Naagarahaavu Review – Tragedy Par Excellence

Not merely a beautiful tragedy, Naagarahaavu (1972) is also a Kannada Cinemada Habba (a celebration of Kannada films).

A classic on many levels, Naagarahaavu ranks among the finest Indian movies made in the 1970s.

It’s that rare regional movie from India’s hinterlands where the acting, music and story jell, and join in unison to deliver an unforgetable masterpiece.

A rara avis, folks.

And weaving it all together in this dazzling film is the late legend Puttana Kanagal’s peerless direction.

Who having heard the testosterone-filled Haavina Dvesha of S.P.Balasubramaniam or the haunting melody of P.B.Srinivas’ Baare, Baare once can ever forget these classics in his lifetime.

If you understand the meaning of these gems, a bigger bonus awaits you.

Nearly four decades after the movie debuted, there’s still a glittering freshness to the movie that the passage of time cannot erode.

Under the aegis of Puttana Kanagal, Vishnuvardhan and Ashwath have most likely delivered their career-best performances in Naagarahaavu.

To praise Vishnuvardhan or Ashwath is not to detract from the performances of Aarti or Shuba or the other actors in the movie but an  acknowledgement of their larger roles.

Set amidst the rocks of Chitradurga (a small town, about 200km north of Bangalore), Naagarahaavu is the story of a young man Ramachari (Vishnuvardhan) filled with hata, rosha, dvesha and pratikaara (stubbornness, anger, hatred and vengeance).

Given his quick-to-anger and vicious temperament, the town folk have named Ramachari Naagarahaavu (meaning King Cobra).

Feared and loathed by most people in town (including his own father) because of his temperament, Ramachari’s sole defender in town is his old childless teacher Chamayya Masteru (Ashwath).

When you add love in the form of Alamelu (Aarti) and Margaret (Shuba) and Masteru’s good-hearted but deadly meddling to Ramachari’s volatile personality, the denouement can only turn out to be a fiery explosion that consumes all the protagonists.

No other ending is possible save the one we see on the screen.

Gems Galore

The movie is strewn with gems throughout.

For instance, when Alamelu explains her miserable plight to Ramachari at a chance meeting in Bangalore, it’s not through a lengthy monologue or a sob story, but au contraire through an aptly titled song Kathe heluve (I will tell a story). Only a master film-maker like Puttana Kanagal could conceive of and pull off such a technique!

Earlier, when Masteru sets events on a dangerous course by invoking an old promise from Ramachari, he tells the wary young lad that what’s he’s about to offer him is not kudiyo visha but mathina visha (not a poison that can be consumed but poison-tipped words).

We’d be so remiss if we failed to tell you that the other songs in the movie, Karpoorada Gombe Naanu, Sangama Sangama and Kannada Naadina Veera, have also stood the test of time well and are as popular today as they were 37 years ago.

But to us and surely for millions of others, Naagarahaavu brings to mind first and foremost Vishnuvardhan angrily marching on the ruins of the old Chitradurga fort as he whips out Haavina Dvesha.

This is one of the five all-time great Kannada movie songs and if you dare disagree with us, do tell us what you are high on.

Compared to Hindi, Tamil or English, we have seen few Kannada films.

Oh, we’re so glad that we finally saw Naagarahaavu.

11 Responses to "Naagarahaavu Review – Tragedy Par Excellence"

  1. ratnakar   July 23, 2009 at 6:05 am

    Puttana Kanangal was one of the rare directors who know the craft of movie making in and out, unlike today’s wannabes, who resort to DVD remakes.

    Also check out Sharapanjara, a masterpiece, if Naaagarahavu was tragic, this movie will just overwhelm with you its sheer emotional intensity. The way PK handled a delicate and sensitive subject, was masterful. The climax of this movie, haunts me still. Responds:

    You write: Also check out Sharapanjara, a masterpiece.

    Nodidive swamy, bala-varsha hindhae (seen it many years back) but we find it difficult to recollect the details. We tried to get the DVD here but couldn’t.

    Kodagina Kaveri and Biligiri Rangayya are two songs from Sharapanjara movie.

    Sharapanjara is considered to be the late Kalpana’s finest movie.

  2. Albert Camus   July 23, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Was it remade into “Zarheela Insaan” in Hindi with Rishi Kapoor? Responds:

    According to Wiki, Zarheela Insaan is a remake of Naagarahaavu but the Hindi version never created any ripples.

    None whatsoever.

    Maybe, it was director Puttana Kanagal’s shot at entering Bollywood.

