A Motorbike is used to shoot tracking shots, a fluorescent green curtain substitutes for actual chroma and a bullock cart yoke becomes the crane. The hero dirties his hands performing behind-the-scenes tasks, done by assistants in a Bollywood film. The lead actress is propped on wooden planks to make her ‘fly’ and, when required, hero and heroine break into a romantic duet in the yellow mustard fields just like Shah Rukh and Kajol in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. This is how they make films in Malegaon or Mollywood, Bollywood’s cousin, just 300 km away. And now you can see the magic in the documentary Supermen Of Malegaon that is finally seeing a theatrical release in India this Friday after travelling the world, winning awards and accolades.
Fade in, 2007. Budding filmmaker Faiza Ahmad Khan, fresh from assisting Manish Jha on Anwar and hungry to make her own film, relishes a newspaper story about a motley group of people who produce, direct and star in their own films in the Nashik district of Malegaon. Struck by curiosity, along with her producer Siddharth Thakur, she travels to Malegaon. The thriving power loom industrial town had just emerged out of the serial bomb blasts in 2006 while also being notorious for having a history of communal tension. What she sees fascinates and excites her — many people who work in the power loom industry by day make spoofs of popular Bollywood films to spice up their lives.
They meet Sheikh Nasir, a part-time videographer who reveals that he is planning to start his next production — a remake Superman, titled Yeh Hai Malegaon Ka Superman. “He declared that he had remade enough Bollywood films and now wanted to take on Hollywood!” laughs Khan. The making of Nasir’s film is the subject of her documentary.
“This is nothing but a labour of love for the people of Malegaon,” says Khan. “It’s a non-paying community enterprise and they are driven solely by their passion for films.” She became a fly on the wall and captured the making of Nasir’s movie, which he shot on a handycam. “We didn’t know what we would get. At times I would panic about not getting enough material,” confesses Khan. It may be interesting to note that while Nasir and others self-fund their Rs 20,000 to 30,000 budget films, Khan’s documentary was made for approximately Rs 24 lakh, funded by Japanese, South Korean and Singaporean television broadcasters.
The six-member crew spent three months in Malegaon, accumulating around 250 hours of footage, facing many hiccups. Having finalised his hero, Nasir was yet to cast the heroine. Since no woman from the predominantly Muslim populace in Malegaon would act in a movie, the heroine had to be cast from the neighbouring district of Dhulia. At one point Nasir’s handycam stopped functioning because water had entered it. And finally, the lead actor Shaikh Shafique’s marriage stalled the shooting schedule. “If Nasir had a problem, it became our problem too. Actually, their problems became our film,” laughs Khan in retrospect.
The film has travelled to 36 film festivals and won 15 awards. It even changed the fate of some of those who featured in the documentary. Nasir directed a 26-part TV series for SAB TV titled Malegaon Ka Chintu. The film’s villain Akram Khan recently directed a Marathi film. Tragically, Shafique passed away the day after the film was screened for him, having battled throat cancer (the infamous Hollywood Superman curse, perhaps?).
In the documentary, Nasir is asked if he will move to Mumbai for a full time career in Bollywood. Never, he says. He will continue to make his brand of films in Malegaon. A decision that might not see him recreate the magic of some of the pioneers of Indian cinema but will certainly see him create movie magic in Malegaon for another hundred years or more.
Supermen of Malegaon releases on June 29 at PVR Cinemas in Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Lucknow
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