Supermen of Malegaon (2008)

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 (hisĀ 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!

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25 Comments to “Supermen of Malegaon (2008)”

  1. I actually sawMalegaon ke Sholay – oh, a long time ago. On video. On a print that looked worse than a camera print. :) Where on earth did you catch this documentary? It looks interesting.

    • I’m so envious! They show bits of it in this, including the dacoits on bicycles trying to rob the bus. Hilarious. This documentary was on a dvd at one time, although it’s hard to find one now. But troll the internet and you might luck into it ;-)

  2. Oh this is just too heartwarming to be passed up. If I find it playing in a multiplex in my city, I will surely catch it. :) Excellent write up as ever, Greta.

  3. Memsaab, I love this film. It’s going to be such a pleasure watching it on a big screen. But sadly, I haven’t seen any of the original films of Nasir. As you say, one may have to go to Malegaon to get those.

    • Apparently Anurag Kashyap or someone like him is going to release Malegaon Ka Superman at some point. We can only hope! although the dialect and so forth will go over my head. It looks SO FUN judging from the clips of it at the end of this :)

  4. Interesting. Let’s see if it makes it to Calcutta :/. Memsaab you really do keep tabs! I would not have even heard of this film if it had not been for your blog.:)

    • This one’s been floating around for a while, and was on a Film Karavan dvd. It’s not available any more but I had the good sense to get it back when it was released.

  5. I didn’t know this. It’s heartwarming to see them filming and their determination to finish this film despite that they lack gadgets to do this film. I really admire independent films like this and always love to see them more in cinema.

    • It really did put me in mind of B and C movies from the sixties and seventies. So much love and determination, so little in the way of resources. But that didn’t stop them! Yay.

  6. I did see a documentary on the Malegaon filmmakers some years ago, it was interesting to see how they used a hand cart in place of a crane in order to get a slightly top shot, I would love to see their films, sadly they are not shown on T.V., nor are there any DVDs available.

  7. I’ve heard of these Malegaon films. It caught my attention because I always wondered whether Malegaon was a real place or not – did Ashok Kumar just use the name because it fitted well in the Train song from Ashirwad.
    Not that I’ll ever get the opportunity of watching any here.
    Your review inspired me to do some research on the internet :)
    I came across Malegaon ka Chintu. Here’s Episode 1. Quite slapstick and hilarious.

    • I wonder if that’s just sections of the film set to music and slapstick noises or if it’s what they made? It’s different from their Sholay and Superman if it is the original. But fun to watch :)

  8. Now, these are *my* kind of people. Thanks for bringing this fabulousness to our attention. Must see!

  9. WOW like wow!
    That is some dedication to one’s hobby!
    I had heard about Malegaon but not about the series.
    Bless Nasir! May his tribe grow!

  10. Thank you, you did a good job as always

    K

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