A trapdoor opens under Amitabh Bachchan’s feet. He drops into a pit, where walls with large metal spikes begin rapidly closing in on him. With just seconds left, he karate chops a wooden door and uses one of its planks to hoist himself up neatly out of the danger.
This isn’t a scene from one of his movies, though it could well be. It’s a panel from Adventures of Amitabh Bachchan – The Disappearing Floor, the fifth in a series of 10 comic books based on the superstar, which were published in 1983 and 1984. In them, Bachchan is Supremo, a crime-fighting vigilante who combats hijackers, doppelgangers and even aliens.
The comics were the brainchild of then India Book House publisher Pammi Bakshi, who was inspired after she overheard three children playing pretend one day. She met Bachchan in Goa, on the sets of 1983 Randhir Kapoor-starrer Pukar, where she pitched the idea of turning him into a comic book superhero “like Robin Hood, Phantom, Superman”. On hearing Randhir affectionately refer to him as “Supremo”, she suggested that his alter ego be called that.
Bakshi roped in her friend, the poet Gulzar, to write the script and Amar Chitra Katha illustrator Pratap Mulick to work as the art director. Mulick, initially uninterested in working on “anything filmy”, came around eventually. Slowly, Supremo began to take shape. Part Dr. Doolittle, part Sherlock and part Hercules, Supremo relies on his brains and brawn in equal measure to crack cases.
The comics, printed in English and Hindi, begin with a handwritten letter from Bachchan, asking children not to give away his secret identity. Here’s how the plot usually unfolds: once news of a disaster reaches Bachchan, who is typically at a shoot, he changes into his superhero costume — a pink bodysuit, holster, wrap and chakra pendant — and jets off to the scene of the crime.
Much like Phantom, the titular character of another comic book that was immensely popular at the time, Supremo owns an island, which houses his menagerie. A few, such as a lion named Sheru — perhaps a nod to Amitabh’s character’s nickname in the 1983 film Nastik — a whale called Sonali and a falcon, Shaheen — inspired by the hyper-intelligent falcon Allah Rakha in the 1983 Manmohan Desai movie Coolie — show up intermittently to help him save the day. Once each mission ends, he sheds the suit and returns to his mild-mannered Clark Kent persona on set.
The comics are peppered with reel life references, with Bachchan being called an ‘angry young man’, his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poem Sone Machari finding a mention, a young boy singing My Name is Anthony Gonsalves — a hit from the 1977 film Amar Akbar Anthony — and a kidnapper imitating the actor’s iconic coin toss from the Ramesh Sippy-directed blockbuster Sholay (1957).
While India has had a few superhero films, with Bachchan himself playing a cross-bow wielding one in the 1989 film Toofan, they haven’t cracked the formula to success. Movies such as Ra.One have struck box-office gold, but been critically panned. The Krrish franchise doesn’t inspire quite the same devotion from its fandom as say, The Avengers. So, 35 years after the first Supremo comic was published, we pick five that would make outstanding cinematic adaptations.
1. Adventures of Amitabh Bachchan – Invasion
In Supremo’s third issue, aliens from another planet decide to visit Earth, buoyed by the results of past explorations. Accustomed to the weightlessness of their own atmosphere, they take a dislike to Earth’s gravity and invent a machine that can turn it off, wreaking havoc on villagers who find themselves flying. In an unintentionally hilarious scene, Supremo rescues a baby whose cradle is hurtling across the sky — only to set it on a treetop…and forget all about it. Perhaps a movie would provide some closure.
2. Adventures of Amitabh Bachchan – The Lost City
Coordinates stashed inside a glass bottle washed ashore lead Supremo to the lost city of Atlantis — an advanced nation where children begin studying hydrodynamics in kindergarten. He faces off against the telekinetic king Amand, who wants to keep him prisoner and conduct experiments on him. The scene in which Supremo wrestles the king’s pet python and wins wouldn’t seem too far-fetched onscreen, considering Bachchan fought a tiger for his 1977 film Khoon Pasina.
T 2489 – Fighting a real tiger for ‘Khoon Pasina’ .. a real task .. shared it with stunt directors of today .. they thought I was MAD .. pic.twitter.com/4aXJqOSmIt
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) July 18, 2017
3. Adventures of Amitabh Bachchan – The Disappearing Floor
A pilot dying of a gunshot wound leaves behind a map to the city of Avantipur, now the site of an abandoned gold mine. There, Supremo finds a cartel holding kidnapped nuclear scientists hostage so they can create weapons for dictators. Henchman Scorpio’s snazzy sunglasses, greasy hair and pencil moustache are reminiscent of Crime Master Gogo’s, from the 1994 film Andaaz Apna Apna. Only, instead of comedic, he’s terrifying and cruel, which would make an adaptation interesting.
4. Adventures of Amitabh Bachchan – The Lost Idol
When the surface of the sea begins to boil, Supremo dives in and finds criminals bombing a shipwreck to steal an idol dating back to 1660. A helicopter stunt and a few fistfights later, the idol is safely delivered to the government. The comic begins with Bachchan shooting a movie with Hema Malini, who he was last seen with in the 2011 Puri Jagannath-directed Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap. Fans of the pairing would no doubt like to see them reunite on celluloid, and what better vehicle than this?
5. Adventures of Amitabh Bachchan – Supremo and The Dacoit Queen
When children go missing, Supremo finds out that dreaded dacoit Malan Devi has been abducting them. He traces them to a cave concealed behind a waterfall, only to find out that Devi isn’t truly evil, but grieving the death of her son and trying to fill the void in her life. While most of the Supremo comics are light-hearted, this is a slightly more sombre affair. Bachchan has played dacoits (Ganga Ki Saugandh, 1978) and thieves (Bandhe Haath, 1973) before, and even the policemen responsible for bringing them to justice (Zanjeer, 1973), so an adaptation of this comic would introduce a new generation to the actor’s nuanced take on justice.
The comics are available for sale online. While they cost just Rs3.50, later hiked to Rs4 when first published, some sites have now pegged the value of each between Rs1,000 and Rs5,000.