Nagamandala (ನಾಗಮಂಡಲ) is a 1997 Kannada movie directed by Nagabharana. Adapted from a play of the same name written by Girish Karnad, the movie was critically acclaimed and won several awards. The play might be based on rural folktales or a custom of the same name practised in the Malnad region. The movie was quite the center of gossip in the late 90s due to its realistic portrayal of the subject matter.
Rani is a motherless young girl from coastal Karnataka, who is married off as soon as she reaches puberty. Appanna, her husband from North Karnataka runs a gymnasium in his village and lives alone in a big house. She repulses his violent advances towards her, angered by which he leaves her locked in the house every day to visit his concubine. In an attempt to fix her marriage, Rani takes the advice of her matchmaker, a blind old woman, and prepares a love potion for Appanna. Things go wrong with her experiment and the potion ends up being ingested by a cobra who lives behind her house. Unbeknownst to Rani, the snake takes the form of her husband and starts visiting her regularly. The situation complicates when Appanna gets suspicious.
Nagamandala is a tightly written, well directed venture. It has all the trappings of a mysterious folktale told around a fire by a superb storyteller. Nagabhrana keeps the settings minimal and true to the North Karnataka environment. The movie uses several songs, 12 of them, to nudge the story forward (much like in a play). Composed by C Ashwath, the music is a winner. Prakash Rai (the husband and the snake), Vijayalakshmi (the bride) and especially Jayashri (the blind woman) have acted excellently. Nagamandala is a mystic folktale that is sure to keep you spellbound! 🙂