    For an analogy, it’s like the Malayalam super-hit movies that are now being ‘remade’ in Hindi and Tamil but turn out to be duds.

  3. gnair91   July 23, 2009 at 9:00 am

    -not related –

    i was just curious if you’ve experienced racism, first hand. Is the issue being exxagerated by the media ? Responds:

    You write: i was just curious if you’ve experienced racism, first hand. Is the issue being exxagerated by the media ?

    We are assuming your question is in the context of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates’ recent arrest by the Cambridge police. It’s become a big issue that even President Obama referred to it yesterday during the prime-time press conference.

    These days we feel racism is omnipresent in America. It’s mostly covert and subtle but sometimes comes to the forefront brutally.

    Examples of subtle/covert racism:

    Ignoring you in American diners/restaurants, trying to follow you around in stores, charging you higher interest rates for mortgages and car loans, insisting on speaking to your colleagues on the ground that they can’t understand your accent (debatable in some cases), difficult for blacks to get a cab (even Denzel Washington had a hard time getting a cab in NYC) and so on and so on.

    Examples of overt/brutal racism:

    Practiced by rednecks (less-educated whites from the rural areas but occasionally from the cities as well).

    Telling you to your face that you ought to go back to your country (happened to us once at a convenience store).

    Sometimes, racism extends to brutal killing as in Jasper, Texas.

    BTW, Indians show strong racism against fellow Indians in the U.S (at Indian restaurants). We’ve experienced it several times. For instance, if you go to a buffet the bread-basket or some other curry vessel will be empty.

    Scumbag Indian restaurateurs will often not replenish the empty units until a White guy enters the restaurant. We’ve experienced this first-hand.

    Many Indians in the U.S. can’t stand Blacks and refer to them disparagingly as Kallus, bais (buffalo) et al.

    But for the most part, Blacks and Hispanics are at the receiving end of racism because of their lower economic status.

    Ironically, Blacks practice racism too against Asians and Hispanics.

    Too complex a subject.

  4. satya   July 23, 2009 at 9:31 am

    I am glad you liked it. Puttanna kangal was the greatest director kannada film industry (KFI) has seen till now. Nagaarahaavu is like ‘Sholay’ of KFI !!

    Naagarahaavu also started the career of ‘Ambarish’. Remember the famous dialogue “En bulbul , mathakalilva”.

    when TaRaSu saw this movie first he was not impressed by the characterisation of ramachari . Responds:

    1. You write: Nagaarahaavu is like ‘Sholay’ of KFI

    Hey, you stole our unwritten words.

    Are your telepathic or what?

    We wanted to describe it as the Sholay of the Kannada Film industry but did not because we thought it might be hyperbole.

    In retrospect, we realize that we should not have hesitated in hailing it as Sholay of the KFI.

    2. You write: Remember the famous dialogue “En bulbul , mathakalilva”.

    Yes, that guy Jaleel with the bicycle was Mandya Ambarish (former Congress MP).

    BTW, Ambarish has even acted in some Tamil movies like Priya (with Sridevi and Rajnikanth).

    But Ambarish’s best movie was most likely Antha.

  5. ratnakar   July 23, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Zehreela Insaan was a failure, however it was a decent flick. I think audiences could not accept Rishi Kapoor in that role, due to his “lover boy” image. It had one great song by R.D.Burman, “O Hansini”. Responds:

    O Hansini is not bad but just no patch on the Kannada original Baare baare chendhadha cheluvina thare. The original was a million times better.

  6. ratnakar   July 23, 2009 at 10:50 am

    “Ironically, Blacks practice racism too against Asians and Hispanics.”

    It’s become more like a turf battle than racism. Blacks are at receiving end, but in a majority they are equally racist. Some of the Black dominated areas, are quite notorious.

    Indian racism is of a special variety, it is against their own people. I mean Blacks practice it against Asians, Hispanics, Whites do it against non Whites, but i guess Indians must be the only species, who practice it against their own. Very unique. Responds:

    Regarding Black racism againat Asians and Hispanics, we believe it follows from White behavior.

    In our view, Blacks tend to imitate Whites a lot.

    If Whites are racist, Blacks want to do the same.

    Here are three examples from our observation:

    If Whites attend Nascar races, Blacks want to do the same.

    If Whites embrace the Harley-Davidson motorbikes, Blacks want to do the same.

    If Whites take to the big hulking SUVs, Blacks want to do the same.

    If we think hard, we could come up with more.

  7. Dr.UnkHaf D. Aktar   July 23, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Nice review. I really want to see this film now. Hope it has subtitles. Responds:

    Yes, the DVD we got (Sri Ganesh Video, SP Road, Bangalore) had English subtitles.

