India, a country of a thousand gods and silver-screen demigods like Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Rajinikanth does not need superhero films. So, why do we keep getting nonsense like A Flying Jatt?
A Flying Jatt is the latest travesty from Bollywood in the name of ‘superhero films’. It is an infantile movie, which borrows elements from Sam Raimi’s Spiderman Trilogy, Will Smith-starrer Hancock and Bryan Singer’s X Men: Days of Future Past. For a while, Remo D’Souza’s film does something interesting with the hero. After donning the costume and looking about, head held high, with his mother (Amrita Singh) almost frothing at the mouth with excitement, the Flying Jatt quietly goes back to his bed and tries to sleep. His mother shouts at him and asks, “You are supposed to go fight crime and you’re here sleeping?” Jatt boy sulks and proceeds to do the needful by walking towards the door, but his mother stops and makes him ‘fly’ out of the house because that’s what superheroes do.
In an earlier scene, the Jatt boy’s mother is training her son to be a ‘good’ superhero by showing her scenes from Superman Returns and The Avengers. Later, when Jatt boy is out fighting crime, she calls him and asks him to get lauki on his way back home. These scenes hinted at a very ‘delicious’ thought that perhaps, just maybe, Remo D’Souza is a smart person and he knows that the material he is handling is ridiculous, and hence, is making fun of it. If the entire film continued to be as delightfully subversive as these moments, India would have probably gotten its first ‘good’ superhero film.
But no. A Flying Jatt slowly descends into the same old trite superhero vs supervillain template with the unavoidable Bollywood-isms thrown in; a romance angle which has neither head nor tail to do with the Jatt boy’s story, a whole lot of moral lecturing on how to keep Bharat swachchh, and of course, a lot of religious references and praying.
Somehow, whenever Indian filmmakers attempt to make a superhero film, these Bollywood tropes stick out like an ugly ulcer. Think of how cloyingly filmy the Krrish films and Ra.One were. Every time Krrish took a beating, his grandma or his girlfriend would run to Krishna to pray. In Krrish part two, called Krrish 3, Rajesh Roshan never missed any opportunity to mythologise the Krrish character as God-like, if not God. In a scene, where an airplane is about to crash, a little boy prays, “God, please help us” – and behold, Krrish(na) appears. Even Ra.One had generous stretches of it written around Ramlila and Karwa Chauth, and borrowed much of its ethos from the Bhagwad Gita, just like A Flying Jatt borrows from the Guru Granth Sahib.
If you notice, in Indian superhero films, you are not a SUPERhero unless you are God incarnate. This is something you will not find in Hollywood superhero films, which are essentially atheistic. A Superman or a Batman is already mythologised enough thanks to comic books, television shows, and multiple Hollywood adaptations with different directors. Superheroes in the West have been a part of its cultural idiom that goes beyond one or two blockbusters.
On the other hand, in India, the ‘superhero film’ is a Western import, which ends up being a clumsy and awkward product, when passed through the ghee-malai-masala-chutney hodge-podge that is Indian commercial cinema’s language. Because to make a quintessentially Western idea palatable to the average Indian audience, you will need to dial up the melodrama to such an extent that the final film does not seem too alien, too removed from ‘Indianness’.
But to be honest, any filmmaker with his head in the right place wouldn’t want to temper with the ‘superhero film’ genre in India. Because they know that to make a superhero film requires the kind of budget that only big, commercial cinema can afford and to make a ‘big’ Indian film, you will have to dumb it down, and most importantly, get stars.
Herein lies the issue. Does Rajinikanth need to be a Robot to kick a hundred peoples’ butt at a time? Does Hrithik Roshan need superpowers to jump from building to building? Does Shah Rukh Khan need to be a superhero to beat up a wiry, bald Arjun Rampal? NO! India’s superheroes are its superstars. Salman Khan, the flesh-and-blood human, whose real and reel life has combined to create such a potent mythology, will never need a cape and costume on the big screen. Our heroes of masala films, by definition, are superheroes. As such, the only option to sell a superstar as a superhero is to equate him with the only real superhero of India – God.
The ‘superhero film’ genre is not cut out for such inane compromises with its ethos. In India, our first rung of superheroes are Ram, Hanuman, Krishna – the gods – followed by Shah Rukh, Salman, Sachin and so on. There is no space for a costumed, caped crusader here. The odd Shaktimaan that worked was not a panoptic cultural phenomenon, mind you. It was a hit among a certain generation of kids, who in their mid-20s today, look back at Shaktimaan as sometimes a nostalgic figure and sometimes as a joke.
Indian superheroes like Ra.One and Krrish and the most recent Jatt boy are not destined to spawn franchises that can be taken seriously, like the DC and Marvel movies. At best, they are memes. At worst, they make you want to have amnesia.