Faiza Khan’s documentary, Supermen of Malegaon, turns the spotlight on the makers of rip-offs of classics

The year 2006 put a communally-charged town of Maharashtra on India’s terror map with its bicycle bombs. A largish town within the Nasik district in Maharashtra, Malegaon is 300 km away from Bollywood and about 12 sq km in all. But with a dozen theatres existing at last count, there seems to be a theatre per square kilometre here! Not to mention the innumerable sit-in video halls. So should it really amaze us to find that a film industry thrives here? It should, we reckon. After all, we are talking of 12-hour power cuts, budgets as low as Rs. 50,000 and a superman hoisted on a bullock cart to show that he can fly!

Director Faiza Khan decided to make a documentary on the filmmakers of this ‘cottage industry’ who work not for the weekend collections of their films, unlike their Mumbai counterparts, but for the sheer passion of bringing life to their celluloid dreams. Supermen of Malegaon is her documentary on the making of Malegaon Ka Superman that captures in essence this motley bunch of cinema fanatics who remake Bollywood and Hollywood films on miniscule budgets, which they shoot, star in and screen for their local audience.

But first to rewind a bit. In 2006-07, Faiza was the assistant director on Manish Jha’s Anwar, a film that won much critical acclaim but failed at the box office. “I was suddenly all fired up; I was full of ideas and zest and thought I should direct my own film,” says the young director, who had also worked in an ad agency earlier but soon got tired of “selling soaps and sanitary napkins.” “I had read about the thriving film industry of Malegaon and about Nasir Khan (director of various Malegaon films and a wedding videographer who also owns a video parlour) who had made Malegaon Ke Sholay, an obvious rip-off of Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay, 10 years ago. Now he was on to remaking Superman,” she says.

The alumni of Mumbai’s Sophia Polytechnic’s Social Communications Media course along with co-producers Gargey Trivedi and Siddharth Thakur won the Asian Pitch in Singapore which is organised by Mediacorp in Singapore, NHK in Japan and KBS in South Korea. Their documentary pitch Supermen of Malegaon was one of the three films that won the Fund and it was supposed to be telecast on the Singaporean TV channel.

Going places

But it wasn’t supposed to remain just there. The documentary picked up its first award in Rome, at the Asiatica Film Mediale, where it won the Jury Prize for Best Documentary. Subsequently, it has been screened at over 30 prestigious international film festivals, including Silverdocs and Full Frame Documentary Festivals in the U.S., the Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic and IFFI in India, and has won 15 awards for its crew.

Faiza has interesting tales to tell about this quaint town and the strange working ways of its film industry. “A river runs through Malegaon and Hindus and Muslims reside on either side of it. The film industry thrives on the Muslim side of Malegaon as it were. In fact, the Hindu side is not aware of the film industry of Malegaon at all. The maid, who used to work for us, while we stayed there was a Hindu and she said she didn’t even know what we were talking about!” she narrates. The people of Malegaon also didn’t seem comfortable talking about their communal divide and though director Nasir Khan had filmed a section in his film showing Superman saving Malegaon from the bicycle bomb blasts, he deleted it later.

The films from this industry go across to other predominantly-Muslim areas such as Bhiwandi, Khandesh and even as far as Lucknow and Hyderabad. “They speak a peculiar Hindi-Urdu tongue here, close to the Hyderabadi style. I reckon that’s why these films are popular there too,” says Faiza. Nasir Khan’s film is the backbone of her documentary, but the filmmaker has also tried to bring in the various flavours of Malegaon, including its underlying communal tension.

Mainstream release

Faiza was initially commissioned to make a 52-minute film for the Singapore audience which she eventually extended to 64 minutes. “Of course, it would have turned out different had I filmed it for the larger Indian and global audience,” she says of her documentary that is in Hindi-Urdu with English subtitles. The documentary is now seeing a mainstream release, thanks to PVR’s Directors’ Rare Section under which it is the first ever documentary to get a nationwide release on a commercial platform. Patrons will be able to watch it in the main metros, besides Lucknow and Ahmedabad. “This amazing thing happened only when the marketing head of PVR chanced upon a home DVD of my documentary at a friend’s home! It took two years after that for a release but it happened,” says an obviously thrilled Faiza.

The filmmaker is now working on her next documentary on Mumbai’s Golibaar area in suburban Khar. It is inhabited by Muslim families and is being legally demolished over the last few years. “My documentary raises questions on the systematic uprooting of families,” she says, hoping that work on it will be completed by October this year.