Thursday, July 31, 2008

Understanding Superheroes : The Indian Way

Saw The Dark Knight last week and I am yet to come out of it (those of you who already have seen it, can understand what I mean and if you are yet to see it…go and see your doctor first, there is something terribly wrong with you). As I am waiting for Hellboy II, I was thinking about comic book superheroes who have become a hot property for Hollywood nowadays.

Not only Superheroes but there is a long list of films based on/inspired by graphic novels and miniseries too, whether its LXG or V for Vendetta, Sin City or 300. Looking at soon to be released adaptations like Watchmen, Frank Miller’s adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit (and more than a dozen titles under production), it feels Hollywood has finally started taking capes and masks/balloons and panels seriously.

Now this makes me think of our Desi Superhero Films and before I get into this topic.. I would like to start with a disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER: To call Mithun and Rajni Superheroes will not only be insulting and underestimating them but also over-overestimating the Superhero Genre. So no matter what, we have to keep these gravity defying, bulletproof (infact everything proof) heroes of all time, away from this topic.

We the people of India have a legacy of Superhero films, like our own version of Superman (played by Puneet Issar) in which Sups accidentally kills his foster father (played by Ashok Kumar) by hugging him too tightly or Shiva (played by Jaggu Dada) in 3D Superhero Flick Shiva Ka Insaaf, in which Shiva’s parents are killed by the goons and their child Bhola, who is the only witness, grows up to become Shiva the superhero and avenges the murder of his parents (it is still unknown if Bhola/Shiva and his parents went to see The Mark Of Zorro or, if they went for the same show Wayne family went for??).

Rather getting more into the plots and subplots of these cult classic superhero films (they deserve a separate post) I’ll come back to the topic – Superheroes in Indian Cinema. Indian Filmmakers have an entirely different approach to this genre. They make a Superhero Film/series first; wait for it to become a hit, and once its successful they come up with poorly written-badly illustrated comics inspired by the movie/series. I have seen them doing this with Shaktimaan (which in my knowledge, is the only Superhero Comic book which was published by two different publishers at the same time), Captain Vyom and Krrish etc.

(Chacha Chaudhary remains the only exception, but the TV Series based on cartoonist Pran’s highly popular comic character wasn’t one tenth as successful as the comic book series).

Indian Film/TV Industry’s understanding of Superheroes and comic books has always remained questionable. I am still trying to figure out, how can somebody come up with an appalling idea of creating comics on shows like The Great Indian Laughter Challenge.

(Ahem…Excuse me for deviating again from the topic and let’s come back to Desi Superheroes again.)

Though Krrish was publicized as first Indian Superhero, I think we’ve had many superheroes PK (Pre-Krrish) like Mr. India, Toofan, Shehenshah, Ajooba etc in the past and Hindustani (it was a Superhero Concept wasn’t it) and Anniyan in recent times.

One of the most unforgettable Superheroes on Hindi Film Screen was invisible Mr.India (Salim - Javed wrote Mr.India keeping AB in mind who refused to act in a film where his fans can’t see him. Javed changed the protagonist’s name from Vijay to Arun and rest as they say is history).

Late 80s was the era when anybody who could make a film, was toying with the idea of making a Superhero Film with Amitabh Bachchan. Sadly

the outcome of this Me-Too wave resulted in some really unremarkable Superhero Films like Toofan and Ajooba (an Indo-Russian Co-production). The only film to enjoy little success was Shahenshah where AB played a Vigilante Superhero. (AB was supposed to play another vigilante superhero Rudra, who in a way, was a combo of Shehenshah and Toofan, in S.Ramanathan's shelved film Rudra.)

Talking of Superstar Amitabh Bachchan and Superheroes played by him, reminds me of SUPREMO (a comic book superhero published by Star Comics). It is still undecided if Supremo was inspired by Amitabh or it was publisher’s idea to encash the great fan following AB has/had amongst children.

‘SUPREMO – The Adventures Of Amitabh Bachcan’(for those of you who haven’t read it) had BigB playing Superstar Amitabh Bachchan who dons a mask and becomes superhero Supremo to fight bad guys. AB personally endorsed the series (there used to be this personal letter from BigB himself pleading kids to keep his ‘superhero identity’ secret). It was a mildly successful comic book superhero series, which after an initial success, proved not even Superstar Amitabh can save badly written stuff. Star Comics went out of business and Supremo died a silent death.

Coming back to today’s scene i.e. PK (Post Krrish) we again have a new bunch of Superheroes. From Abhay Deol and SRK’s spoofy Superhero acts in Honeymoon Travels and OSO respectively to forthcoming superheroes Drona (Abhishek) and Toonpur Ka Superhero (Ajay Devgan). But the question remains unanswered- Does Bollywood really understands this genre, or this is another Me-Too wave of people who want to encash on one and only successful Superhero Roshans have created?

Another problem with Indian Superhero genre, I think is the way Indian Audience look at it. They need to be liberated and enlightened to understand that A Superhero Film doesn’t always mean it’s a Kiddie Film. I feel sorry for all those poor little kids, who accompanied their dumb parents to PG-13 rated - The Dark Knight and Hancock (I am serious; they brought their kids along just because these were Superhero Films). Grow up parents!!!

No blog on Indian Superheroes can end without having this here it is: Kimi Katkar & Chichi celebrating the Ultimate Marvel-DC Crossover.


Slogan Murugan said...

We have mythological heroes who are way to powerful for these videsi superheros.

Jai Bajrangbali (OK... bachcha hanuman)and Jai Ganesh (ok another baby elephant boy)

Unknown said...

wonderful post.. very informative.. its was gr8 reading the unknown stories of desi superheroes film.. but i think u missed out Hanuman.. i'll expect a different post about our own mythological superheroes.. and the ending could'nt be better than ending with a chichi note..:)marvellous

Vidooshak said...

although i think Gotham Chopra and Co have screwed it up eventually, i did believe that desi superheroes did have huge potential in the way Virgin comics imagined them. of course, beyond the concept you need someone who really LOVES and understands comics to create memorable art (like Nolan and Burton). it appears that VC simply went the mass-market, NRI-pandering way.

i think people like Sriram Raghavan, Javed Jaffri, the guy who made Khosla Ka Ghosla and Aamir Khan might be able to one day mine India's abundant "superhero" stories to make fantastic movies without aping western cliches. or adding indian melodrama in the way the yucky Krrisshhh tried (i couldn't stand Krrishh beyond the first "action" sequence)

this was a superb post against the backdrop of TDK. hopefully, Farhan Akhtar will read and decide to re-make that classic with Govinda and Kimi

Toonfactory said...

Thanks for the comments Gopal & Anirban..well as far as our Mythical Superheroes are concerned I am planning a separate post on Understanding Animation and Mythology:The Indian Way...very soon :)Keep visiting

@ Vidooshak - VC is trying to sell names rather creating Comic Books, Superheroes or stories. I can't stand Krrish beyond opening credits you said one who really LOVES and understands comics to create memorable art..I really think Aamir can do it. (really like JJ but have you seen him in Jajantaram Mamantaram?).. I think even Shankar can come up with good stuff, provided he comes out of those silly gimmicks.
I am waiting for Shirish Kunder's superhero film(ironically named Joker)..just wanna see how he approaches the genre.

Mama - Mia said...

bloody brilliant post!! i had such a laugh reading about Mithun and rajnikant! i could imagine this conversation happening in our living room! :)

i think indian's still look at Animation AND Superhero movies as kids' genre, which is really sad! until we get out of that mentality we can never make brilliant superhero flicks.

i have friends even today who ask accha cartoon dekhne jaa rahe ho when you tell em you going to watch an animated flick! :(

i didnt believe the govinda-kimi song till M showed it to me on yoitube one day!! hehe!

write as often as you can, will ya?



Hopeful Indian said...

lol..seems like u still got stomach for Indian superhero movies :) Our first 3-d movie Kutti Chathan (malayalam) was a comic take and it got remade as Chotta Chetan. And as Anirban points out, mythological superheroes like Hanuman are filling the void very well. And Rajni...apart from superhero dialogs and action, he's a superhero at the box office too!

Toonfactory said...

Hey Abha, thanks for the comment..yup Indian Audience need to be educated on these genres.

@ Vijay - They are making an animated Chhota Chetan, but that wasnt a Superhero Film yaar, as far as I remember Chetan was a ghost in the film...

abhishek singh said...

u've really digged these one's from the unknown depths lol...fantastic article n very informative ...
..i'm still waitin for the day when they'll do justice to this genere .:)
nice one my friend:)

Soumyadip said...

Sunil Gavaskar also had a comic book superhero avatar called Sunny.

Not to forget the original superhero - Hanuman.

Vj Arumugam said...

so your funny scripts roll on to your blogs too eh! its a good read and you have done justice to this article, by doing a fair bit of research on the topic. there is no doubt that we have this "me too" plague clinging on to us. but i do believe in a due course of time we will have an industry that will have the understanding of this genre and a society that would have possessed the knowledge to appreciate this genre. great going buddy. eagerly looking for more interesting stuff. :)

Toonfactory said...

Hey Abhi-Thanks for the comments bro.
@Soumyadip- Yup I know about Sunny, but never got to see the comic. Even Virgin Comics planned to come up with a superhero called The Master Blaster based on Ailla Sachin Tendulkar...sadly India was out of the worldcup and they changed their mind. May be some other publisher will come up with Dho-Man based on Dhoni.

@ Vijay- Thanks for the comments bro. Its always great to have you, the ever-optimist Superhero Vijay, around..U r The Man!!

squarecut.atul said...

Very nice and informative post. I discovered your blog today, and I must say the topics that you write on certainly appeal to me.

abhishek said...

thats one of the exhaustive set of info dude...
i wonder why doesn't anyone come up with filmi version of raj comics...heroes to solid hai hi...plot bhi solid hai

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