Two decades after the Indian TV-show character Shaktimaan became a cult show on Indian television, other Indian superhero characters like Nagaraj and Doga from comic books, struck a chord with the readers. However, these desi (of or belonging to Indian origin) heroes still remain hidden under the shadow of big international superhero films adapted from DC and Marvel comics.
While superhero movie franchises from the west are very popular today in India, homegrown superhero movies or even comic books do not enjoy the same attention now.
The stories surrounding Indian superheroes are certainly interesting. Doga – armed with nothing but rippling biceps, guns and some serious martial arts skills, swayed many into a creative superhero-protected world of comics. It was announced that Doga would be made into a film, but Indian director Anurag Kashyap, shelved the project on the basis of “creative differences” between him and the producers.
Another one, with a very different set of superpowers was Super Commando Dhruva – a young martial artist with a strong sixth sense, along with the ability to breathe underwater and communicate with birds.
While these comics make a big part of our childhood, they have been nudged out by the influential western comics. The kids today prefer to brag about their Superman or Spiderman goodies because of the hegemony American superhero movies and comics have all over the world. Kalpana Sharma, mother of a six-year-old and a resident of west Delhi, says, “He wouldn’t know about Ramayan or Shaktiman. He’s into Spider-Man, Superman, Iron Man, and then we have Asterix in Hindi. It is all about what is trending on YouTube and which character is the topic of discussion amongst friends.”
Lack of public interest and the unsustainable nature of Indian superhero comics due to huge competition from the west, might also be the reason why even Bollywood has remained oblivious to their existence. Anindya Roy, founding director of the Delhi Comic Arts Festival (DeCAF) agrees. “Indian comics are not sustainable. They don’t sell that much. I have a publishing house and over a period of time I found that I was not able to sell a lot of comics. There wasn’t a culture that was as excited to consume the comics as we were when it came to producing them. I realised that it is rather difficult to sell more than 1,200 copies of comics or graphic novels at once. My aim is to increase this number and push more Indie comics and graphic novels towards increased circulation,” he tells Media India Group.
Even though Bollywood came up with a bunch of superhero movies, only some performed well. While Avengers and Justice League have been capturing the fancy of many across the globe, including people in India, Bollywood’s superhero films don’t seem to come close to the standards set by Hollywood, neither financially nor qualitatively.
Except the Krrish film franchise, which was a very successful Indian superhero trilogy, films such as Drona, Flying-Jatt and the recent Bhavesh Joshi Superhero didn’t do well on the big screen. In fact, many were not aware of these Indian superheroes until they were introduced in the films.