May 23, 2010

Sirens Of Malewood - Malegaon's spoof cinema takes flight with Superman

For the crane shot, Nasir and his camera are balanced at one end of a cart
cinema: malegaon
Sirens Of Malewood
Malegaon's spoof cinema takes flight with Superman. Next change: Spiderman.

* Spoofs of Bollywood movies, like the hilarious version of Sholay in 2000, brought fame to the dreary industrial town of Malegaon
* This booming industry was badly hit by blasts, terror, and crackdown on unlicenced video parlours
* Now it looks set to revive with an ambitious and delightful spoof on Hollywood blockbuster Superman, made by Shaikh Nasir, who also made Malegaon ke Sholay

Shaikh nasir, 33, is the Dadasaheb Phalke of Malegaon, the little town in Maharashtra that moves along rather shakily on two wheels—powerlooms and projectors.

Namrata Joshi

Shoot At Site

There are problems aplenty. When the camera falls into a pond, even a hair dryer can't revive it. Shooting stops.

Dark and depressing factories are where Malegaon's young earn their daily wages, as weavers or welders. And a cinema hall is where they escape from this daily drudgery, to watch their colourful fantasies come alive.

Nasir turned this collective obsession with cinema into Malegaon's calling card. Back in 2000, he borrowed Rs 50,000 from his brother, gathered the town's Dharmendra, Big B, Sanjeev Kumar lookalikes, shot with them on a handycam, and made an inventive spoof on the Ramesh Sippy classic Sholay, in which the fearsome Gabbar was called Rubber and the irrepressible Basanti became a rather edible-sounding Basmati. The wacky film gave Malegaon's residents a good laugh, made more than double of its investment, and started the alternate spoof cinema industry in Malegaon. Every Friday, the town was watching its own quirky, "of the people, by the people, for the people" video films in friendly neighbourhood video halls. Nasir followed in the footsteps of Sippy yet again to make Malegaon ki Shaan. Others played funny with Lagaan, Don, Karan Arjun, Rangeela and Mughal-e-Azam. And Malegaon ka Dinosaur and Malegaon ka Rambo were the dream projects in the pipeline.

That was back in '03, when Outlook had first ventured into Malegaon's movie-making. Since then a lot has changed. The town is still mad about movies, but the government shut down many of the video parlours two years ago because they lacked licences. Hence, the unique spoofs gradually faded away. And bomb blasts, terror and the communal divide have become Malegaon's new calling cards.

The father of Malegaon's spoof cinema, Nasir, had to take premature retirement, and started selling readymade clothes in his video hall-turned-showroom. But he didn't stop dreaming. In fact, in these feel-bad times he is set to make a comeback with his third and the town's most ambitious film to date, Malegaon ka Superman.

The shooting is over; an early video version of the film has been cut, but Nasir wants better editing and post-production before releasing it digitally on the big screen, that too worldwide. Meanwhile, a delightful documentary on the making of this path-breaking film, Faiza Khan's Supermen of Malegaon, has been travelling round the world, gathering awards at Asiatica Film Mediale in Rome, Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) and at the Karachi film festival.

At one level, the documentary is a funny retelling of the filming of Superman—Nasir shopping for props, getting the Superman gear tailored—but it's also a compelling portrait of the town and its residents. Here you can get an srk haircut for Rs 101 but the Sanjay Dutt style will cost Rs 151, because it's a lot more complicated at the back. The film touches upon the town's communal divide, with Hindus and Muslims on opposite sides of the river; it talks of the economic downturn, the 8-10-hour-long power cuts—but it doesn't leave the viewer feeling sorry for its residents. Because Malegaon's movie-making has given them a unique sense of pride, apart from celebrating the sheer joy of cinema. "I want to make people laugh, laughter is very precious," Nasir tells us on phone.

But putting together Malegaon ka Superman was no joke for Nasir. It's Malegaon's costliest film yet. Made on a budget of Rs 1 lakh, it has been shot on a Panasonic handycam, using chroma (shooting against a plain green screen and then using computer graphics to fill in the background) to make Superman fly, and create other special effects.

What inspired Nasir to move beyond Bollywood, just 296 km from Malegaon, and take on distant Hollywood? Nasir might look like a wannabe Hindi film hero, but he is actually a Hollywood worshipper who regularly screened English films in his video hall. "The camera angles, framing, lighting—I learnt it all from foreign films," he says. His personal favourites: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and City Lights. "Chaplin might be dead but his comedies are still alive," says Shaikh.

Like most Malegaon films, Superman too has been put together by an all-Muslim cast and crew. A cynical, intense Farogh Jafri, who aspires to Bollywood fame, is the writer. Akram Khan is a spirited villain, as well as editor and composer of the title track. Pencil-thin Shafique, who looks like an impoverished Big B, is the hero, but he also has to do odd jobs on the sets. Only the heroine, Trupti, is a Hindu, from the nearby town of Dhulia, because women don't work in conservative Malegaon. She charges a royal sum of Rs 1,000 a day and lives up to the stereotype of the "difficult" heroine. She throws attitude, talks in English, uses words like "disgusting", and demands Bisleri.

Like most Malegaon spoofs, the Superman film has its own crazy plot, far removed from the Hollywood original. It's peppered with local issues, idioms, images and, of course, the local sense of humour. Malegaon's skinny Superman has a 24-inch waist, wears bathroom chappals and has the naada (drawstring) hanging outside his boxers. He flies up to get a clear mobile signal and instead gets stuck in electric wires. But it's not all slapstick. There are messages. Superman talks about the necessity of polio drops for kids. The menacing villain is a tobacco merchant and Superman's mission is to rid the town of the scourge of chewing tobacco. The villain loves "gandagi" (filth) and wants to spread a spitting epidemic among children.

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