‘They distribute through VCDs’

'Superman of Malegaon' along with the director of the film - Faiza Khan

After successful screenings at festivals across the globe, ‘Supermen of Malegaon’ is slated for theatrical release in India on June 29, 2012. The film has had an extraordinary journey since the idea was first mooted but its biggest hurdle was securing a theatrical release in India, which has now been achieved. ‘Supermen of Malegaon’ is a documentary that captures a motley bunch of cinema fanatics in Malegaon, Maharashtra who remake Bollywood and Hollywood films with miniscule budgets, which they shoot, star in and screen for their local audience in Malegaon. This time, they take on the challenge of making Supermen. The project took off when Director Faiza Ahmad Khan, along with co-producer Gargey Trivedi and Siddharth Thakur, won the Asian Pitch in Singapore. The Asian Pitch is organised by Mediacorp in Singapore, NHK in Japan and KBS in South Korea. Several directors were invited to pitch their subjects, and Supermen of Malegaon was one of the three films that won. The film was made in over seven months and it 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 thirty prestigious international film festivals including Silverdocs and Full Frame Documentary Festivals in the US, the Karlovy Vary in Czech Republic and IFFI in India, and has won 15 awards. In a casual chat with Kunal Guha, director Faiza Khan talks about the challenges and joys of putting this one-of-a-kind venture together. Here’s a transcript of their conversation:

What was the starting point that triggered ‘Supermen of Malegaon’?
There were a couple of things. One of them was that when I was working as an assistant director in Bombay when I first read about the people of Malegaon who were remaking popular Bollywood and Hollywood films and were very passionate about it. I also got to learn that they were making these films for the love for cinema and not for commerce and the other thing was that they were using these popular icons to address certain social issues. They would take a Bollywood film like Sholay or Shaan and then localize the script and address local problems or issues. So, Malegaon Ka Superman was a film that was made there and we made a film on the making of that film. And our film was based on the lives of the people who were making that film.

Watch the trailer of ‘Supermen of Malegaon’

Can you give me a few examples of such films that were embroidered with a social message?
They made Malegaon Ke Sholay, Malegaon ki Lagaan, there’s Shaan and many others. I’ve seen their version of ‘Lagaan’ and ‘Sholay’ in parts. Largely they would be screened in and around Malegaon and their means of distribution is through VCDs.  These VCDS are also sent as far as Hyderabad and Lucknow.

Director Faiza Khan

Since your film is about the passion of cinema that the people of Malegaon share, what was their basic perspective to filmmaking, when they adapt or even when they do original work?
The town is completely cinema crazy. They even have a Mithun fan club which has about 200 members and once a week, they cover a room with Mithun’s pictures and they all get Mithun haircuts and then watch Mithun’s films. I was there when ‘Agneepath’ was being screened and the Mithun and Amitabh fans were sitting on either side of the isle. And the hard-hitting dialogues were celebrated with fire crackers and it was fascinating. All the people who make such films in Malegaon have day jobs and making films is something they do in their spare time and is like a passionate hobby. One of the things that distinguishes their version of the film from the original is that the script would be completely localized. So since tobacco intake is one of the concerns there, Superman’s ultimate villain is a ‘Gutka King’ and Superman would battle him in the movie. Then there is a river in Malegaon where a lot of children have reported to been drowned, so Superman would save these kids from drowning in the movie. Also the language used in the film is dialect of Hindi that is spoken there locally. It is similar to the Hindi spoken in Hyderabad and people identify with that a lot. These are a few ways in which they adapt a film in their style. And obviously the films are shot in Malegaon and the actors are from there as well.

A still from the movie 'Superman of Malegaon'

Once you decided to make this documentary, what were the things that you had to be cautious of while filming in Malegaon, considering the communal tension that place has been plagued with?
The blasts had happened a few months before we went to shoot there. So people didn’t want to talk about that time and that issue. The locals were also being picked up for questioning at the time. So in the film- whose behind the scenes is our documentary, Nasir (the director) had written a scene where Superman deals with this communal tension but while filming it, for some reason, he abandoned it. He didn’t want us raise that issue or showcase that issue at all. In the town, there was quite a lot of tension. I remember that we were shooting in the Hindu area and we had to take a rickshaw to go to the Muslim area, the rickshaw driver refused to take us and said that he won’t cross the ‘border’.

Director of 'Superman of Malegaon', Faiza Khan

What were the production challenges that you experienced once you began filming?
The biggest challenge was that we went in with the idea that we would work with a fly on the wall perspective and just observe so we didn’t really have a script. We were documenting the making of the film and there were these issues that we wanted to touch upon through the making process. So we would shoot what we got and I was constantly anxious and worried about whether we had enough material and if we will be able to shoot on a certain day and many things. There would be days which would go past without anything to film. But when you don’t know what to get, something completely unexpected is thrown at you at times and you get something you would never manage with a script.

Making of 'Superman of Malegaon'

So would you go back to the edit table everyday and see what you have and what you need to shoot and plan accordingly?
No, we didn’t have a chance to do that even. We had to be in Malegaon while we were making the film so there was no option to take a break and go to the editing table. Every day when we would shoot, we would know what we had at the end of the day and we just had to keep that in mind. By the end of our shooting, we had 250 hours of footage (laughs). Eventually, we had to sift through all that but our editor managed it in a month and a half which I don’t know how she managed. But we had a deadline so had to stick to it. I think that was super heroic feat on her part.

Superman takes a break to unwind

Did this experience help you achieve a new perspective to films or filmmaking?
The way Nasir (the director) would make films with absolutely no resources and how he was well prepared in his head about how he would shoot the film was commendable. He was prepared with which shots he wanted and shoot according to what he had at his disposal. I wouldn’t say that I’ve picked that up from him but I’ve become confident when I am shooting in a similar situation, like in the documentary I am presently shooting, where it’s just me. I can see that it’s similar to his approach. I don’t know if it’s a direct influence but yes, it is similar.

'Supermen of Malegaon' releases on the 29th of June 2012

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