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Leading the desi pack: Amitabh in pink tights
Supremo, Shaktimaan and Nagraj may not be as iconic as their Western counterparts but Indian superheroes do have a following in the Hindi belt. One of them, Doga, has caught Bollywood's fancy.
For a country whose mythology is peppered with superhero-like gods and goddesses, desi versions of the caped crusader haven't been much of a success. There have been quite a few attempts at the genre though. One of India's first, albeit little-known, superheroes was none other than Amitabh Bachchan.
India Book House, the publishers of Amar Chitra Katha, briefly brought out a comic book series titled 'Supremo' in which the superstar debuted as a costumed saviour, complete with pink tights, a fisherman-style wrap and oversized sunglasses typical of the 1970s. Supremo was accompanied by his sidekicks quirkily named Vijay and Anthony (Bachchan's favourite screen names) along with a pet falcon and a talking dolphin. The series - which according to its creator Pammi Bakshi got its title from the name Randhir Kapoor gave Amitabh when they were together shooting for a film in Goa - also had Gulzar as a creative consultant. It ran for two years and then folded up after Bakshi got married and settled abroad.
A little before Supremo arrived on the scene, another superhero had made his debut in the late 1970s. Many believe he was India's first science-fiction superhero. Fauladi Singh was modelled somewhat on Batman, although his area of operation was inter-galactic space, and his primary job protecting the Earth against aliens and other assorted villains. Again, like Batman, he had his own Robin - a nine-inch midget interestingly named Lambu. The series is still being published by Diamond Comics although, according to its publisher Gulshan Rai, there are just six titles released every year.
Incidentally, Indrajal Comics, which introduced Mandrake and Phantom to a generation of Indian readers, also dabbled in a desi superhero. Aditya, dubbed as 'the man from nowhere', was a saffronclad youthful hermit who had a number of yogic powers which he used for fighting crime. But the series was extremely shortlived and the man from nowhere apparently went back to where he had come from.
While these superheroes had immense potential, they were short on staying power - an essential element to have in your arsenal if you want to make it big in the superhero world. A few desi heroes though have managed to endure. Like Shaktimaan, actor Mukesh Khanna's rendition of a desi Superman complete with a bumbling alter ego. His was a unique case of an Indian TV superhero series tasting success. Shaktimaan eventually made the transition to comics and is currently being published by Diamond Comics, which is better known for characters like Chacha Chaudhary, Billoo and Pinky. However, their superhero comics, featuring indigenous characters like Agniputra Abhay and Captain Vyom - another TV superhero played by Milind Soman - "haven't done too badly either, " according to Rai.
But many believe that the leader of the current crop of desi superheroes is Nagraj, the half-man, half-snake action hero, with a penchant for taking on international terrorists. A recent Nagraj edition, for instance, had creatively made its own interpretation of the 26/11 attack where the slithering superhero saves the day. The Raj Comics stable, from where Nagraj has emerged, has a bunch of other characters who essentially reach out to the Hindi-speaking mofussil-town readers. The more successful of the lot are Super Commando Dhruv, , and Parmanu and Doga - a dog-mask wearing vigilante, who is a terror for the Mumbai underbelly. While critics have panned many of these characters as being vapid imitations of Marvel/DC characters with sub-standard story lines, they remain arguably India's most popular comic superheroes. Manish Gupta, CEO of Raj, says that they bring out 40-50 new comic titles every year, with each issue selling about 50, 000 to 1 lakh copies. There are also plans, he adds, of a live-action film on Doga, for which Anurag Kashyap has recently bought the rights. "We estimate that the Doga series has over 40 million fans. We keep hearing about the Rs 100-crore club and the Rs 200-crore club. But if we do it right, we might be looking at numbers much beyond that. The Indian superhero market is ready to explode and we're sure it will happen within the next two years. "
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