SOM follows the adventures of a band of Malegaon men, led by local movie-maker Shaikh Nasir, producing a parody on Hollywood’s Superman. Malegaon lies 300 kilometres from Mumbai, its economy based on power looms worked by labourers upto 12 hours a day. These workers turn with delight to Hindi and Hollywood films, loving their fantasy and joy. Little wonder the town is flooded with things filmi, from cinema theatres bursting at their seams to DVDs sold on wooden carts, actors’ hairstyles sculpted by barbers and starry kites dotting the skies, all thriving amongst henna-haired elders, mosques and stream, giggling children, muddy ditches, hazy looms and bleating goats.
But cinema in Malegaon isn’t escaping reality. It becomes a way for locals to re-interpret reality itself, remaking hits from around the world. Hence, Nasir, who earlier made Malegaon ke Sholay, featuring dacoits on cycles, turns to Superman, grinning to the camera behind, “Pehle Bollywood se takkar liya, ab Hollywood se lenge.” Inspired by cinema from Chaplin to Schwarzenegger, Nasir bands together a likeable bunch – soft-faced Shafique with a Bachchan-obsession, shaadi video-maker and actor Akram, Farogh, a writer with drawling appeal. Together, they make SOM, the painfully thin Shafique reinterpreting a super-human with human weakness, wonkiness and wit.
As Nasir’s crew tackle challenges – Shafique nearly drowning when Superman saves kids in a river, the camera falling in, scouting a pouting heroine as Malegaon’s conservative Muslims won’t let local women act, producing expensive ‘chroma effect’ by draping fluorescent cloth on a screen, even impaling Superman’s buddy on a horizontal ‘flying’ pole, leaving the sidekick panting for a ‘pain-cooler’ – the camera follows with quiet intelligence, probing, not judgmental, empathetic, yet non-sentimental. Only a few quibbles – Malegaon’s women are seen but hardly heard. Nasir’s sibling drama is uncovered but unexplored. And how the money works could be clearer too.
Crucially though, SOM gets why Malegaon is crazy about cinema, even making its own – movies capture our madness, melancholy and magic, mirroring these to us, making us love what we see. It is in cinema that India’s vibrant creativity – its tales and taboos, its violence and splendour, its lilting music and haunting poetry like Malegaon’s amazing ‘Chand se khitaab‘ – find free and faithful expression. Cinema in India makes us laugh at our weaknesses, applaud our strengths, watch with tenderness and heart our grim lives and eternal hope. That is what makes it precious. And it is this quality of understanding that makes Supermen of Malegaon a beautiful film. Go watch.
The release of Supermen of Malegaon (SOM), alongside Hollywood’s Spider-man and in the 100th year of Indian cinema, could not have been better-timed. SOM marks new zest enlivening Indian documentary. It reflects global interest in desi movies. And it celebrates, with empathy and wit, our own fascination with films and the magic they make.