I’m compelled to point out that the superb Korean TV series Boys Over Flowers — a common entry point into the addicting world of K-dramas — expires from Netflix on December 23. It’s absolutely worth the investment of time, but fair warning: the soundtrack will be stuck in your head forever.
I also made a couple of additions to my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime. While I don’t think these titles are new, I just found two more movies available for free with Prime (thanks for the frustrating catalog organization and limited search capabilities, Amazon!): the 2007 English film Partition — starring Smallville‘s Kristen Kreuk, of all people — and the documentary Despite the Gods, a terrific chronicling of the drama behind the making of Hisss.
The story behind the Hindi horror flop Hisss is as much about the film that wasn’t made as the film that was. Documentarian Penny Vozniak recorded director Jennifer Lynch during the making of Hisss, resulting in Despite the Gods: an engrossing feature about a filmmaker pushed out of her own movie.
Lynch spent eight months filming Hisss in India, her first time working in the country. When we first see her settling in to her Chennai apartment, she observes that India is loud. Lulls in the concussive sounds of construction work outside her apartment are filled by chatter from the noisy street below. It makes concentration and relaxation difficult, to say the least.
Lynch is accompanied on her trip by her 12-year-old daughter, Sydney, who is the real star of Despite the Gods. Sydney is wise beyond her years, encouraging her mother to stop fretting about her weight and focus on her movie. The fact that Sydney endures this odyssey with a minimum of whining is a testament to her maturity.
Hisss is beset by a number of problems: rain, a jumbled schedule, a union strike that forces the production to move to Kerala. The funny, foul-mouthed Lynch stays positive throughout, insisting that adverse circumstances often result in a better finished product.
Little does Lynch know that she’s being sabotaged from within. The producer who brought her onto the project, Govind Menon, repeatedly tries to take control of the film away from Lynch, under the pretense of serving the greater good. Touting his past directorial experience and familiarity with the way things are done in India, Menon offers to shoot portions of the film himself in order to speed things up. Lynch doesn’t bend, insisting on doing things her way.
Only after shooting ends does Menon finally get control. A note at the end of Despite the Gods reads: “The producers reject Jennifer’s final cut of Hisss. The film is over schedule and over budget. They re-cut it without her. Jennifer has publicly distanced herself from the finished film.”
Having watched Hisss, Menon clearly overestimated his ability as a storyteller. The movie is awful, although the footage Lynch shot actually looks quite good.
One issue with Despite the Gods is that Vozniak is a friend of Menon. He initially brought her onto the set to babysit Sydney, and it was Lynch who invited her to stay and film the documentary. Lynch told Indie Outlook:
There were some incredibly painful moments that were kept in Penny’s cut and other things that didn’t end up in it because producers wouldn’t allow them to be shown. Sometimes I see myself upset onscreen and think, “I was sad because this happened, but nobody will ever get a chance to see it.” And yet, this is Penny’s film, not mine. She made the film that she wanted to make to the best of her ability, and I’m honored to have been seen through her eyes.
Even with an incomplete accounting of events, Menon’s desire to shoot the film himself is obvious. He also takes it upon himself to scold Sydney when Lynch is not around. A confused Sydney seeks out her mother and asks, “Did I do something wrong?”
Besides Menon, the rest of the Indian crew is devoted and professional. The second assistant director, Yogi Dixit, is particularly charming. The caterer, Krishna, fills in as a sound effects artist and on-set masseur.
Hisss star Mallika Sherawat is smart and self-aware. She’s cognizant of the boldness of her career choices in conservative India, and she and Lynch spend much of their downtime discussing social issues.
Lynch explains the theme of her film (originally titled Nagin: The Snake Goddess): “It’s an admiration of sensual, sexual female bravery.” Sherawat wryly replies, “Oh yeah? In India?”
There’s no guarantee that Lynch’s version of Hisss would have been a success. It’s hard to imagine the scene of Sherawat making out with a snake puppet looking anything other than silly, no matter who edited it.
Still, Despite the Gods highlights that Lynch was using her film to make a point about female sexuality, and that aspect was eliminated from the version ultimately released. Maybe someday we’ll get a director’s cut of Hisss. I’m very curious to see it.
Today marks the Netflix streaming debut of Race 2, which opened in theaters on January 25, 2013. It’s a follow-up to 2008’s Race, which is also available for streaming on Netflix. A familiarity with the first film helps to explain some of the relationships in the second, but it’s not essential to understanding the plot of Race 2. I wasn’t a fan of either movie, but if you’re in the mood for mindless action, Race and Race 2 might fit the bill.
Also on April 10, the bizarre Hindi monster movie Hisss exits the Netflix streaming catalog. The film was plagued with problems throughout the production, and they are obvious in the final product. It will not be missed.
In other video news, Dabangg 2 makes its streaming debut on Eros Now on Friday, April 12 (though not in India). Dabangg 2 is available free to subscribers or as a premium rental for $1.99. 2010’s Dabangg is already available for streaming on the service.
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.
No new Hindi movies open in the Chicago area this weekend, but an independent American feature about South Asian couples hits screens on Friday, October 29, 2010. Walkaway is a drama about four male friends in New York struggling to balance the needs of their romantic partners with the wishes of their parents back in India.
There are still plenty of Bollywood movies commanding screenspace in Chicago area theaters this weekend. Jhootha Hi Sahi gets a second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30. Of last weekend’s other new releases, both the Hindi and Telugu versions of Rakht Charitra get another week at the Golf Glen 5, while Hisss does not.
Older releases still in theaters include Aakrosh at the South Barrington 30, Anjaana Anjaani at both South Barrington and the Cantera 30, and Enthiran (aka Robot) at South Barrington, Cantera, Golf Glen, and Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove.
This weekend presents a feast for Bollywood fans, with three new movies opening in the Chicago area. The movie getting the widest release is the romantic comedy Jhootha Hi Sahi, which stars John Abraham as a man who talks a woman out of committing suicide after she mistakenly dials his phone number.
Both of this weekend’s other new Hindi releases are scheduled to open in the Chicago area only at the Golf Glen 5. First is part one of director Ram Gopal Varma’s two-part biography of the life of Paritala Ravindra: Rakht Charitra. The Golf Glen 5 will carry both the Hindi and Telugu versions of Rakht Charitra.
I’m surprised and disappointed that this weekend’s other new Hindi film, Hisss, wasn’t released in any local theaters besides the Golf Glen 5. The horror movie — which stars Mallika Sherawat as a nagi, a fantastical human-snake deity — is written and directed by David Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer Lynch, who directed the oddly compelling Boxing Helena in 1993.