• Film reviews

    #558 – Return of Mr. Superman (1960)

    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.

  • 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.

  • Film reviews

    #554 – Superman (1980)

    Superman (1980)

    Film review #554

    Director: V. Madhusudhana Rao

    SYNOPSIS: Raja, a young boy, witnesses the death of his Mother and Father at the hands of burglars who have infiltrated their home. Raja prays to the God Hanuman for a way to avenge his parents, and is granted superpowers. He keeps the powers a secret until he is an adult, when he happens to find one of the men who killed his parents, and sets off to avenge them…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Superman is a 1980 Telugu film based on the DC comics superhero, although is definitely an unofficial and unlicensed adaptation. The opening sees the young boy Raja and his family on the eve of Hanuman Jayanthi, preparing for the day. While their preparations are underway, three burglars enter the home and kill Raja’s Mother and Father while he hides. Raja prays to Hanuman for the power to avenge his parents, and is granted super powers. When he grows up, he begins tracking down his parents murderers. As you can probably tell, the plot has absolutely no correlation with the “official” superman story. In fact, Superman barely figures into the movie at all; it’s mostly just a typical family drama about romance, and Raja’s adopted sister bringing shame to the family by becoming pregnant outside of marriage, and Raja having to get her to marry the man that got her pregnant. The whole vengeance story arc is interweaved with the plot, but it’s not really enough to make the film stand out, and the only superman bits are very typical scenarios where he saves out-of-control vehicles and such, made possible by some very cheap special effects and just reversing the footage.

    Being an Indian film, there’s plenty of dancing and musical numbers interspersed throughout the film, although none of it is fairly memorable or impressive, which is odd, because this is the one element that these films typically excel in. The one that sticks out is the bizarre musical number with Superman/Raja picking up his wife and taking her to the moon or something? The shots of the moon and Earth floating around as the two sing is…very disorienting. The characters also have some some bizarre outfits, including “Superman’s” own outfit, adorned with a “H” on the chest, rather than the typical “S” (to represent “Hanuman” I suppose). The villains are overly dressed up in an almost comical fashion, with one wearing an oversized Stetson, and the main villain being absurdly overdressed like the cartoon version of an American businessman. Still, at least it makes the characters distinguishable.

    Overall, Superman doesn’t really make use of the titular character it is unofficially using, and is overshadowed by a more typical family-based drama and romance that you would expect to find in this type of film. Even then, the usual musical numbers, dancing and costumes are also underwhelming. The special effects are daft, the fighting silly, and a surprising amount of obviously fake blood makes this a somewhat entertaining film to watch only based on how absurd it is, and how little they adapt the source material they do not have the rights to.