    The dialogs and words in the song are so powerful in the original language Kannada that we doubt the movie will have the same effect on viewers unfamiliar with the language.

  8. ratnakar   July 23, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Incidentally the other Hindi remake of a PK movie Gejje Pooje, Ahistha Ahistha, was a total wash out. It starred Shashi Kapoor’s son Kunal Kapoor in his debut role. However Hum Paanch, the Bollywood version of Paduvaaralli Pandavaru did quite well, and movie was good too.

    Just makes me wonder how come Bollywood keeps on regularly screwing up some excellent South Indian movies by remaking them. Responds:

    1. Gejje Pooje is on our list of movies to watch.

    2. Paduvarahalli Pandavaru has a nice song Thukadisi thukadisi beeladhiru thamma

  9. guruprasad.s   July 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    SI: No other ending is possible save the one we see on the screen.

    A very apt remark.

    Any compromise formula would have undone all the build up of intensity up to that point, and importantly, would have been against the very characters of the protagonists.

    I have heard that while shooting the movie, “Puttanna Kanagal Vishnuvardhan ge oddu acting maadsoranthe ” (director PK used to kick/beat newcomer VV for making mistakes, while shooting for the movie).

    Not sure how true it is, but, (to borrow Shivram’s style) “kalaavidarinda olle abhinaya maadsode avara speciality” (to get the best out of the performers was master director PK’s strong point).

    BTW, Naidu uncle (Margaret’s uncle), in real life, is actor Arjun Sarja’s father.

    Regarding Ambarish’s (likely) best movie, check out ‘Yelu (7) suttina kote’, you might revise your opinion. It also has a nice song ‘Yeno maadalu hogi …’.

    Fully agree with reader Ratnakar that Bollywood has this knack of taking up some rather fine south Indian movies (probably regional movies in general) and making a complete mess of it.

    TaRaSu’s disagreement with the characterisation of Ramachari (pointed out by reader satya) reminds me of the fight b/w R.K.Narayan and Vijay ‘Goldie’ Ananad (who directed Guide). RKN accused Goldie of taking undue liberties with the original story.

    Nevertheless, Guide is very watchable, did rather well, and is considered to be Dev Anand’s best performance to date.

    Much later, when Shankar Nag directed the TV serials Malgudi Days, and Swami and his Friends, RKN commented that the town of Malgudi had come out on screen exactly as he had imagined. Responds:

    1. You write: I have heard that while shooting the movie, “Puttanna Kanagal Vishnuvardhan ge oddu acting maadsoranthe ” (director PK used to kick/beat newcomer VV for making mistakes, while shooting for the movie).


    BTW, we narrowly missed meeting Puttana Kanagal and Aarti once bala varsha hindhe (many years back). But we did meet Putanna’s brother Kanagal Prabhakara Sastry, who used to write lyrics. Remember the classic Olave Jeevana in the old Rajkumar movie Sakshat Kara…that was by Kanagal Prabhakar Sastry.

    2. The frequent use of ‘speciality’ was funny.

    3. Eno maDalu hogi is nice. We loved Rebel Star Ambarish’s Antha when we watched it. Not sure what our reaction would be today.

    4. Two classics from GuideAaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai and Gata Rahe Mera Dil Tu Hi Meri Manzil.

  10. StrYngLad74   July 23, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    You should also consider watching Sunil Desai’s rather brilliant “Beladingala Baale”, starring Anant Nag. Responds:

    Will try to get the DVD.

    Looks interesting based on the first two paragraphs we’ve just read about the above movie on Wiki.

    Will not read the rest to maintain the suspense.

  11. guruprasad.s   July 27, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Regarding your comment on the two songs of Guide:

    In fact, all the songs of Guide are very good.
    The duo of master composer Sachin Dev Burman and lyricist Shailendra is in top form. Lata’s Piya toh se naina laage re, and Rafi’s Tere mere sapne ab ek rang hai are also top songs.
    S.D.Burman lends his own voice to two songs,
    Yaha kaun hai tera musafir, and Shyaama megh de paani de…, which actually leads to their heightened impact in the narrative.
    All the songs blend well into the narrative.
    Guide is a very watchable movie, and although made in 1965, is popular to date.
    Actor Dev Anand could never quite come out of the image of Raju guide in which he excelled. Responds:

    We think we had the vinyl record of Guide and another classic Sangam (remember, Main Kya Karoon Ram).

    Here’s Tere Mere Sapne on YouTube and Piya Tose Naina Laage Re as well.

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