Nagamandala is a Kannada movie from 1997, directed by T. S. Nagabharana and adapted from a play by Girish Karnad. The film stars Prakash Raj, Vijayalakshmi, and B. Jayashree in important roles. The movie tells the story of a young woman named Rani (played by Vijayalakshmi), who is married to a poor farmer named Appanna (played by Prakash Raj) in a remote Indian village. Rani is a somewhat neglected and unhappy wife, as Appanna spends most of his time in the fields and shows little interest in her. When Rani's friend, a snake charmer named Kalinga (played by Raju Talikote), comes to the village to perform, Rani is captivated by his musical hypnotic snakes, especially a majestic king cobra.
One night, Rani is visited in her dreams by the cobra, who takes on the form of a handsome prince (also played by Prakash Raj) and seduces her. When Rani wakes up, she is pregnant, and soon the villagers begin to suspect that her child is not her husband's but the prince's. Rani is harassed and shunned by the community, and even Appanna comes to doubt her virtue.
Despite the gossip and ostracism, Rani gives birth to a baby boy, whom she names Nagaraju (after the cobra prince). The baby grows unnaturally fast and displays many supernatural powers, such as the ability to communicate with snakes and to heal people with his touch. The villagers are both awed and frightened by the child, and some even believe he is a demon or a god.
Meanwhile, Rani continues to yearn for the cobra prince, who appears to her in various forms, both as a dream and as a real serpent. She is torn between her love for him and her duty to her husband and child. When Appanna learns of the prince's existence, he becomes increasingly jealous and resentful. He confronts Rani and the snake-charmer, and a violent confrontation ensues.
The rest of the movie explores the themes of superstition, desire, and identity, as Rani and Nagaraju undergo several trials and transformations. Along the way, they encounter various characters, such as an old midwife who helps Rani give birth, a wise woman who interprets dreams, and a corrupt priest who tries to exploit Nagaraju's powers. The climax of the movie involves a ritualistic dance performed by Rani and Nagaraju, which reveals the ultimate fate of the family.
Nagamandala is a nuanced and visually stunning movie that blends elements of fantasy, folklore, and social commentary. The performances by the lead actors are excellent, especially Vijayalakshmi's portrayal of Rani, who embodies both vulnerability and resilience. The music, composed by C. Ashwath, is haunting and evocative, and the cinematography, by Sundarnath Suvarna, captures the lush beauty of the countryside as well as the eerie quality of the snake symbolism. The movie's message about the power of imagination and the dangers of prejudice is both timeless and timely, and it resonates with audiences across cultures and generations.