Super Heroes in Bollywood

MUMBAI: The earliest films made in India centered round the legends of gods and goddesses, spirits, sages and demons. This mythology, through centuries of telling and retelling, grew into a “universal psyche” that allowed Indians to be comfortable with the existence of superhuman powers. It was also the most accessible source for creating new ways of storytelling about a new principle: the Indian film hero.

When one looks at the superheroes that have defined Hollywood, one can see a man vs. science themology. Spiderman getting his powers from a radio-active spider, the incredible hulk getting his powers via a nuclear accident. Japanese films have also brought for us the man vs. machine themology with stories like Godzilla and the birth of robotics gone awry. When we look at the Indian/Asian themology, we see a man vs. mythology themology.

Whereas in the west, heroes often charted out their own destinies, our cultural stories often find heroes dealing with issues of their fate, challenging it or alternatively facing it. This is increasingly a narrative structure is resonating even in the west. When one looks at some of the most popular stories and films of the last few years, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter Series, we see those sensibilities.

Shekhar Kapur’s Mr. India, was a conscious parody of masala elements from Superman , James Bond thrillers, Disneyesque adventures as well as The Invisible Man. It did a roaring business. Its release in 1987 was closely followed by the only other credible Bollywood superhero films: Shiva Ka Insaaf , The Indian Superman and Shahenshah. < Page Break >

Why the need for Superheroes in Bollywood?
Noted Actor Director Tinnu Anand who gave us Shahenshah that had Amitabh Bachchan playing a larger than life title role of a Bollywood superhero says, “Indian audiences like to watch films which give them the feeling of fulfilling their dreams. They have always worshipped superheroes, right from the characters in Ramayan and Mahabharat to Bollywood stars. One thing they have always found common between the heroic characters in Ramayan – Mahabharat and Bollywood heroes is, both conquer evil and do it so in a larger than life manner. This is what appeals to them the most. They are not interested in seeing a movie totally based on a common man who solves the complexities of life in the most straightforward manner.

One can call Amitabh Bachchan as the greatest living superhero of Bollywood. He has always had a major fan following for the same reason that his onscreen characters most of the time had him successfully fighting the system singlehandedly. This is not possible in reality. He could beat up a gang of villains even if he was down in the hospital with multiple injuries. Whenever he did that the audience used to respond with appreciative applause n whistles.

Hollywood superheroes too have always found a cult fan following among Indian audiences. Vikramjeet Roy Head PR and Acquisitions, Columbia Tristar has an interesting observation. He says, “Indian audience like their Hollywood counterparts likes to experience an onscreen journey into a fantasy world. They like to imagine themselves doing the slam bang action stuff. They want to experience a larger than life experience. An experience which is giving them something that is more than their money’s worth. Superman, Spiderman and Batman etc. now have almost become brand names.

Spiderman in fact, grossed 360 million in various dubbed Indian versions. Audiences are lapping their sequels and prequels up. This is resulting in business worth of crores as parallel to Hindi films released in India.”

In recent times one cannot fail to notice a sudden splurge of films on superheroes like it was never before. Just a few months back it was Hanuman, now the upcoming almost back to back releases of Alag, Krrish and Superman Returns. < Page Break >

Sahara One Motion Picture’s first animation venture Hanuman, in association with Percept Picture Company and Silvertoons, released with 150 prints nationwide few months back. “This film had all the ingredients of a commercial film. It had music, drama, action everything that the Indian audience would see in any other film. The film was a tribute to our own culture as it’s not about a Spiderman or a Batman but our very own Indian mythological superhero Hanuman whose tales we have been listening to all our childhood.” says Shailendra Singh, MD, Percept Picture Company.

Animation had always taken a backseat in Indian cinema. But Hanuman set a new trend and create a boom in the animation industry as well. The film was heavily promoted and released with 150 prints nation-wide. The first 3 days collections summed up to Rs 15 million, marking a remarkable start for an animation film. Hanuman had grossed Rs 70 million across the country, indicating a success that could set the trend for more launches of films in this genre. The collections were particularly strong in Mumbai and Delhi. In Mumbai alone, the film had grossed Rs 35 million which is 50 per cent of the total collections.

Set to release soon on 23 June, Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish reportedly made at a budget of Rs 400 million can be termed as India’s first mega live action superhero film. Squashing rumours that it is based on a Hollywood superhero film, Rakesh Roshan says, ” Krrish has its own identity of being an Indian superhero.” Krrish is a sequel to his mega successful Koi Mil Gaya which grossed close to Rs 490 million worldwide. He feels Krrish will be able to repeat the success of Koi Mil Gaya because the Indian audience for the first time shall be seeing a superhero film made on such a large scale along with the ingredients that are not alien to them and their culture. Rakesh Roshan is planning to release the film with a record 800 prints.

Ace photographer Subi Samuel has jumped into the Film Production bandwagon with his maiden venture Alag set to release on very soon. Alag is Directed by Ashu Trikha (Deewanapan, Sheesha). Talking about his film Subi says, ” Alag is the story of a young man who has special electromagnetic powers. Anything electrical in nature reacts to him.

Whenever he is upset, electric bulbs in the room start flickering. And when he tries to speak while angry, the energy reaches such a point that bulbs and other glass objects in the vicinity start breaking.” < Page Break >

What is the thing that has inspired him to make a film on such a topic? Subi responds saying, “I wanted to make a ‘different’ film based on a strong character. People in our Indian society have always given acceptance to ‘different’ strong onscreen characters. I am pretty confident that my ‘different’ Superhero will definitely strike a chord with the audience. My film’s budget is probably not even more than the budget of Krrish’s costume budget but my film is totally in an another league of its own. My hero is a superhero of his own kind, an Alag kind.”

Coming close on Bollywood superheroes heels is Superman. June 30 sees the worldwide release of Superman Returns. The character of Superman has always been a fascination for audiences all around the world for years and is now making a comeback after almost two long decades. Made at a lavish budget of $ 300 million, Superman Returns is releasing in India in four versions – in its original English and dubbed Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Krrish too is to be released in its dubbed Tamil and Telugu versions along with its original Hindi version.

Both these superheroes are shown to be possessing super powers and there is a likely saturation of their themes. Not to leave any stone unturned to ensure success for his son, Rakesh Roshan has preponed his film’s release to 23rd June.

So is the Indian audience ready for an overdose of superhero films?
Tinnu Anand says, “Indian audience has always had an emotional attachment with the onscreen bollywood heroes as their superheroes so as long they do not stop fantasizing themselves in place of their onscreen heroes or do not stop hero worshipping they will never ever experience an overdose of superhero films of any kind.”

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Abhijit Mhamunkar

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