There’s something comical about A Flying Jatt trailer. Superheroes aren’t usually mollycoddled, but then again, you can always rely on our filmmakers to even give something possibly Marvel a maternal touch. Director Remo D’Souza has said, “A Flying Jatt is a good superhero with no dark side. So, it is all good versus all bad without any shades of grey.” Christopher Nolan fans would have obviously been disappointed, but revisiting India’s superhero inventions proves the one fact – we have hardly ever toyed with the possibility of an authentic superhero. Torn between Superman and divine intervention, our experiments in this genre have largely failed. This sad hypothesis is proved below.
Superman / Return of Mr Superman (1960)
Ensuring that there remains some honesty among thieves, directors Mohammed Hussain and Manmohan Sabir did little to cloak their adaptation (read ‘lifting’) of the Superman myth. In 1960, they respectively released Superman and Return of Mr Superman. Altogether unrelated, audiences were confused to see Paidi Jairaj play the same superhero in both films. In Superman, he wore wavy headgear, a wrestler’s outfit and a cape that was as flaccid as the film’s plot. In Return, he looked even more comical in slacks, a sweatshirt, a skull cap and goggles. This Superman looked like he was preparing for a bank heist, not quite a Man of Steel who’d foil one.
Shiva Ka Insaaf (1985)
Shiva Ka Insaaf was the first Hindi film to have been made in 3D, but its novelty wasn’t just limited to technical prowess. Bhola/Shiva (Jackie Shroff), at one point, says – “Even if Shiva goes to a cemetery, the corpses there rise to tell him their names and addresses.” (Full points for authentic swag!) He wears an impossibly constricting leather costume, gets his powers from Shiva, works as a news reporter like Clark Kent did, and without a Batmobile, he takes to chasing baddies on a bicycle.
Mr India (1987)
Arguably India’s most successful superhero film, Mr India succeeded in making the story of a somewhat superhuman vigilante relatable. Arun Verma (Anil Kapoor) walks the streets playing a violin. He has a heart of gold. His home is a makeshift orphanage. Arun chances upon a device that makes him invisible and sets right social wrongs. He fights injustice, alleviates poverty and hunger. Pitted against super-villain Mogambo (Amrish Puri), he holds his own. Obviously, India khush hua.
Indian Superman (1987)
After landing that near-fatal punch on Amitabh Bachchan, playing the Man of Steel in Indian Superman should have been redemption for Puneet Issar. Unfortunately for him, the film’s budget was so miniscule, its special effects so patchy, its plot so thin, that it only added to his litany of sins. As Shekhar/Superman, Issar can fly. He can make bread levitate and he can walk through walls. As a child, this Superman even break-danced to ‘Beat It’ to prove he’s superhuman. You can’t beat that.
First there was Shahenshah, India’s 1988 answer to Batman. Then came Toofan (1989), in which Lord Hanuman blesses Amitabh Bachchan with a cape and crossbow. So by the time Shashi Kapoor started filming Ajooba, the Big B had already evolved from hero to superhero. The leather jacket and Velcro straps may have been a tad unseemly, but having mastered the martial arts and with a clumsy eye-mask, Bachchan’s Ali/Ajooba defeats Amrish Puri’s devilish Vazir like a true-blue avenger.
Though it is admittedly hard to take a man in red velvet pants seriously, Shaktimaan (Mukesh Khanna) can separate his body into the five elements – fire, wind, water, earth and sky. He can travel at the speed of light. Telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis – there is practically nothing that Indian television’s beloved superhero can’t do. His alter ego might be a dork, his super antagonists may be laughable, but Shaktimaan has the power to return to your screen even after 11 years. Really, wow!
Krrish might have the super cinematic ability to spawn one sequel after another, but what powers does Hrithik Roshan’s Krrish really have? This is a mystery. He can run fast, so there is that. When children are threatened by a blaze of fire, all he needs to do to fool the world is find a black mask and turn his jacket inside out. (But hey, Clark Kent does the same thing with his underwear.) Roshan has said, “I had to find the superhero within me to play the part.” (I wanna drink what he’s drinking.)
Ra.One was panned by a number of critics for its lack of story. Even those that worked out a plot found it a tad incoherent. For now, let’s just say that a video game miraculously comes to life. The villain Ra.One may have been designed to be unbeatable, but our superhero G.One can derive power from electricity, turn his head a full 360 degrees and can transmit images through his eyes. He can also send messages across distances, but the idea that Ra.One is watchable was hard to convey.
One of the most underrated Indian superhero films, Zokkomon is one movie that has rightfully earned its place on this list. After having been orphaned, Kunal (Darsheel Safary) is left in the care of his heartless uncle. Deshraj (Anupam Kher) wants to usurp his nephew’s inheritance and abandons him at a city fair. With the help of lasers, optical equipment and magic, he is later transformed into Zokkomon, a child vigilante who rids a village of tyranny. Safary had a small fist, but a very big punch.
Baal Veer (2012)
For some time now, Indian television has been making superheroes of its many child protagonists. There was Ghatothkach and Chhota Bheem, but unlike these cartoons, Baal Veer created its own mythology. Baal Veer/Ballu is from Parilok (our answer to Krypton), where fairies have bestowed on him special powers. He comes to Earth to protect the children Meher and Manav from bullies, and perhaps a little sanctimoniously, he promotes a freedom from procrastination, gluttony and falsities.