Faiza Ahmad Khan’s Supermen of Malegaon comes as a much needed relief to the spate of mainstream films hitting the theatres every Friday. It’s a documentary film with a soul that will steal your heart away.
Supermen of Malegaon tells the story of a little town called Malegaon 300 kms from Mumbai. It’s not just the story of a town, but the people who make the identity of the town unique with their unflinching passion for cinema. Faced with communal strife between Hindus and Muslims, who live on either side of a river, there is no division when it comes to the love of cinema. A very ambitious Sheikh Nasir finds a way to channelize his passion into making films for the local audience. We see his huge collection of film posters and newspaper cutouts from Bollywood, Hollywood and world cinema. He lays it all out and realizes - this is what obsession does to you. Nasir started to screen films at a video parlour for the locals to come and watch every Friday evening after a hard week of labour at the powerlooms. He learnt all about films in that parlour. Armed with a hancycam, he set out to make spoofs of Bollywood films until he finally decided to make a spoof of a Hollywood film - Superman. Faiza Khan’s documentary tracks the making of the film along with Sheikh Nasir and his crew, and everything that goes into their attempts at creating what they love best.
The biggest challenge that Sheikh Nasir faces with his endeavor is how to make Superman fly? With meager resources and limited technology, he only has his imagination and a few things he learnt watching the makings of a few films that he can put to test. So he decides to make a chroma screen by carefully getting a large green cloth stitched and a truck to haul it over. With this much done for special effects, the rest of it depends on his talent in making it work. Will he succeed? His equipments other than his handy cam include a bullock cart that helps him zoom into the villian’s eyes and a cycle to track his camera. His call word to action isn’t “action”, but “start”. Superman, a scrawny Shafique, shy and unassuming, but with big dreams is the perfect catch for the character with his lean figure and lightweight for all the stunts Nasir wants him to do. His heroine is cast with difficulty as the community is conservative and don’t allow their women outside their homes. It’s considered sinful to indulge in such outdoor activities. But in the end, cinema wins. And Nasir’s unrelenting efforts at doing what he loves as a hobby and an obsession brings a smile to everyone’s faces as it makes us laugh, cry and applaud all at the same time.
What this documentary does best is show a side of our country that we refuse to see. The lives of people from a small town with big dreams, and how they make their dreams come true to whatever capacity they can. It shows the conflicting nature of the two lives that they lead - one strife with poverty, limited means to sustain their families with jobs at the powerlooms, which is the main source of income for most of the population (where ironically the power shuts down for at least 8 hours everyday) and the communal tension that keeps anxiety high; the other is a fantastical and magical world of movies and stars and songs where one can escape into a universe far from reality and enjoy moments of laughter, sweetness, joy and love. An itching need to reclaim what is lost, a yearning to see much more than what their lives offer.
Faiza Khan’s sensitivity in portraying such a paradox is phenomenal. Her keen eye and sense of comic inference draws a fine line of respect, seriousness and earnest discovery. It must have been an uncertain and anxious journey during the shoot days, with no script in hand, but a conviction and drive to capture everything that was happening with Sheikh Nasir and his crew, along with constantly exploring, probing, understanding and in the process, forming a close relationship with the inhabitants of the town. An extremely unique attempt, and a very successful one at that. There is a certain attachment we feel to the people we see on screen, particularly Sheikh Nasir and Shafique who with their sincerity, innocence and honesty made me develop a fondness for them. Sadly, Shafique died of oral cancer last year. He has, however, made his mark in history with his courage and will be remembered. You want to see more and more of their lives and experience their journey, their struggles, their triumphs and tribulations and most of all, their pure passion for films.
Watch it for its loyalty, obsession, satire and for the celebration of the human spirit, in its purest form.