Why an Indian superhero isn’t a Marvel idea yet

Vinayak Chakravorty

Mar 22, 2019 14:03:03 IST

Marvel announced Hollywood’s first Asian superhero for the big screen this week, with their decision to co-produce Shang-Chi along with Disney. The film will feature a predominantly Asian cast and is directed by Hawaiian origin writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton.

Coming after Wonder Woman and Black Panther, the decision to include Shang-Chi in the Marvel universe has naturally triggered off imagination of Indian comicbook buffs. With Hollywood’s recent talk about getting all-inclusive with actors and characters, will it be the turn of an Indian superhero next?

Shang-Chi’s entry into the Marvel universe needs to be understood from the context of Hollywood’s moolah-minded strategies. The Far East has always been among the most lucrative markets for Hollywood flicks peddling superheroes, comic characters, and stories adapted from video games. A Reuters data analysis quoted by Newsweek in 2017 reveals China alone accounted for 13 per cent of the $13.5 billion generated by the top 20 movies from US studios in these genres — that is a jump of over three times from the four-percent figure half a decade before.

Hollywood franchises habitually turn eastwards to expand its mass market base. Over the decades, for instance, James Bond has gone adventure-hunting in Japan (You Only Live Twice), Thailand (The Man With The Golden Gun), and, in the first half of Octopussy at least, India. Lately, The Bourne Supremacy, Mission Impossible 4, and The Dark Knight Rises have been among franchise movies to use Indian locations.

When it comes to India, however, LA studios stop short at using locations. India as a market is not immense enough for Hollywood to launch a big franchise — particularly starring a superhero of Indian origin.

Yet, the idea has been tapped. In 2013, the Gotham Chopra and Sharad Devarajan co-owned Liquid Comics pooled in Marvel icon Stan Lee to create Chakra: The Invincible. The animation effort excited Indian buffs but was too small in scale to leave a global impact. The fact that superhero franchises have been dominated by white male protagonists so far did not help matters either.

Five years since Chakra, Hollywood realities would seem to have changed. Marvel’s box-office high of The Avengers: Infinity War threatens to take the studio to saturation point. Rivals DC have been fumbling for a brainwave after Christopher Nolan’s genre-defining Dark Knight series. Both Marvel and DC know the traditional all-American superhero is not enough anymore.

DC tested unconventional waters with Wonder Woman in 2017, and the outcome was a worldwide hit. A year later, Marvel’s Black Panther created history. It became obvious that expanding racial and gender horizons spells big money for the superhero genre.

Shang-Chi is only the next logical step. Superheroes of Shaktiman’s land, however, will have to wait.

Updated Date: Mar 22, 2019 14:03:03 IST

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