Film reviews

#556 – Superman (1987)

Superman (1987)

Film review #556

Director: B. Gupta

SYNOPSIS: As the planet Krypton is about to be destroyed, the parents of a baby boy send him to Earth to escape the destruction. He lands in India and is raised by a couple who soon realise he has superhuman powers, but keep his powers a secret, naming him Shekhar. As an adult, he travels to the city in search of his childhood, Gita, while his old rival for Gita’s love, Verma, is a tycoon and super-villain who aims to become rich by causing a series of natural disasters across India and buying up the land cheap…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Superman is a 1987 Indian film and an unlicensed adaptation of the comic book superhero. This is not the first adaptation into Indian cinema either, with similar (unlicensed adaptations) in 1960 and 1980. The film’s story follows the typical Superman lore fairly accurately, as in the intro, we see the planet Krypton about to be destroyed, and a young baby boy being sent to earth as the only survivor. However, rather than landing in the rural U.S. as is canon, he instead lands in India, where a young couple find him and give him the name Shekhar. They soon learn he has superhuman powers, but tell him to keep them secret. When Shekhar is grown up, he heads to the city to find his childhood Gita, now working as a reporter (the “Lois Lane” of this version), while his old rival for Gita’s affections, Verma, is now a crime-lord who attempts to get rich by creating a series of natural disasters across India in order to buy the land up cheap (being the “Lex Luthor” of this film). The story, apart from being set in India, fits the established story quite well…a little too well, as it is essentially copying the 1978 Superman film point-for-point. The capsule which takes Superman to earth as a child is the exact shape as the one from the original film, but obviously made from silver foil rather than expensive (for the time) CG. Also, it straight up steals footage from the 1978 film’s ending, where Superman flies around the Earth so fast he turns back time, alongside using the John Williams theme is definitely has no permission for. As such, we can’t give the film too much credit for it’s story if it’s just taking it from an other successful film, but it follows the beats of the film fairly well. It also adds in some usual musical and dancing numbers, but these feel quite underwhelming compared to other films I’ve seen; almost like they were focused on making a Superman clone and had to add in musical numbers because that’s what Indian cinema does. Alongside this, they also use Michael Jackson’s “Beat it” in one dance scene, which again I’m pretty sure they did not have the rights to do so.

As mentioned, the characters from the Superman franchise are all recreated here quite faithfully, although being based in India rather than the U.S. Superman/Shekhar has Clark Kent’s naivety and Superman’s bravery, Gita has Lois Lane’s dogged determination, and Verma has Lex Luthor’s evil streak. We see the planet Krypton at the start of the film, adorned with a cheap set full of random coloured blocks, and there is also the fortress of solitude, where Superman goes to learn about his home planet, all loving recreated with nowhere near the budget of it’s Hollywood counterpart. Superman seems to have all of his powers such as super strength and flight, but also has telekinesis for some reason too, shown in a scene where he unwraps food and sets a table with his mind. The film has a decent mix of humour, action and drama, so it’s not uninteresting, although being released nearly ten years after the very successful film it is copying, I’m not sure if the audience would have already seen the original film subtitled or dubbed by that time. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s a pretty good adaptation of Superman, only because it is ripping off a good Superman film beat for beat. Otherwise, the obligatory dance and musical numbers are poor and uninspiring, and a bloated runtime of over two hours to incorporate more typical drama elements weighs the film down. The choreography, in both the musical numbers and the fight scenes is pretty dire, as you can obviously tell that none of the punches are connecting to anyone. Despite all this, it is still one of those films you really need to see to believe, so if your curiosity is piqued, then maybe you’d better put two hours aside to savour this cinematic wild ride.