THE JENNIFER-PENNY CHRONICLES: MAKING HISSS – Chapter Seven
As Hisss unfolds we are alternately told too much (Menon’s additions) and too little (Lynch’s rushed work on scenes that needed more time to flesh out). For this reason we are never engaged in either the action or the surprising appearances of some mysterious and captivating sequences focusing on the Nagin. Mallika Sherawat is quite wonderful in these scenes as both snake creature and mute woman, whose transition to human shape does not include the power of human language. In Despite the Gods, we see Sherawat and Lynch working on the serpentine elements of the character, and her situation of a being in a new body and a new relationship to the physical and human world that she doesn’t understand; and their work pays off visibly in Hisss. When the Nagin wanders by chance into the center of the Holi festival, the result is lovely. It’s clear that Lynch was eminently capable of executing the fun and play with Indian movie traditions that she had in mind. A night time scene when Nagin is alone in a deserted street and sheds the cloth she has draped around her nude body, slithering up a lamppost toward the light under a full moon is magical, as is the jump cut technique Lynch used to suggest supernatural motion when the Nagin is tracking the men who molested her mate. Unhappily, the pleasure of these sequences only emphasizes the problems of the less skillfully made scenes.
At the end of the film, the climactic confrontation scene between the Nagin and George States brings to a head not the hostility between the two, but rather everything that has gone wrong in the production. There is a showdown of sorts between States and Nagin, but it is vitiated rather than strengthened by an almost simultaneous evocation of a spiritual connection between Vinkram Gupta and the Nagin, as the prelude to a final scene in which the Guptas are finally blessed by the baby they have desired. Gupta’s presence, as Nagin and States go toe to toe, strikes the wrong note. Gupta was intended to uncalculatedly gain points with Nagin because of the innocence and goodness of his soul by rescuing her from a net in which States attempts to trap her, but it is impossible to believe that a deity with her powers could possibly be ensnared in this way.
The lack of credibility here undercuts the moment in which States, just before he expires, makes a last gasp effort at ensnaring the goddess, and the screams of Gupta and the Nagin merge in a crescendo of sound and fury, she because of the death of her lover and Gupta because of the death of his young, innocent police colleague, both at the hands of States. We ought to feel that there is a connection between them, implied in their mutual scream, but we don’t. Nor is there any way for the audience to become caught up in the erotic relationship between the Nagin in human form and the mate, a paper mache puppet, as she carries him off in a scene that is so brightly lit that there is no way of finding the Nagin’s passion for this clumsily made prop anything but funny. State’s death is anti-climactic.
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