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23 August 2014
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Hatim to Krrish – Where are India’s superhero franchises?

Posted On: 1 year ago | August 10, 2013 | Filed under: Movies

Mr India. krrish, Shahenshah, drona

With Krrish 3 around the corner, we can now confidently state that India has its first superhero franchise.

However this is not the first time that Bollywood has done fantasy and superheroes.  There have been many films in the past.

They all shared two of the best traits of every superhero saga -

A)     Awesome costume

B)      Awesome concept

But only Krrish has a franchise, and 2013 feels rather late for such a fundamental cinema concept to take off with just one candidate.

So here is a look at five of the best candidates and my guesses as to why they were left behind.

With Humble Respect - Three of the candidates have the same villain – Amrish Puri. When history passes judgment, perhaps it will declare that India’s true greatest franchise was Amrish Puri. He is deeply missed.

 Mr India. krrish, Shahenshah, drona

Shahenshah

What works –

The amazing acting of Amitabh Bachchan:

Amitabh Bachchan as the silly, bumbling, pan-chewing, corrupt, cowardly police inspector Viay is perhaps one of the greatest acts of hiding-in-plain-sight pulled off by any hero with a secret identity.

He excelled at both – the serious, Batman-ish and menacing Shahenshah (complete with trademark deep throat growl) and the squeaky alter-ego policeman. The duality of the role, keeps both sides well balanced.

Soundtrack:

No one has ever managed to make a better soundtrack for a hero in Indian cinema. Period.

Nothing beats a leather-clad, chain-mailed Bachchan stalking the streets to the tune of –

“Andheri Raato mein, sunshan raho mein…ek messiah nikalta hai…jisse log Shahenshah kehte hai!”

It gives you goose bumps.

What doesn’t work –

Too long and convoluted script:

A common sin of the movies at the time, this film has WAY too much happening.

There is the cop. There is the Shahenshah. There is Amrish Puri as the villain. There is a mother. A dead father. A revenge story. A love story.  A comedy angle. And on and on.

And half-way through the film, the cowardly Vijay suddenly transformed into Shahenshah without the make-up, completely confusing the entire set up of the film.

Why no franchise –

Wrong timing I suppose.

The film was a hit at the box office. But the era was such that the very idea of a franchise did not exist.

If you consider the way films were made back then – essentially some guy wrote a script, some other directed it, some other guy used his own personal money to fund it, the movie was made and then forgotten.

A modern remake, or a part two, is the perfect set up for a great Indian superhero franchise.

Quotable lines –

“Risthey Mein Toh Hum Tumhare Baap Hote Hain, Naam Hai Shahenshah”

3

Mr. India

What works -

The amazingly well-thought up device:

The device – a watch that Anil Kapoor uses to turn invincible – is truly one of the great moments in Indian Sci-Fi.

Built by a scientist, it follows the principle of bending light around a person. And it even had a great weakness – The person would be visible in the red spectrum. So red light exposed him.

His powers did not increase or decrease as the plot demanded, but instead the plot was molded around his limitations – which gives the movie that extra zing.

Every guy hero:

Anil Kapoor played the part perfectly of the average Indian, without ever (somehow) going overboard.

A good example is the scene of him using the watch for the first time. He basically goes nuts, cackling and turning it off and on repeatedly.

Scenes like this one and others – like his meeting with the editor of a newspaper – allowed Anil Kapoor to really play the character in depth.

He wasn’t a one-dimensional ‘Oh I am such a good boy’ person.

Mugambo:

Oh Ambrish Puri.

Not a day goes by that Bollywood is not in some way dimmed by your absence.

And nowhere is it ever so obvious than when we watch Mugambo -blonde, gold-threaded and bejeweled  – give out his trademark laugh and roll off the legendary line – “Mugambo Khush Hua.”

I am willing to state on the record that among all the villains in all fantasy, other than the Joker of Batman, Mugambo was the most flamboyant, crazy, menacing and just plain memorable.

It is a tragedy that this role was regaled to the dust of archive and shamelessly forgotten by Indians too busy drooling over whatever it is SRK and Salman is doing.

Trust me when I say, there will never be a villain more memorable in Indian cinema than Mugambo.

Mr. India was a great character. But without Mugambo, he was half-empty.

What didn’t work –

I can’t really think of anything.

Length I suppose if I had to nitpick. If you try to watch it nowadays, there is a definite sense of drag and you often wish things would speed up.

Why no franchise –

 Mugambo is dead – Both in fiction and in real life.

Mugambo/Amrish Puri has moved on to that great evil castle in the sky. And it is difficult, if not downright impossible, to imagine Mr. India without Mugambo.

Other than that, it is difficult to say. The film was a huge hit. The character was well appreciated. Everything was right.

Maybe producer Booney Kapoor, who has the rights, just didn’t think of making a second one or continuing the story. Maybe the concept never occurred to him.

I call it Anil Kapoor luck. The man is a great actor and has done far more memorable, varied, powerful and super hit roles than most actors. And yet he is always pushed into the background.

But they say a new part two is being made, so there is some hope.

