Suparn Verma in Mumbai
Shekhar Kapur's much-loved superhero film Mr India will celebrate its 25th anniversary this Friday. Filmmaker Suparn Verma revisits the film that he first saw 25 years ago and still adores it.
Superhero films are a rarity in India, Mr X In Bombay, Shiva Ka Insaaf, Mr India, the Bachchan trilogy of superhero films Shahenshah, Toofan and Ajooba, the Krissh series and Ra.One are but a handful of films with heroes with extraordinary abilities. One of the reasons could be that Hindi film heroes are already so superhero-like by their very nature that our filmmakers never really invested in the superhero genre.
Also the fact is when a nation has a million plus gods in all sorts of avatars, get-ups and super powers it was an easy genre to give a miss.
But Mr India is special. It is a film about an invisible superhero that holds a special corner in all our hearts.
Even 25 years later the film holds remarkably well in many aspects.
As a masala potboiler it was the last film written by the legendary writer duo Salim-Javed, which in itself makes it a treasure.
The story was a mish-mash of Kishore Kumar's Mr X In Bombay and Shammi Kapoor's Brahmachari about Arun Verma (Anil Kapoor) dressed up as the li'l Tramp and armed with a golden heart, giving shelter to a group of orphan kids, discovering an invisibility device made by his scientist family friend (Ashok Kumar) who dies at the beginning of the film.
His only Achilles heel is the color red which makes him visible again -- an inspired move from the Bud Spencer film Super Trooper in which he loses his super powers the minute he sees the color red.
Suparn Verma is the director of films like Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena and Acid Factory.
25 years on, Mr India holds remarkably well
Mr India takes on the might of one of Hindi cinema's most iconic villains, a 'Chino-stani' named Mogambo, played with devilish delight by Amrish Puri. His catch phrase 'Mogambo khush hua' has become part of our pop culture.
Mr India's partner in crime and lady love was Sridevi as Seema aka Hawa Hawai at her prime, a Lois Lane-like reporter. Annu Kapoor as her editor and Satish Kaushik as Calender, Mr India's man Friday, complete the picture.
Mr India belongs to every kid and teenager of the 1980s who would wear red glasses hoping to see Mr India walking somewhere amidst them. It was a film that gave us hope, a film that made us believe in something extraordinary existing amongst us. Casting Anil Kapoor was totally apt because he has made a career of playing common men.
Mr India came at a time when the world was still innocent. A world pre-Bombay blasts, 26/11, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan wars, where crime involved drugs and gun running, terrorism was very distant from our homes.
The only scare in those days was rumors of bombs in dolls. Mr India took that fear and made it real, killing off one of the child actors in the film in a bomb blast.
That year another film, the Dharmendra starrer Hukumat, the biggest hit of 1987, followed by Mr India, also killed off a child actor in a horrific sequence.
1987 was an innocent world where we grew up somewhere.
In hindsight, the only thing that is dated is the politics of Mr India - the world isn't so black and white anymore; villains aren't so black and white either; the heroes have more greys; the height of sex isn't the sensual sari-draped Sridevi seduced by an invisible hero she fantasizes about and loves.
It was a world in which we still hadn't opened our doors to the West, beating up the 'white man' was still a huge thrill - so when Bob Christo was being bashed by the statue of Hanuman and made to say 'Hanuman ki jai' the whole theater burst into whistles and claps.
It is interesting to note that amongst the child actors were actor Aftab Shivdasani, Anil Kapoor's secretary Rikku Rakeshnath's son, actor Karan Nath; and chroegrapher turned filmmaker Ahmed Khan.
25 years on, Mr India holds remarkably well
India has grown up in a hurry without ever having the chance to burst into pimples and be teens. We are now adults and so are our heroes. It is there where Mr India's greatest strength lies. Every viewing of the film makes us kids again; it creates a distance between the reality of evil and evil on screen.
A quarter of a century after its release, Mr India remains one of the best superhero films ever made. It got the formula, emotions and action bang on from the first scene.
In these 25 years, the makers have kept threatening to return with a sequel, but to expect Anil Kapoor to reprise his role would be asking for too much. As an ardent fan I would like my memory of the original to be untouched, unblemished.
The chance to watch Mr India again and again is to be able to sit in a time travel machine and go back to an age when I believed in Santa Claus, a time when I could love without fear of heartbreak, a time when I could trust without the worry of my trust being irreparably broken.
Mr India for me is wearing those red glasses and hoping to find him sprinting about, making the world a safer place