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.
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.