Friday, June 29, 2012

'Supermen of Malegaon' - poignant, hilarious ode to filmmaking

By Satyen K. Bordoloi 

Film: "Supermen of Malegaon"; Cast: Sheikh Nasir, Akram Khan, Shafique and Farogh Jafri; Director: Faiza Ahmad Khan; Rating: 4.5/5

There is global cinema and national cinema. In a country like India, there's also regional cinema. What many don't know is that India is also home to what can be called - 'local cinema' where films are produced and consumed locally.

"Supermen of Malegaon" is a hilarious, poignant and well-researched take on one of the dozens of local film industries existing in the country.

It is a love poem to cinema, an ode to the spirit of human ingenuity, a passionate tale about making films and it's hilarious to boot. For most of the audience, this might be the funniest documentary ever made.

A film crew follows Sheikh Nasir, a resident of Malegaon, as he tries to make a parody of Superman called "Malegaon Ka Superman" with actors, cast, technicians and props sourced from his town. We get a glimpse of the joys, the agony, the achievement and the epiphany of creating cinema.

That he is making a low budget, made for a local audience film without the aspiration of making money, lends it the poignancy and innocence missing from the biggest filmmaking centres of the world.

If Marin Scorsese's "Hugo" was the feature film version of the depiction of one man's passion for making special effects laden cinema, "Supermen of Malegaon" is the documentary version of the same passion.

Like Georges Melies, who desired to make a rocket fly and men disappear at a time when it was considered impossible, Sheikh Nasir tries to find cheap alternative to making superman fly, to find local solutions to complex cinematic problems at a budget where such special effects seem impossible.

"Supermen of Malegaon" is thus a study in ingenuity, of a die-hard but untrained film crew's intense desire and ability to conjure up tricks to create magic on screen. Thus we see Sheikh locally making the green chrome background used for special effects.

We see our crew tear up our Superman's external undergarment and another mans jeans to hoist them through an iron bar before the green chrome screen to show them flying. We see Sheikh using a cycle as a trolley and an empty bullock cart as a jimmy jib.

While it is a serious film about someone making a parody, it also becomes a metaphoric parody of commercial cinema, and all the cliches they belt out in a spirit of self-righteous megalomania.

For this is how filmmaking can and should be - a work of passion first and commercial considerations second, just like Georges Melies and Sheikh Nasir saw and like thousands of aspiring filmmakers globally dream of but are not allowed to make.

Ironically, this tale of Malegaon's filmmaking 'Supermen' has been made by a motley group of talented super women. Director Faiza Ahmad Khan's keen sense of satire and irony are amply visible.

Sneha Khanwalkar ("Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!" and "Gangs Of Wasseypur") gives a rustic feel to the film with her earthen music while editor Shweta Venkat Matthew lends the film its poignancy with her observant edits.

Two superhero films release this week in India - "Supermen of Malegaon" and "The Amazing Spiderman - The Untold Story". Ironically, it is "Supermen of Malegaon" that has an amazing story that has not yet been told. While the world has watched Spiderman on three previous occasions but this is perhaps the first time anyone is telling the funny, hugely inspiring and globally awarded story of a local film industry.

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