Malegaon is a struggling town about 300 km northeast of Mumbai, where the local industry is mostly powerloom weaving, poverty is rampant, and communal tension between Hindus and Muslims is constant. Like most places in India, the townspeople are crazy for cinema; but in this one some of them on the Muslim side of the river have taken that obsession a step further. A former video-parlor owner named Nasir Sheikh decided to make a parody of Sholay ten years ago called Malegaon Ke Sholay, armed only with a hand-held video camera, two VCR players for editing, and his considerable imagination. Gabbar Singh became Rubber Singh, and Basanti, Basmati. The famous train scene from that movie was changed to dacoits on bicycles trying to rob a bus. His friends and neighbors pitched in, and the film ran to appreciative audiences for weeks. The team went on to make localized spoofs of other hit films (Malegaon Ki Lagaan, Malegaon Ke Karan Arjun, Malegaon Ka Rangeela, etc.), and in 2007 decided to spread their wings and take on Hollywood—and Superman.
Mumbai-based director Faiza Ahmad Khan took a crew to film these entrepreneurs making their Malegaon Ka Superman and this absolutely delightful (and film festival award-winning) documentary is the result.
Malegaon’s Superman has problems: he is a scrawny asthmatic who suffers from all the pollution; he gets no cell reception (his phone number is 007) unless he’s flying, and his pants are held up by a drawstring. His father has sent him off to battle evil with the threat to send a child Spiderman in his place if he messes up. His villainous opponent (catchphrase: “I love filth!”) is a gutka king whose malicious intent is to soil the entire town.
But Malegaon Ka Superman’s obstacles pale in comparison to those of his creators. At the top of the list is that Director Nasir and his assistants have to figure out how to make Superman FLY. He tells us that he learned about chroma keying from watching “Making of” segments on dvds of his favorite American films.
Nasir makes his films on a shoestring budget (his Sholay cost him 50,000 Rs, he says) which he funds by shooting wedding videos and ads in his spare time (the ads feature his actors, who are truly “stars” in Malegaon). He borrows, he bargains, he “makes do”. I feel, watching him, like I could be watching a B-movie producer in Bombay in the sixties creating fantasy out of nothing but sheer will and the spirit of jugaad.
In one sense, he is lucky: he aspires to nothing more than what he is already doing, which sets him apart from one of his writers, Farogh Jafri, and his own younger brother Nadeem.
Pragmatic Nasir refuses to let his brother go, and doesn’t want his young sons to ever be involved in making movies either. It’s a nice if expensive hobby, he says, but you can’t make a living from it. It’s hard enough to make a living in Malegaon, where power outages stop the looms and the pay.
Nasir has to buy all of his supplies in Bombay, and he has to import his heroine as well. This Muslim community is very conservative and women are kept out of sight at home. He can use men for “background” women, but his heroine needs to be a real one. He finds her in a nearby town, a pretty girl named Trupti.
For all his hurdles, Nasir has a cast and crew who are willing to risk life and limb (and more!) for the project. His cameraman climbs a huge cell tower to find the appropriately dizzying height for a shot. His Superman, sweet-faced Shafique (who has since passed away, sadly and ironically, from oral cancer), is afraid of water and so thin that when he does get wet he shakes like a leaf, but he gives up his job for the duration of the shoot and submits himself to all kinds of situations.
The only situation Shafique can’t get out of is his wedding, when his family arranges it bang in the middle of the shooting schedule.
This documentary just perfectly illustrates my favorite qualities in Indian cinema: that passion, imagination, humor and dedication which transcends minor details like money and “real life” troubles. Most of these people live in conditions that I can’t imagine, and yet their world is full of laughter and friendship and inspiration. They are artists, creative people with a vision that drives them on and this film—and I—salute them. It is finally being released in theaters in India on Friday, June 29th—if you can, do go and see it. You’ll love it.
My only quibble is that I will probably never get to see any of these comedic endeavours. I may have to make a special trip to Malegaon to search them out!