When a director disowns a movie she spent months filming, you know the finished product must really stink. That’s exactly what American director Jennifer Lynch did, following the release of the Hindi film Hisss.
Lynch claims that producers wrested control of the film away from her during the editing process, ultimately creating a movie that little resembles her vision for the project. The filmmaking process was so trying that a documentary about Lynch’s experience called Despite the Gods is currently making the festival circuit. Now that’s a movie I want to see.
Hisss is ultimately a good-looking version of the type of schlocky, low-budget monster movies regularly shown on the Syfy channel. Compared to any other films, it’s a mess.
It’s not just a mess; it’s messy. By Bollywood standards, Hisss is incredibly gory. Also, compared to standard Bollywood fare, there’s a lot of nudity and explicit sexuality (although a scene showing Mallika Sherawat humping a ten-foot-long snake puppet would be unusual in any type of film).
Hisss’s (not often I get to use the same letter four times consecutively!) premise is that an American man named George (Jeff Douchette) must prevent his death from brain cancer by stealing the immortal essence of a snake goddess, or nagin. In order to lure the nagin, he captures her male cobra mate, played by the aforementioned snake puppet.
The nagin assumes the human form of Mallika Sherawat in order to search for her stolen mate. While in the guise of a seductive and frequently naked woman, the nagin seizes the opportunity to murder some male human rapists and abusers in gruesome fashion. All that’s left of one of her victims are his undigested bones, cellphone, and Pamela Anderson t-shirt.
The strange deaths are investigated by Vinkram (Irrfan Khan), a detective dealing with his wife’s recent miscarriage and a mentally ill mother-in-law. Vinkram’s wife, Maya (Divya Dutta), assists her husband when a lovely, mute, naked woman — the nagin — is brought to the police station. Maya’s ill mother is the only one who sees a connection between the woman and the deaths.
Dutta and Irrfan bear no responsibility for the movie’s failures. Both are solid in the movie’s only compelling storyline, as they cope with the possibility of never becoming parents. Scenes involving Maya’s childlike mother are sometimes awkward but reinforce that Maya and Vinkram are good people.
The other storylines aren’t nearly as interesting. It’s hard to get invested in the nagin’s journey, since she never speaks, and the closest she ever gets any kind of meaningful character development is when she’s molting. The nagin is less of a tortured-soul type of monster like Dr. Jekyll or the wolfman than she is a killing machine. She’s Jaws with a taste for misogynists.
Few acting demands are placed upon Sherawat beyond occasional bouts of wordless howling. Half-naked writhing is her main contribution to the film, and she does an admirable job of it. Her character is just too undeveloped to garner sympathy.
Least sympathetic of all is George. Most of his dull scenes are filmed in a windowless underground room where he electrocutes the snake puppet as part of his plan to attract the nagin. George periodically surfaces to abuse and murder his Indian assistants, who should realize that whatever money he’s offering isn’t worth the risk of being shot by George or eaten by a giant snake.
Given the scenes that made it in to the final cut of Hisss, I’m not sure that Lynch’s version would’ve been a masterpiece. Still, I would’ve liked to have seen it. Regardless, Despite the Gods is bound to be more entertaining than the film that spawned it.