popular culture

Will ‘A Flying Jatt’ save the Indian superhero film from parody?

Most local productions inspire ridicule rather than respect because of how derivative and tacky they are.

The August 25 release A Flying Jatt features Tiger Shroff, fresh from the success of the martial arts comedy Baaghi in April, as a masked vigilante with special powers. Shroff joins a small club of Indian superheroes who can clean cobwebs from unreachable corners when they are not saving the planet faster than you can say “Kick-Ass.” If the Swacch Bharat campaign needs more Bollywood touches to boost its efforts, we recommend this trailer.

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‘A Flying Jatt’.

Remo’s film is probably hoping to shatter the general perception that the superhero genre that has Hollywood in a vice grip does not always work in India. Our cinema doesn’t need its heroes to conceal their fortune-fuelling faces behind masks and squeeze their abs into shiny suits to defeat their adversaries. Sometimes, a mere look is enough to blow off the baddies.

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Salman Khan in ‘Wanted’.

India has a rich tradition of highly imaginative folk tales, fantasy fiction and comic book culture, but not one truly indigenous superhero. Popular Indian comic book characters, including Doga and Super Commander Dhruva, have not yet inspired meaningful movies. Talk of a Doga adaptation has been doing the rounds since 2008, but the vigilante who wears a canine mask and takes down organised crime in Mumbai has failed to fly off the pages.

Doga.
Doga.

Film fans accept insanely high levels of preposterousness from their heroes, but they are generally wary of seeing them in capes and eyepieces. Perhaps this has something to do with the ghastly special effects, derivative plotlines, and unintended parody associated with such films as Shiva Ka Insaaf (1985) and Superman (1989). Both productions are poor Indian cousins of the original Superman movies. The most noteworthy aspect of Raj N Sippy’s Shiva Ka Insaaf is that it was the first Hindi film in 3D at the time after Jijo Punnoose’s Malayalam movie My Dear Kuttichaathan (1984). Jackie Shroff plays the brooding masked hero in a black costume with a trident motif. Press releases drawing connections between this movie and A Flying Jatt, featuring Shroff’s son Tiger, have already flooded mailboxes.

In Superman, writer and director B Gupta puts Puneet Issar in the same suit into which Clark Kent disappears. Gupta, who is also credited with the special effects, rips off the Hollywood original so shamelessly that it is almost endearing. Dharmendra, clad in a blue silken gown, abandons his Krypton-like planet and sends his son in a cardboard star-shaped cradle to Earth to spread the message of peace and love. Issar has visions of his father in his dreams, and he puts his powers to use for the first time when he rescues a hijacked plane. From there on, he is unstoppable.

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‘Superman’.

The other big superhero film of the year soared above the Indian who wears his underpants on the outside. Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India, a supremely entertaining caper with nods to Invisible Man and Superman, stars Anil Kapoor as Arun, a violinist who shelters orphaned children and tries not to get in the way of his grouchy tenant, the redoubtable reporter Seema (Sridevi). A magic bracelet that can make Arun disappear brings him in the crosshairs of the Bond-type villain Mogambo, who wants to nuke India out of existence.

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‘Mr India’.

Even Amitabh Bachchan could not resist the lure of the supersuit. During his slump years in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Bachchan appeared as a masked vigilante in Tinnu Anand’s Shahenshah (1988), Ketan Desai’s Toofan (1989) and Shashi Kapoor’s Ajooba (1991). With predictable plots and visual effects creakier than a door that hasn’t been oiled for decades, the films were embarrassments, but not before giving us unforgettable visions of what the Hindi film world considered to be superhero behaviour.

Bachchan’s character doesn’t have magical powers in Shahenshah. He plays a paan-chewing corrupt police inspector by day who slips into chain mail and leather by night and carries a noose to hang around the necks of the unfortunate specimens who dare cross his path.

In Toofan, Bachchan plays twins, one of whom is brought up by a magician. The other boy acquires a magical bow and arrow via the direct blessings of the god Hanuman. Thus equipped, Toofan rides into the heart of trouble along with the dust storm that invariably announces his entry on a horse, his black and saffron cape marking him as a divine soul. Perhaps the best use of his powers is in the climax, when he uses his arrow to hitch himself to an airborne helicopter that carries the man who had killed his father.

In Ajooba, Shashi Kapoor’s beleaguered Indo-Russian co-production, Bachchan plays another masked vigilante in black robes and a silver mask who catches arrows with his bare hands. The character has been rescued from near death by a friendly dolphin, which springs out of the water ever so often and goes by the name “Maa” – thereby proving that whenever Bachchan is around, a strong maternal figure will be somewhere in the vicinity.

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‘Ajooba’.

Perhaps scarred by these experiments, and awed by the increasingly sophisticated superhero films being churned out by Hollywood, Hindi filmmakers stayed away from the genre in later years. It took improved budgets, and gumption to revisit a film category that is usually associated with B-grade thrills in India. Rakesh Roshan borrowed heavily from Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) for the family-friendly Koi…Mil Gaya (2003) and followed it up with the classic masked superhero films Krrish (2006) and Krrish 3 (2013). Both movies feature Hrithik Roshan as the black leather-clad vigilante who saves the Earth from peril with lessons from various Hollywood movies, including the X-Men titles.

Abhishek Bachchan also threw his mask into the ring with the disastrous Drona (2008). Directed by Goldie Behl, Drona features Bachchan as a warrior with cosmic powers who can do just about anything except save the movie from being a washout.

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‘Krrish 3’.

The allure of playing a magically endowed hero has seduced Shah Rukh Khan (Ra.One, directed by Anubhav Sinha in 2011) and Salman Khan (Kick, by Sajid Nadiadwala in 2014). One Khan failed where the other succeeded. Ra.One is best remembered not for Shah Rukh Khan’s attempts to play a robot, but for the foot-tapping song Chammak Challo sung by Akon. Kick is yet another Salman Khan movie, in which it makes little difference whether his Robin Hood-inspired character Devil is wearing a mask or not.

Despite the mixed track record of the Indian superhero film, Hindi cinema’s leading men continue to be drawn to the genre. Ranbir Kapoor will star in an upcoming trilogy, no less, by Ayan Mukerji, while Vikramaditya Motwane’s under-production Bhavesh Joshi, starring Anil Kapoor’s son Harshvardhan, is also rumoured to be have a superhero theme.

One of the wittiest perspectives on Indian superheroes is from the documentary universe. Faiza Ahmed Khan’s Supermen of Malegaon (2008) explores the tiny cottage industry of spoof-based films being made in the Maharashtrian town Malegaon. Shaikh Nasir, the director of Malegaon Ke Sholay and Malegaon Ki Shaan, is embarking on the shoot of Malegaon Ka Superman, and Khan is at hand to capture his struggles. The documentary is filmed with tongue firmly in cheek, but Khan is also empathetic towards Nasir and his crew. As Nasir stumbles through the town in his ill-fitting costume in an attempt to get his film off the ground, he provides a vivid snapshot of why the genre will always be an also-ran in a country where the simplest of things requires superheroic effort.

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Supermen of Malegaon.
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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

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In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

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Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

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The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

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The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.