Quotable lines –

Everything that Mugambo said, especially “Mugambo Khush Hua”

4

Hatim Tai

What works –

Taken from the tales of the Arab poet Hatim A-Tai, this one is fantasy in its purest form.

EVERYTHING in the film was fantasy – The setting, the characters, the plot – everything.

And it makes for some fun watching – Genies and Jinns, devils and moral lessons, magicians and parrots, beautiful ladies and demonic seducers – the list is endless.

Jeetendra played a subdued and dignified hero (for once) and really got the look and feel of Hatim Al-Tai perfectly.

He was dashing, swashbuckling, suave and mellow. It makes it quite fun to watch.

What doesn’t work –

Rambling plot:

There was an over-arching theme of Hatim trying to achieve a goal and finding answers to seven questions, but most of the movie is just him going from scenario to scenario.

It feels more like a series of short films or episodes from a serial stitched into a movie rather than one production with a coherent plot.

Why no franchise –

Other than the usual complaint that the concept didn’t exist then, one of the problems may have been story.

The original is taken from myths that already existed. To write a franchise would require writing down some original myths of our own. A feat Bollywood still continues to fail miserably at.

There is also the subtle shift away in Bollywood from Islamic themes.

Hatim Al-Tai is an pre-Islamic Arab story and perhaps in the religiously charged and divided atmosphere that this country started spiraling in, the idea of making up myths for such a character possibly made every one nervous.

Besides, we have no idea how the Arabs would react to us making such films.

Either way, Hatim was never resurrected. A shame really.

Quotable line –

“Hatim Tai” (Said like one billion times throughout the film)

5

Ra.One

 What works -

 Errr….Kareena Kapoor is really hot?

Alright, seriously…

Good effects:

A rarity in Indian cinema as a whole, this one had good special effects and stunts. G.One’s suit and the ‘damage’ he took was a treat to watch. Ra.One, played very well by Arun Rampal, also looked sufficiently cool as the villain.

Great concept:

The idea of characters from a video game coming to life may seem far-fetched.

But then again once you start accepting SRK is 25-years-old in ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, you realise that Indian audiences can accept any fantasy, however ludicrous.

Anyway, the concept of Ra.One by itself was sound and could have really worked well.

What doesn’t work –

Practically everything….

To begin with SRK’s hammy acting and extreme stereotyping of the curds and noodles variety pretty much killed any universal appeal this character could have had.

Heroes need to be subtle and cunning. They need to be dashing. SRK the south Indian programmer was an annoying moron. And G.One was annoyingly over acted. So I feel a little more restraint would have helped the movie immensely.

Also, the plot kind falls apart. Sure SRK fan boys, which seem to include most of the film reviewing community, did their best to tell you it was a nice film. But the audiences, even SRK fans like myself felt that he had let a great idea slip from his fingers.

Why no franchise?

Because nothing really worked.

The characters proved to be easily forgettable and the audience response was lukewarm. The Ra.One team had the ball in their hand, but they not only dropped it, but kicked it right out of the field, the stadium and possibly the city hosting the event.

But the last word has not been said yet, so we might see G.One return some day.

Quotable line –

“Wanna be my Chamak Chalo?”

(100% of females, who were not Kareena Kapoor, responded to this question with variations along the theme – FUCK OFF!)

6

Drona

What works-

The costumes looked brilliant. The back story of some guy somewhere being the descendant of a magical and powerful tribe was brilliant. The idea that he had to now come back and reclaim his heritage to defeat an ancient evil was fabulous.

The main theme was catchy and instantly a hit.

And then, all of these amazing ideas were taken, beaten to within an inch of their lives, tortured till they were beyond recognition, cut into pieces, eaten and then shat across a 70MM screen in a brown smear.

What didn’t work –

EVERYTHING.

Nothing in this film works. Not one thing.  Seriously.

After you finish watching this film you come to one devastating realization –

There is no middle finger big enough to convey the emotions you feel.

During the watching of this film, suicide becomes a rather pleasant and beautiful choice.

Even simple things like editing made no sense. Shots just jumped to who-the-fuck-knows-where and sometimes had no connection to the previous scene.

Here is a sample – In Prague, Priyanka Chopra is stalking Abhishek Bachchan.

And she stops her activities to do an item song, in a garage that looks like it was built by three colour-blind homosexual donkeys, surrounded by topless African men.

Either the scriptwriters were stoned, drunk, deranged, insane…or monkeys scribbling on sheets of paper with crayons in a zoo.

Why no franchise –

Just thank god or fate or destiny that the people involved in making this disaster – It barely made 10 crores from a budget of 150 crores – were never allowed to make another.

However, what should happen is that the concept should be gently taken out of their crazed hands and given to someone who is sane and competent.

Anyone with half a brain and three chimpanzees as Assistant Directors can create a masterpiece from this concept – It is that awesome.

Quotable line –

Never speak a line from this film. I think that opens a portal directly to hell where this movie plays on loop.

PS: For the record – Puri is the villain in Hatim Tai, Shahenshah and Mr. India.

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