India is a tropical country and like most tropical areas, snakes are part of everyday life here. But what Australia would never have thought of would be movies, where venomous snakes are not just part of the story but is the plot, hero/heroine and villain all rolled into one.
What you needed to make a hit Tamil movie in 80’s was a superstition, a beautiful woman that could wear skimpy clothes and gyrate (but can be justified as this is a movie about snakes, so snake dance is inevitable) and a hapless hero who is a bad shot with bow-and-arrow or a gun or has bad eye-sight.
The superstition is that if a Cobra (usually the spectacled Cobra) lives to be 100 years, it can then transform itself into humans and will usually have a hoard of precious gems -supposedly, the venom can turn into rubies and are periodically spat out by the snake. Now comes the part which you have all been waiting for – the beautiful woman who gyrates like a snake – what is the connection? It is a 500 year old snake that can take the form of a beautiful woman and she is usually out for revenge. Why? Because the ass of a hero shot her equally 500-year old husband who looked like a stag or something to this hero. And this incident usually happens when the snakes are doing a mating dance in the forest. The hero with the bad eyesight drives away in his Mahindra Jeep. The widowed snake is raging and is, literally, spitting venom. But she does not want to just kill this man with a single bite, oh no, she wants him to suffer as she does. She just lost her husband of 480-years (I am approximating under the assumption that they got together in their 20s). So she plots revenge!
The plot thickens.Enter another beautiful woman whom the hero has fallen in love with. And after the prerequisite singing and dancing around trees, these two get married and are off on their honeymoon. *Drumroll* The snake-woman strikes – no, no, she does not just bite the hero or his wife, no, the snake punctures the car or bites through the petrol tank and makes the car lose fuel or something, to make it look like an accident,thus effectively preventing them from leaving town. Probably, the snake has to remain within a particular radius of her precious gems. Thus she, also effectively, prevents the hero and his wife from consummating their marriage. Are you still with me, my dear Reader?
So what comes next? The snake-woman comes into the hero’s life and tries to take him away from his wife, but the wife of course being a god-fearing woman calls upon the wrath of the Gods and fights for her marriage. The story moves towards the climax with a dance competition where the snake-woman puts on her moves to seduce the husband but the wife dances too, with righteous fury to win her husband back. What is the poor husband doing the whole time? Probably tied-up or drugged or both and drooling in a corner. I am not sure anymore how these movies end – either the snake-woman gets impaled by the trident the wife takes from the Goddess in the temple where they are both dancing or the snake-woman suddenly gets religion and a new found respect for the sanctity of marriage or something. She, then, forgives the hero, shows the couple where all the precious gems are and breathes her last, turning back into a snake. And this was pre-computer graphics, mind you. So you had actual trained snakes that played the role.
I do not know why I ever watched these movies but for the next few weeks after watching the movies, we kids would run around gyrating rather badly and pretending to be snakes.
ps: Dancing is an integral part of our movies- mating dance, revenge dance, angry dance, happy dance – a dance for all emotions and occasions – call us, we can do you a dance for a dime or a nickel – but dance we will.