Return of Mr. Superman (1960)
Film review #558
Director: Sabir Manmohan
SYNOPSIS: A child from the doomed planet Krypton is sent to Earth as the last of their kind, and lands in rural India. A farmer finds the ship and the child inside, and takes them back to his wife, where they raise the child themselves. They realise that the child possesses super powers, but keep it a secret. As an adult, he moves to Bombay to work as a newspaper reporter, and also stopping criminals in his secret identity as Superman. However, when an imposter starts committing crimes dressed as the Superhero, Superman becomes wanted by the law, and must fight to clear his name…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Return of Mr. Superman is a 1960 Indian film and an unlicensed adaptation of the Superman character. The film starts out like every version of the Superman origin story, with Superman as a child being loaded onto a spaceship on the doomed planet Krypton, and sent to Earth to escape the planet’s inevitable destruction. The ship lands in rural India, where a farmer discovers the child and takes him back to his wife, and the two agree to raise him together. They learn that the child possesses extraordinary powers, including beating other children at wrestling, and finding a buried treasure (presumably via his x-ray vision or something). When the boy, now named Jairaj, grows up, he moves to Bombay to work at a newspaper, and starts to lead a double life; fighting criminals as “Superman,” and alerting the police to criminal activity. The story in this respect follows the origin story of Superman reasonably accurately (apart from the ship landing in rural India instead of the rural U.S.), and it has everything it needs to be a Superman story, even if it is unlicensed.
The main plot of the film revolves around a criminal smuggling gang hatching a plan to get revenge on Superman by having an imposter commit crimes dressed as him to turn the police against him. It’s really not an original plot, and one definitely not suited for Superman: how do you imitate someone with superpowers? The plot is a little all over the place, and doesn’t really go anywhere beyond where you would expect it to. The characters are all pretty bland, including the Lois Lane replacement, the comic relief of Johnny (probably meant to be the Jimmy Olsen character), and the criminal gang who serve as the villains not really having much to do with anything. Superman barely even does anything anyway: he usually just calls up the police inspector to report crimes. I don’t know if there is a limit to how much a film at the time could show someone being a vigilante rather than just calling the authorities (The U.S. film serials abandoned the “vigilante” role as someone who works outside the law around the time of the second world war), but either way, it makes the film really boring when you’re expecting Superman to do something and he picks up a telephone.
Speaking of Superman, the most notable thing about this film is probably his costume: forget everything you think you know about Superman’s iconic outfit, this one is clearly cobbled together with whatever the filmmakers could find lying around: driving goggles and leather helmet, complimented by a towel wrapped around his neck to serve as a cape of sorts. It looks like there was no thought given to the costume’s design, but thankfully you don’t see it very often. The film has the typical musical numbers you expect in Indian cinema, but the first one doesn’t show up until over thirty minutes in the film, but then they become constant. The songs also lack the usual dancing and choreography, so they’re not very interesting. This is the third Indian Superman film I’ve watched (the others were released in 1980 and 1987), and it’s easily the worst, although the others aren’t exactly great. The plot is all over the place and fails to provide anything unique or interesting. The costumes and production lack any kind of consideration, and the characters are barely established, leading to a dull and incomprehensible mess.