Monday, November 4, 2013

Where are the Indian Superheroes?

In one of his many, many attempts at career suicide, Shahid Kapoor did this embarrassing little film called Wah! Life Ho To Aisi in which he is killed off by Yamraj by mistake, and returns as a ghost. Amid the copious amounts of obnoxiousness in this film, there was this neat little bit thrown in where a fellow ghost played by Arshad Warsi helps him gain superpowers to help his mortal family, and the mantra he is asked to chant, turns out to be the good old Hanuman Chalisa. After all, Hanuman was the original superhero, reasons the ghost Arshad.

I was reminded of that scene while watching Krrish 3, where once again, we have tried our hand at a genre Hollywood seems to be so good at, and we have done this by totally aping everything Hollywood does. Right to the origin stories for our superheroes and supervillains. And ever since I started wondering why, the question has just been killing me. I swear it has been the most excruciating half hour of my life.

I mean, why are we even trying to explain away our heroes with magic alien mojo and our villains with rubbish like girgit ka DNA and other pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo, when we have such a vast treasure of myths and legends at our disposal? Our mythology is full of miraculous births - we have people born in pots, out of multiple wombs, out of liaisons with Gods - Kunti in Mahabharata only ever birthed half-God babies - and most of these people are born with some superpowers. Karna actually came with a built-in life jacket. Just think of all the possible superhero stories that can be created for the modern world with inspiration from these legends.

There is no dearth of super villains either. Besides ten-headed Ravana, we have the born-in-two-halves Jarasandha, the sleeping giant Kumbhakarna, the half-dozen or more demons young Krishna had to vanquish before getting to the baby-murderer Kansa... Then there is Shishupala, born with extra body parts and grown into a resentful adult. Why hasn't anyone tried to model a villain on him?

There is of course, the provision of Tapasya, a tough penance that may go on for years or decades, by the end of which an ordinary person can gain special boons from the Gods and become protectors or villains depending on their bend of mind. And then there are legends of magical springs, elixirs and divine objects that can bestow special powers on the Pure of Heart. Then there are people like Gandhari, whose great sacrifice of living with a blindfold for all those years turns her gaze into something powerful, shielding, that makes the person she sets sight upon, invincible in combat.

With so many fascinating plot devices and superpower varieties at our disposal, why do we turn to half-ass attempts to rationalize the existence of superheroes and super villains in a fantasy genre? The only films that do take inspiration from our mythology seem to be only interested in the superficial plot points, and not the characters themselves. Rajneeti, I'm looking at you. Do our writers or producers lack confidence in the tales our grandmothers told us, or have they simply forgotten the old stories?

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