Malegaon, a small town tucked away near the heart of India geographically, is fraught with communal tension and under economic depression. To escape the harsh reality of their world, its people seek refuge in the fantastical world of cinema. This passion for cinema has spurred a group of cinema enthusiasts to make their own films-quirky, low budget, socially aware and notoriously funny spoofs of Bollywood films. Their ambition has grown and now they are ready to take on Hollywood and Superman. We follow them on this journey and as the film begins to take shape, through schemes and approaches that are sublimely ingenious, simply bizarre and purely hysterical, we also slowly discover Malegaon itself. The film is a tribute to a spirit that can never be vanquished, the spirit that enables the ‘Supermen’ of Malegaon to make Malegaon’s Superman.
As Shakeel Bharati says early on in the film, amongst the many identifying features of Malegaon, one is its obsession with films. Kites with film star faces, haircuts inspired by film stars, film posters across the town, an old film poster used as a table cover reveal the craziness that spans the river, crossing over both the Hindu and Muslim sections of the town, and which is of course recognizable as an obsession that exists within every nook and corner of the country.
But what makes the Muslim quarter of Malegaon unique is its own cottage film industry, Mollywood, that co-exists with the ceaseless clacking of the cotton looms. Shaikh Nasir, a young man, bitten by the film bug from the days he ran a video parlor, decided to make films himself. With a small handi-cam, he learnt to shoot wedding videos, and then, made a parody of Sholay.
His friends say the film was a huge hit in Malegaon. People loved the transposition into their local language and dialect, with familiar people in town playing the classic roles. A remake of Shaan followed. And then, Shaikh Nasir decided to do ‘Superman’.
“No one’s messed with that story, so far,” he says, as he explains his choice. He claims that he learnt filmmaking at his video parlour, where he found the English films more entertaining and well made than the Hindi ones. His collection of film posters, clippings and hand-painted posters cover the floor as he says, “After all this, this is where the story has come to now.”
The documentary Supermen of Malegaon films Shaikh Nasir’s journey as he sets out to make Malegaon ka Superman. His passion and sincerity are all too apparent, but his anxiety at costs, schedules going awry, his minor irritations with his lead actor, make you identify with him, and admire his calm even more.
Shafique, a scrawny, poor loom worker who is chosen to be Superman, wins you over with his smile, and his complete innocence, as he is thrown into the river, shivers with cold, is beaten and pushed around, hung on rods or axles of bullock carts, by the seat of his pants, ignored by the next-town ‘frankly living’ heroine who is brought in because women are not allowed to work in this section of Malegaon.
The director, Faiza Ahmad Khan, touches on several issues, communal tensions, poverty, power cuts, women’s rights, religious beliefs through the stories of Shaikh Nasir, Shafique and the writers, Faroqh and Akram, their ambitions and their circumstances. She does not over explain, but the fine work of cameramen, Gargey Trivedi and Parasher Baruah, reveals a town and its people with a gentle humor.
This could easily have become a patronizing look at amateur filmmaking, but at no stage does the documentary mock the film crew, and its truly hilarious efforts in making the film of their vision. Faroqh’s insights into writing and cinema, his lack of drive that doesn’t match up to his so-called ambitions, a despairing poem about Malegon’s poverty recited in the dark of the night, while the writers warm themselves at a bonfire add a poignancy to the humorous film.
Shaikh Nasir sums it up when he says at the premiere of his film, “Pain and suffering is easy to come by. Laughter is precious. If you can make people laugh, no give and take, then maybe that’s worth something.”
Supermen of Malegaon ends with a cut of the song Superman, Malegaon ka main Superman, and at the end of it all, one is inspired by the passion that makes a film possible with the most meager of resources.
Though this is a documentary, which any audience will like I am sure, it will always hold more appeal for those of us who are filmmakers or film students, as it highlights the magic of cinema, and the magic that goes into making a film.
English, Urdu, Documentary, Color