptical detective behind the case (typecasting much?) of the Nagin murders. I would assume that he will end up being a brilliant innovator in solving the crimes, and then have some good acting in the moral dilemma of helping the Nagina with her quest. Plus Lara Dutta is playing his pregnant wife, so both of them will probably be all emotional about having a ancient, mythical, and deadly creature running around their unborn kid.

  14. Looking at imdb, I get the feeling that this movie won’t get a wide release. Maybe 200 screens if one is optimistic, or direct to cable and video. Hopefully, the nudity warning me left me a little disappointed that all we saw was some lady half covered in mud. Heh.

    It does look like it could be a fun late night cable viewing. As long as the pacing is better than Jennifer Lynch’s Boxing Helena. I was bored by that movie.

  15. actually from what I gathered from watching interviews about the movie, the stereotyping of Indians and favoritism of western culture is not what this movie is about. In fact, the villain is not the Nagin or any brown person, but an American hunter who snake-naps the Nagina’s mate. The hunter, George States, sounds like he might very well be a pukka ignorant American (who happens to know about Nagin?). The hero of the movie is Irrfan Khan, who is supposed to be the skeptical detective behind the case (typecasting much?) of the Nagin murders. I would assume that he will end up being a brilliant innovator in solving the crimes, and then have some good acting in the moral dilemma of helping the Nagina with her quest.

    The Abrahamic religions have a different attitude toward snakes and Goddesses than the Dharmic religions. They are reviled in the Abrahamic religions and associated with evil, while they are worshiped in the Dharmic religions and are considered divine. Western movies tend to have an Abrahamic view of the world. I would hope, and it seems from what you are telling, this Westernized movie will not demonize snakes and Goddesses but view them through Dharmic eyes with honor.

  16. They are reviled in the Abrahamic religions and associated with evil, while they are worshiped in the Dharmic religions and are considered divine.

    This is true but it’s a bit more nuanced than that. In the Dharmic religions there isn’t much of a concept of “evil,” just an understanding that everything has a role in the universe. Snakes are revered in the same way most of what St. Augustine refers to as “natural evils,” such as freak storms or accidents, are. They have the power to ruin you, so we respect and hope to placate them, but the point is mostly to demonstrate that the universe doesn’t revolve around us, we just have a unique ability to try to understand it. As far as that’s the case, we’re expected to love and revere everything.

  17. @rohit: No, but I should be :P @Sameer: That is definitely a good point–some people will look at this movie and shudder, as they may interpret it to be a simple monster movie with a snake-creature as the villain, much like a werewolf or vampire movie, where both mythic creatures are generally nightmares of the human race. The Nagin’s role is multifaceted (like most things in South Asia) and can range from the archetypal villain in a story to the magical hero. Admittedly the trailer gives the viewer a feel that the movie is simply a monster flick, with the “exotic” Nagina as the new terror, but the actual movie depicts the Nagina in a more positive light: at the simplest level, a lover trying to save her loved one. Perhaps there might be some overlaying metaphor of the transformed Nagina trying to find her way around the bustling city in a new India of the clash of modern and ancient within India, but that’s my own speculation. And even though while the fear of snakes/gore/other religions might put some people off, (I can just see some fundamentalist bashing the movie as heathen snake worship compared to the much more acceptable, abstinence promoting-teenage vampire romance) I think there are enough people out there who are open minded enough to accept it, and like I said, America’s subculture will definitely eat this up (some pun intended). And hopefully by seeing this movie, and more, people can learn more about other worldviews and learn to appreciate other culture’s traits.

  18. the point is mostly to demonstrate that the universe doesn’t revolve around us, we just have a unique ability to try to understand it. As far as that’s the case, we’re expected to love and revere everything.

    Nicely put. Yes the Dharmic religions do have this view, while the Abrahamic religions are bi – polar good v evil. I often thought snakes got a bad rap in Abrahamic religions. Goddesses too.

  19. hey, it looks funny…… to speculate it.seems to be a standard horror genre movie e.g King Kong etc, aiming at the male youth demographic. & perhaps it is an Avatar like allegory? Will they introduce Christian cultural notions of good and evil onto a tradition that doe not share this culture? or does it have a redemption narrative where former colonialists get their comeuppence, is it about the transmission of values of cultural consumerism to try and make new markets in which Hollywood will remain relevant. If this is globalised cinema for the middle classes. In the battle of cultural colonialism whose narratives will prevail?

    generally, hollywood & bollywood have become like evil twin brothers, bullying us (the public) into handing over our hard earned money and in return shoving their mediocre cynical imaginations down our throats.

    I just don’t know …I can’t wait to see it….or maybe I can.