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From superstars to supermen

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By Shah Rukh Khan's Ra.One is just one among the many superhero movies set to come out of Bollywood. Shabina Akhtar on Hindi cinema's sudden love affair with the genre
  • Published 23.10.11

Move over Superman and Batman. This time it’s India’s turn to unleash some superheroes out there. And if their creators are to be believed, these desi men of steel may well give their Hollywood brethren a run for their money.

It’s not just the much-hyped Shah Rukh Khan superhero extravaganza Ra.One that’s set to hit the theatres on Diwali this week. A raft of other superhero films is in the making. Director Anurag Khashyap is planning a film called Doga, based on the adventures of a rustic comic book superhero of the same name. Shirish Kunder, whose previous film Tees Maar Khan didn’t do quite as well as it was expected to, is hoping to pull off a sensation with Joker, and is pitching it as a prequel to a superhero film.

That’s not all. A number of superhero sequels are also in the pipeline. Rakesh Roshan, director of Krrish, where his son Hrithik played a man with many stunning superhuman powers, will be out with its sequel in 2012. There could be a sequel to last year’s blockbuster Robot before long. And plans are also afoot to make a sequel of the 1987 film Mr India, where Anil Kapoor played a loveable do-gooder who becomes invisible, and hence pretty much invincible, whenever he wears a wonder watch. In fact, Shah Rukh Khan too has hinted at a sequel of Ra.One if the film is a hit.

So what has fuelled this sudden spurt of superhero films in Bollywood? After all, most directors would not have touched the genre until a few years ago. There was the odd superhero film, of course. The Jackie Shroff-starrer Shiva Ka Insaaf (1985) or the much-derided Indian Superman (1987), where Dharmendra played a desi “superman”, were early attempts in the genre and both flopped magnificently. Many of the more recent superhero films such as Alag (2006), Drona (2008), Toonpur Ka Superhero (2010) or Zokkomon (2011), have also failed at the box office.

“We had very few Indian examples to follow when we decided to make a superhero film,” says Anubhav Sinha, director of Ra.One, a film which is being touted as a game changer in the Indian superhero genre. Still, he and Shah Rukh Khan felt that this was the right time to make a superhero film. “Now the youth are more into this type of content. They will accept the genre more readily if made in the right way,” he says.

One reason superhero films are suddenly the rage in Bollywood is that filmmakers can now avail of world class special effects — a key ingredient in any superhero film — right here in India. Today, Mumbai boasts a number of special effects studios like Pixeon, EyeQube, Reliance Media Works and Prana, to name just a few. Says Kamal Jain, chief financial officer of production house and special effects studio Eros International Media Ltd, “With special effects companies opening up, the price of making such films has come down. And this is encouraging filmmakers to experiment with this genre. This is just the beginning.”

Director Rakesh Roshan, who can claim the credit for making India’s first successful superhero film, Krrish, says he was not daunted by the industry’s lack of experience in the genre. “When I got the idea of making Koi... Mil Gaya (the prequel to Krrish), all that I wanted was to make an emotional connect with the audience. We managed to have a script that made people clap when Jaadu (the alien) passed on his powers to the hero, which in turn get passed on to the latter’s son in Koi... Mil Gaya’s sequel Krrish,” says Roshan.

Agrees Robin Bhatt, screenplay writer of Koi... Mil Gaya, Krrish 2 and 3, “At that time we were very definite about making a superhero film, but we were scared that the audience would basically be kids. So the challenge was to create a character who would be as watchable as Spiderman, Hulk, X-Men, and the like, and who would be loved by both kids and adults.”

Needless to say, the success of films like Krrish and last year’s Rajinikanth-starrer Robot, has played a role in making filmmakers venture into superhero movies. However, the fact that all these movies have established superstars playing the larger-than-life men with extra human powers shows that the directors are taking no chances. So far, none has taken the risk of launching a relative unknown like a Christopher Reeve (Superman) or a Toby Maguire (Spider-Man) in an Indian superhero film. As sociologist Shiv Visvanathan points out, “Unlike the superheroes of the West, here the superhero character will have to be a superstar to pull in the audience.”

Visvanathan may have a point. Robot rode to box office gold on the starpower of Rajinikanth, as did Krrish on Hrithik Roshan’s. And no doubt, the makers of Ra.One too are hoping that apart from its novel superhero storyline, SRK’s mega star appeal will have the audiences thronging the theatres.

Star power does make a difference, agrees Sinha, “Most superhero films like Koi... Mil Gaya, Krrish or Robot have clicked when the actors have been at the peak of their careers,” he says.

In a way it is strange that superhero films did not come to Bollywood sooner — given that so much of our myth and legend are dominated by supermen and demigods. “Perhaps it was because we already had our own superheroes like Hanuman, Ram or Ganesha that we didn’t want to imitate the West’s comic book heroes,” reasons film scholar, P.K. Nair. According to Nair, it is the compulsion of catering to the global market that is making filmmakers try different genres. “They are no longer making films for the Indian market alone,” he says.

Others differ with Nair’s view, stressing that it’s the Indian market that is now craving for films that are as slick and technically sound as those of Hollywood. “I don’t want my kids to say that they don’t want to see Hindi cinema as it’s not on a par with Hollywood,” Shah Rukh Khan said recently. Shirish Kunder too says that there is ample evidence that the Indian audience is now open and alive to different kinds of content. “The success of Avatar (James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster) made me realise that the Indian audience is ready for a change in content.”

The success or otherwise of Ra.One will no doubt be significant for the evolution of the Indian superhero genre. But whatever its outcome, the Bollywood-bred superhero is clearly an idea whose time has come.


Coming soon

Krrish 3



On the cards

Sequel to Robot

Sequel to Mr India

Sequel to Ra.One — if the movie does well