I enjoy watching movies about making movies, especially those that are able to remind us of why we like going to the cinema in the first place. Supermen of Malegaon is one of those films.
The documentary follows small-time filmmaker Shaikh Nasir as he creates a localized spoof titled “Malegaon Ka Superman” (“Superman of Malegaon”). Nasir doesn’t consider himself an artist, rather a hobbyist who enjoys making low-budget versions of big-budget films for the enjoyment of the cash-strapped residents of Malegaon. His ultimate dream is to earn enough money to reopen his own video hall, which famously once ran James Cameron’s The Abyss for two months.
Nasir’s versions of blockbusters like Sholay rely heavily on local references and dialect and utilize local talent. Teen boys relish the anticipated boost to their social status just for appearing in the background of “Malegaon Ka Superman.”
Superman himself is played by a skinny guy named Shafique, who takes time off from his job working a power loom to star in the film. Shafique’s other film duties include organizing props and shopping for makeup with Nasir.
What makes the story especially interesting is that “Malegaon Ka Superman” actually looks entertaining. It’s not a ripoff but a comical remake. Malegaon’s Superman spends more time being saved than he does saving people. He can’t swim, so he floats around the lake on a rubber tire. If he flies too high, air pollution inflames his asthma.
The documentary’s director, Faiza Ahmad Khan, never makes fun of Nasir, Shafique, or the other crew members. One of my problems with another excellent documentary about a low-budget filmmaker, American Movie, is that the documentary director sometimes seems to poke fun at the men being filmed. Supermen of Malegoan doesn’t do that. The circumstances of making “Malegaon Ka Superman” are funny, but the men themselves are not.
In fact, the experience of working on “Malegaon Ka Superman” is a stepping stone for a couple of members of the crew. With his acting, editing, directing, and musical abilities, crew member Akram knows he stands a chance of building a real movie career in Mumbai. Co-writer Farogh is also aware that his job prospects are limited in Malegaon.
Farogh gives one of my favorite interviews in the film when he talks of the pain of being a screenwriter. He laments that 80% of the film he sees in his mind won’t make it to the screen. It can’t. Farogh explains that it’s a pain all writers have to live with, and that no amount of accolades or money can relieve it.
The sentiment illustrates the truth at the heart of the film: in its purest form, filmmaking is a passion. Urged on by the need to create, a group of people make a special film on a shoestring budget and with outdated equipment. Supermen of Malegaon is as inspirational as it is fun.