In Return of Mr. Superman, B-filmmaker Manmohan Sabir turns his attention to the Superman tale to come up with this unofficial (illegal?) C-grade version of the Man of Steel’s story. The film, starring P Jairaj as the superhero, is beset with woeful production values, is terribly tacky in its making and sadly, doesn’t even fall into the so-bad-that-it’s-good category.
Return of Mr. Superman is the second Superman film made in Hindi cinema in the same year, 1960. The other, simply called Superman and helmed by Anant Thakur, seems to be a far cry from his Chori Chori (1956) glory days, And guess what? It, also, starred Jairaj. But this one from what I saw in an old newspaper clipping seemed to have its heroine Nirupa Roy dressed up as ‘Superman’ and fight crime. The clipping also tells us that the film, already under production, was being directed by Mohammed Hussain, another B-filmmaker. So how and when Anant Thakur came into the picture, I do not really know. The song booklet cover credits him with being the director of the film So I’m going with that. And for extra thrills, this Superman also had a ‘super dog’ and a ‘super horse’! It is also said that both films were after the title of Superman but Sabir lost out. But why he chose Return Of Mr. Superman is a mystery. It has got nothing to do with being a sequel or the character’s return at all.
The opening itself sets you up for a weird viewing experience with a bizarre sequence of largely stock footage of animals attacking each other as a voice over tells us about the birth of our planet and the evolution of life, humanity, science and technology. Following which, we see a plane has crashed in a village and a child is found inside by a childless farmer, who adopts him and calls him Jai. The little Jai is endowed with super strength, done through a tackily done sequence where he defeats bigger boys in wrestling. Then there is his super breath that when he blows, it causes the cobra to merely slink away and not be taken through the air. And there is X-ray vision that can see a trunk filled with jewels buried underground among other things. From nice little rural boy, Jai then grows up to be an ace reporter in suit and hat in a newspaper office in Bombay, where he’s in love with fellow reporter, Usha (Sheila Ramani), who also is in love with him. Jai has to turn into Superman (with a skull cap or is it an aviator cap, Biggles-like goggles and of course, the cape!) to catch a group of smugglers (I think there are precisely five of them), led by David. As David sees Superman foil his plans and get glory for the same, he impersonates the super-hero and commits a series of crimes to defame him. Finally all’s well that ends well. The smugglers are caught and Jai marries Usha.
Just how woefully short the film is of production values and even a basic scale of some mounting can be gauged from the fact that Superman instead of solving the world’s or even the country’s problems has to fight a puny gang of ordinary local smugglers – ah but they’re working against the country – and that too with terribly executed Z-grade fight sequences. Locations and characters in the film are threadbare, even the number of extras are minimal. The badly written plot is wafer thin, the art direction is shabby, and above all, there is next to zero budget for special effects – the shots of Superman ‘flying’ in the climax is a hoot.
There’s nothing in the performances to salvage the film. Jairaj was much too old when he played Superman, Ramani, photographed rather unflatteringly, hasn’t much to do except sing sweet nothings, get kidnapped, be rescued, romance a little more and finally marry Jairaj. Shammi, who also works in the office, is wasted in the few scenes she has. Majnu, as Jairaj’s friend and side-kick, gives a performance of some OTT face-making and barring a couple of well-timed comic moments, has nothing much to offer. Ram Mohan as the good cop, Dilip Desai, has to largely sit in his office, make and receive phone calls and look bewildered enough each time the call has to do with Superman. David’s casting s the leader of the smuggling gang is an interesting casting against type but he is ineffectual as a villain. He looks just too soft and nice and just cannot go beyond smiling sweetly even when he has to be the debauched lech in the song sequences with the dancing girl he has a shine for.
It’s surprising seeing esteemed names like Anil Biswas (music) and PL Santoshi (lyrics) in the film’s credits. Perhaps it’s due to old associations. Because Biswas had composed earlier for Sabir in Akash (1953), a film that starred Nadira and Balraj Sahni. Interestingly, Return Of Mr. Superman is also an early film for lyricist Anand Bakshi. And one song, Stella O Stella, that Biswas had composed originally for KA Abbas’ multi-starrer film, Char Dil Char Rahen (1959) and which was to have been picturized on Shammi Kapoor and Kum Kum, finds itself here in this film instead. The song, written by Sahir Ludhianvi (uncredited here), is filmed on Majnu and his girlfriend. The rest of the songs are melodious enough if not outstanding.
So finally, is there any saving grace at all in this film? I suppose for Sheila Ramani fans, the picnic song, Dekh Babu Dekh, with her in shorts could be the film’s highlight. It certainly was for me.
Hindi, Superhero, Black & White