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In a recent interview Shahrukh Khan was asked the inspiration behind Ra One. He replied that it felt odd that his children were big fans of Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Captain America and a lot of other superheroes and that none of them was Indian. He said that he wanted to create an Indian superhero that Indian kids could be proud of. And, thus was born Ra One; of course we have to admit the fact that there were more than a 100 crore Indian rupees standing between the idea and its realization.

Yes, we have talked about this before, why India never had its own superheroes while Hollywood kept churning them out by the dozen in the form of comics, movies and whatnots. Some of them were designed to save New York or USA at best while the others went one step further and saved the world from all kinds of evil forces. Some people have pointed this superhero glut from America to the general American mindset of being saviors of the world. Whatever be the fact, we have to admit Hollywood has dominated the global superhero space.

Indian cinema has always had superheroes, we just haven’t packaged them well enough. The essential qualities of superheroes are quite simple; infinite power (mandatory), ability to rise from the dead (mandatory), flying abilities (optional; recommended), good looks (optional; recommended). We have to agree that Indian heroes have had all these qualities for decades now. They can beat up a 100 people, come back even if they have been shot or hit on the head with iron rods, jump across multi-storeyed buildings, handle bombs etc. We have all grown up watching the average Indian cinema hero do many of these, mostly all of these things. And, come to think of it, even the American superheroes do nothing more. Yet, it is always the Spiderman, Batman and Superman who are acknowledged as superheroes by the Indian kids, not Sivaji or Ghajendra, Sura or Anniyan.

What is the reason behind this? Well, I believe it is the packaging. Look at all the American superheroes. They are brands in their own rights; designer suits (with capes, masks, hoods, horns, goggles etc.), designer made vehicles like the Batmobile, one unique weapon like Spiderman’s web etc. Indian superheroes have never been given such benefits and as a result appear a lot less cooler to the kids. A superhero should dress up in some way that is different from the normal civilian. It all started with Superman wearing underwear over his pants. The Indian superhero character has never had a stand out dressing sense. And, one golden rule of superhero films that Indian cinema has always overlooked is the all important ‘alter-ego’. Every successful superhero in world cinema has got an alter-ego and mostly he is a weak hearted, weak spirited loser who will start sobbing at the drop of a hat. Indian cinema has never given thought of the alter-ego thing, which would have made it a lot more exciting.

And, Indian superheroes have never had that secret source of power; they simply have the power, there is no explanation. A secret source that gives power adds to the mystique of a superhero, like spider’s venom for Spiderman, a secret factory producing gadgets for Batman etc. If an Indian superhero derives power from, let’s say, accidentally being exposed to the radiations from Kalpakkam nuclear reactor and then decides to use his newfound prowess to save the country; that would make things cool and also logical. Those of you who have read Samit Basu’s novel Turbulence might be able to appreciate fully the importance of giving some kind of explanation, however farfetched it might be, for the existence of superpowers.  Indian cinema is yet to wake to the endless possibilities of having alter-egos and providing secret sources of powers to their superheroes. There is proof that such a formula can work because the only Indian superhero that Indian kids ever accepted in a big way was Shakthiman (remember that TV series). It followed all the rules of superhero characterization; there was an alter-ego, there was a designer suit and a secret (spiritual) source of power. I am not recommending that Shakthiman be brought to the big screen, he would look far outdated in 2011.

As they say, when it rains, it pours. True to that dictum, the start of the superhero era in Indian cinema itself is heralding a handful of movies that can be put into that genre. It is not the isolated case of Ra One that has got all this excitement started up about Indian cinema taking to superheroes in a big way. Some might also say that the one can trace the beginning of this trend back to 2006 and Krissh; but that was an isolated effort, not one that inspired more of its kind. Even late last year, Vivek Oberoi tried to make a superheroic effort to salvage his career through Prince, but went down big time. Endhiran could have counted as the first authentic and successful on screen superhero character, but for the villainy in Chitty. But it still will remain one of the pioneers when it comes to investing characters with superheroic potential.

But, this time, we can be confident that the initiation of the superhero trend will not end up as just another isolated spike n the graph which otherwise flatlines along aimlessly. Why are we so confident, because, besides Ra One, Velayudham is also touted as a superhero movie, and we can believe those claims after seeing the trailer which show Vijay in a hooded suit, with a sword slung on his back. And, there is Mysskin who is getting ready with Mugamoodi which will reportedly present Jiiva in a superhero get up. Going by the title, we can be sure that the superhero here will be wearing a mask.

Now, we have a lot of hope in Ra One, Velayudham and Mugamoodi. They seem to be following at least a few of the rules that have made superhero films worldwide phenomenon. We can see designer suits, alter-egos (surely Ra One’s got one) and perhaps an explanation of where all that enormous world-saving power comes from. Yes, its time for the Indian superhero.

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