Note: Spoilers Ahead
In the final moments of the Punjabi film Super Singh, the turbaned superhero pulls off the impossible. He glides through the clouds at lightning speed to stop an air-borne missile from landing on the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Naturally, he saves the day. You're tempted to cheer on, but can't help getting distracted by the plastic looking missile or the digitally created clouds. The film's director, Anurag Singh, knows this too. "I would have reimagined the climax better if I had more money. I felt it was underwhelming and jaldi main ho gaya. But it's okay, beggars can't be choosers."
Singh, who's made the National Award-winning film Punjab 1984 and the Jatt and Juliet series, is being lauded for conceiving the first-ever Punjabi superhero film. But his real challenge was in fact making the cheapest super hero film ever. "If you notice there are no really big sequences that you normally see in superhero films. I knew I couldn't blow up buildings. As it is, this was probably the most expensive Punjabi film ever. I think the eventual landing in theatres must have been around Rs 11 crores. That's really expensive. Normally we don't go beyond Rs 7 or 8 crores," he adds. The producers of Super Singh, Balaji Telefilms, also made A Flying Jatt starring Tiger Shroff last year at thrice the budget. The film turned out to be a disaster.
If the brief to most writers of superhero films is to go crazy with their imagination, Singh's note to himself was to think small. "Every step of the way I had to imagine my scenes in terms of what was possible. There was this constant self check. Writing doesn't take money and your imagination can take flight. So I constantly pulled myself back and said, 'Sudhar ja. Yeh hoga nahi'."
The strategy was simple – to write less action scenes and inject more humour – which his lead actor Diljit Dosanjh is a master at. So you have moments where a local Spiderman asks Super Singh to loan him some cash. They have a serious discussion on how cash-strapped superheroes are – they're so busy saving the world that they don't have time to earn.
It's scenes like these that form the bulk of the film. There are not more than three sequences that are heavy on VFX – and those too were at times hard to afford. "I hired a guy who wasn't from one of the main studios because that's too expensive. The main advantage of working with a small operation like Flying Flames was was that he could give me all his time and was willing work within my budgets."
The other "major headache" was Super Singh's suit. Super Singh's blue and black suit is basic, low-maintenance, and constructed in a small workshop just outside Mumbai. Quite conveniently, he draws his powers from his orange turban instead. "Normally when people have attempted superhero films in India, they try and get the suit made from abroad. You have to get it designed and made in latex which we obviously couldn't afford. Our costume designer Priyanka found a technician who's done similar work before. He suggested that given the budget we had, it wasn't possible to do latex so he created something that was affordable as well as suited for Indian climate," says Singh. He estimates the suit eventually cost him between Rs 15 – 20 lakhs.
The biggest challenge of course is to keep the audience invested in this budget-friendly superhero. "I think I've partially succeeded at that. It's very tricky to pull off even whatever little we did with our budgets. We've tried our best to make it convincing," he ends.
Watch the trailer here: