I grew up loving Superman. As a Sikh child, every Sunday was meant to be hair-wash day. While I mostly rejected the notion of hygiene, I used to look forward to hair-wash day only because I could use a towel as a cape and run around fantasising about beating up kids who stole my tiffin. It didn't matter that the towel-cape was white, manufactured by Bombay Dyeing and held together by a safety pin. What mattered was every Sunday, for four hours till my hair dried, I was the pinnacle of goodness in the world where S stood for Singh.
All of that changed when I went in to watch Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Through the course of the backstory and fantastic visual set pieces, I uncovered a fundamental truth that changed my worldview forever. The Man of Steel was, in fact, Rahul Gandhi. How could I have missed it? Someone who was raised by his mother after his father died in a tragic accident. Someone who was picked on for being stupid and different. Someone who was called an alien and whose family sheltered him because they worried about the world’s reaction. Someone who shaved off the stubble before confronting the opposition. And if Rahul was the Man of Steel, was General Zod a stand-in Narendra Modi? A man who removed his senior advisors to become the representative of his people? A warrior from a more developed and advanced planet called Gujarat, I mean, Krypton, who wanted to take over the rest of the world so he could make it more like Guj- sorry, Krypton? Someone who the Americans were not happy to receive?
I walked out of the theatre unable to see Superman in the same light. What next? Arrow is Advani because a teer-kamaan is the only weapon he’s comfortable with? Subrata Roy is Batman, the billionaire who talks funny and has a secret lair inside Amby Valley? It was too much to handle.
I thought about my childhood obsession with Superman and realised a major reason was the lack of any Indian superhero alternatives. Compared to their Western counterparts, Indian superheroes just seemed, well, poor. Who was I supposed to love? Shahenshah? The dude had a rope and had to put on aluminium foil just to look menacing. And what kind of a name is Shahenshah? I want a superhero; not a guy who sounds like a brand of chaat masala.
Even comics didn’t help. Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu? No offense, but if I want to be inspired by the adventures of an intelligent old man who walks with a stick, I’ll read Gandhi. One should however thank Diamond Comics for unknowingly introducing the first stereotyped homosexual Indian superhero in the form of Sabu by making him extremely buff and walking around wearing two earrings and sexy leather boots. One can always get past the sexual orientation by making the character an alien from Jupiter. If that wasn’t enough we also had characters like Doga. A person who would fight crime by wearing a dog mask and controlling stray dogs in the sewer. Happy that Maneka Gandhi found something to do at night, but no thanks.
I even looked at television to find some inspiration and all I could find was Shaktimaan. How broke a superhero do you have to be if you can’t even afford shoes? How can you only wear body-hugging slacks? Are you a Shiamak Davar backup dancer? My first thought after looking at Shaktimaan was “Bro, you just spent like 10 years sleeping on a bed of arrows. Are you kidding me?” And Krrish? I know Hrithik Roshan pulled all the stops by wearing a rexine raincoat and five-rupee mask purchased from the local balloon seller, but it’s sort of tough to hide your identity if you have an extra finger.
Is there any superhero young Indians can rely on now that Superman has been ruined and no previous Indian attempt seems worthy? After much thought and deliberation I came up with one – Arvind Kejriwal. Coming soon to a maidan near you, in 3D, with the powers of fasting and inducing guilt. What could possibly go wrong?