A couple of months ago I recorded an episode of the VPRO television programme Van Bihar tot Bangalore. Only recently, however, I finally had the time to watch that documentary on India’s film industry. I was surprised and quite excited about what I learnt, thus I’ve dug a little further…
With its roughly 800 films produced yearly, the Indian film production is the largest film industry in the world and exerts an enormous impact on Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. In the ‘Western world’, Bollywood is a well-known phenomenon and has also attracted the interest of a number of researchers. My fascination, however, lies first and foremost with the various aspects of adaptation, in this case the adaptation and appropriation of Western stories [Yes, here she goes again... whoever knows me just a bit, will also know that this is my all-time favorite research topic].
Bollywood has adapted Western plots subtly. The film Sholay ["Flames of the sun"], for instance, was inspired by the genre of Westerns such as Once upon in the West, The Magnificent Seven and For a few dollars more. Sholay came out in 1975 and was the prototype of all future ‘Curry Western’, the Indian equivalent of the Italian style Spagetthi Western. [The DVD Sholay, by the way, can be requested via the UB Catalogus, just like all other DVDs in the KERN collection.] Since the 1970s Bollywood has grown into one mega-film production factory, using elaborate sets to produce a film in only 2 to 3 months.
Far away from Mumbai’s Bollywood, however, in the town of Malegaon in the rather poor Nashik district in the Indian state of Maharashtra, another kind of film industry has begun to thrive. The Malegaon film — also lovingly called Mollywood by some — rests mostly on the shoulders of one man: the 35-year-old Shaikh Nasir, video store owner and passionate maker of parodies of popular films. First, he produced (very) low-budget remakes of Bollywood films, among them Sholay [Malegon ke Sholay, 2000], but recently, he is “taking on Hollywood”, to quote him. Not even trying to conceal the act of adapting, this “parallel cinema” as Ansari & Handa (2011) call it, enthusiastically indulges in the playful appropriation of ‘foreign stories’. The aim is not merely to entertain but also to mirror and criticize the harsh reality of economic strain and communal friction in the region. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone that the films are shot with a VHS camera. And if there is no budget for horses, then the ‘cowboys’ jump on rusty bicycles. No train that can be robbed? Then they go after the bus.
Filming Superman of Malegaon
The fact that language, plot and setting are always entirely localized almost guarantees these films to be enormously successful. Nasir’s customers love the Malegaon’s versions of James Bond, Dirty Harry, Superman(of Malegaon), Spiderman and Mr Bean, the latter turning into Malegaon Ka Chintu. Malegon’s movie-stars speak Hindi and Urdu, except for Mr. Bean, of course, who doesn’t talk at all. He features in a (silent) TV-series, at least thirteen episodes of which can be watched on youtube. I haven’t watched all of them yet, but from what I’ve seen already I can state the following: Funny adaptation? Yes. A parody? Not really. A critical appropriation? No. Thus ‘merely’ an imitation? Could be. Alas, Indian TV doesn’t seem to be interested in any critical undertones.
Not mute at all and very mobile is the Malegaon Superman. The following very short youtube film is with English subtitles, enjoy it!
If you like to see more about the Making of… Malegaon Superman, please watch the documentary below. It is a touching document of the life and work of those who created Mollywood, full of lovely details, and although it is not subtitled it will make you smile in admiration and sympathy.
More on the topic:
Supermen of Malegaon, Documentary on the Malegaon film production (65,58 min, no English subtitles) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqRq7ZpjF0I&wide=1
Humaira Ansari & Namita Handa (2011): “Malegaon ka film industry” , DNA, http://www.dnaindia.com/entertainment/report_malegaon-ka-film-industry_1495032, accessed 24-04-2013, “PARALLEL CINEMA”
Sheila J. Nayar (2003), “Exploring Hindi Popular Cinema via Its ‘Chutneyed’ Western Scripts”, in Journal of Popular Film & Television (Summer 2003), Vol. 31 Issue 2, p.73-82.