Are superheroes getting grounded?

Are superheroes getting grounded?

The dismal failure of A Flying Jatt may well sound the death-knell for the genre of superpowers-laden desi heroes


Khalid Mohamed

Published: Fri 9 Sep 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 9 Sep 2016, 2:00 AM

Superheroes are no longer invulnerable. Going by the dismal performance at the box office of A Flying Jatt, a costly, VFX-enhanced fantasy, the caped crusaders of Bollywood cinema may well become an extinct species.
Directed by choreographer-turned-prolific-director Remo D'Souza and showcasing the amiable young actor Tiger Shroff in the title role, here was a take on a clumsy martial arts teacher who acquires unimaginable powers, thanks to bolts of lightning which strike a sacred tree. The outcome was thumbed down on its opening weekend by the audience (this included pre-teen children at whom the film was targeted).
Over-plotted and generally over-the-top, and crammed with a message to keep the environment free of
industrial pollution, A Flying Jatt turned out to be an exercise in wastefulness. An enormous budget was invested by Balaji Films of Ekta Kapoor, which merely resulted in gibberish. Plus, vastly disappointing performances from Amrita Singh as the Jatt's mother and from Jacqueline Fernandez as the mandatory romantic interest.
And the fearsome Australian wrestler Nathan Jones - whom some may recall from Mad Max: Fury Road - was unintentionally comic rather than menacing.
Clearly, an actioner, which leapt from a threatened Punjabi colony to the moon for the final slug-out between the Flying Jatt and the arch-villain breathing toxic waste, was as bizarre (and unpalatable) as it gets.
Already, the Bollywood trade has lost its faith completely in a genre which has always been iffy. Retreading the exploits of Hollywood's Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and The Invisible Man not only demands technical craftsmanship of the highest order but also a script which is Indian-ised with a soaring imagination.
To drag in hysterical parents of the superhero for the so-called 'emotional track' is just not enough to provide a feel-good entertainer. Moreover, garnishing the plot with generous doses of mythology, patriotism and half-baked regional fervour can be self-defeating. Spectators can suspend their sense of disbelief to a degree but not to a point which is absurd beyond redemption.
Over the decades, however, incarnations of HG Wells' The Invisible Man (first filmed in America with the charismatic actor Claude Rains in 1933), have clicked in India and how. Take Mr India as played by Anil Kapoor (in the eponymous Mr India) almost 30 years ago (pitted against the flamboyant Mogambo enacted by Amrish Puri); the feather-light rom-com remains a cult film even now.
Incidentally, The Invisible Man had performed his magic act in the black-and-white era of Bombay-produced cinema. Mr X (1957) was essayed by the versatile Ashok Kumar, and then extended by his brother Kishore Kumar with Mr X in Bombay (1964). Both films are of immense archival value. They are impactful even with rudi-mentary trick photography, since state-of-the-art special effects still had to be invented.
Over to the VFX era. The Krrish franchise directed by Rakesh Roshan and featuring his son Hrithik Roshan as a weakling-turned-messiah of the oppressed, struck pure gold at the cash counters.
Borrowing liberally from the fluid storytelling style of Steven Spielberg, aided by chartbusting music scores and topped by the star value of Hrithik, who was in peak form during the filming of the first edition of the franchise followed by Koi Mil Gaya and Krrish 3, Rakesh Roshan retold incredible yarns credibly.
Yet, the Roshans have realised that, like all good things, the Krrish formula had to come to an end. The franchise has been put on hold, if not discontinued.
Buzz was that Ranbir Kapoor was all set to play a superhero - inspired by the Harry Potter series - in a project directed by Ayan Mukherjee. After the flop of A Flying Jatt, chances are it could be shelved or re-conceptualised.
In the past, Shah Rukh Khan's Ra:One and Rajinikanth's Enthiran (Robot) have evoked mixed feelings. Undaunted, a sequel is in the works with Akshay Kumar playing the adversary to the ageless superstar, Rajini sir.
As for Abhishek Bachchan's Drona, it went on to induce permanent
memory loss among the scant few viewers who dared to see it. Among the other forgettables, count the B-grade Superman (1987) which is recallable, if at all, for the presence of Dharmendra and Ashok Kumar in brief supporting roles. There were two other riffs on Superman; both released to empty houses, in 1960. One of them titled, Return of Mr Superman, featured the eminent character actor P Jairaj - alas, only to be rejected by the ticket-buying public.
Ironically enough, Tiger Shroff's dad Jackie Shroff had slipped into the patented cape and mask of an empowered protector for one of India's first 3-D adventures titled Shiva Ka Insaaf. No go again.
The track record of super-duper heroes doesn't exactly make you break into cartwheels, does it? Evidently, those flying, invulnerable heroes could be grounded forever.

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