Superman (1987)

superman1987AKA The Indian Superman, Hindi Superman

Starring Puneet Issar, Shakti Kapoor, Piloo J. Wadia, Bob Christo, Dharmendra, Sonia Sahni, Urmila Bhatt, Ashok Kumar, Ranjeeta Kaur, Birbal, Preeti Ganguli, Rajan Haksar, Dinesh Hingoo, Jagdeep, Jankidas, Lalita Kumari, Guddi Maruti, Murad, Sudhir

Directed by B. Gupta

Expectations: I hope it’s got as many thrills as the Tollywood version of Superman.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onestar


Wow. Sometimes it takes a truly awful film to remind you of the risk involved in watching low-budget films. This version of the Superman story comes to us courtesy of the Bollywood film industry, although I somehow doubt that this is representative of their normal output, even in 1987. It is a horrible film, with very few redeeming qualities at all. And, sad to say, many of those redeeming qualities are just the novelty of watching degraded versions of footage shot by Richard Donner for Superman. The Tollywood version, which I reviewed yesterday, was so full of life and imagination, but this version is a Superman-sized abomination.

I can only relate my general understanding of the story, as I was forced to watch the film without subtitles. This is always a daunting task, as the success of the film hinges solely on its visual filmmaking and storytelling. I’m sure that seeing this with a better understanding of what was going on would help it some, but no amount of understanding can erase just how lackluster this entire production is. Thankfully, the storyline basically follows that of the original Superman film, so I was treading on familiar ground.

superman_1987_2The film opens on Krypton (established by some ripped-off shots of the dome from Superman), as the Indian Jor-El argues with some Kryptonian council about something — probably their impending doom. Indian Krypton is a bit different from Donner’s vision, though, as everyone’s decked out in monk robes in distinctly ’80s colors. Jor-El’s robe is made of satin, so I assume he’s their leader. In any case, after the argument, Jor-El and Lara place Kal-El into a silver star spaceship (along with a silver tube with a light at the end… AKA that green crystal that makes the Fortress of Solitude in Superman) and we’re treated to the montage of Kal-El flying to Earth from Superman. These plagiarized FX and the newly shot footage do match up pretty well, so I do have to give them credit for that.

And if you’re sensing a pattern, you’re not wrong. When Superman‘s story intersects with Superman‘s, it usually results in some low-budget connective tissue to allow them to show some FX shots from Superman. This happens throughout, and despite the very prominent special FX screen credit for director B. Gupta, there’s actually very little new FX in this film. Some of the model work towards the end was created for this film, though, and it definitely has that lower-end, B-Movie charm. I especially enjoyed when the bridge started falling apart and a bite-sized Superman toy flew in on a wire to save it from destruction. But the most WTF FX award goes to the Indian Fortress of Solitude, which is apparently just a bunch of shimmering, multicolored lights??? Much less expensive than rebuilding some version of that ice palace, I guess.

superman_1987_7So maybe some of you are thinking, “There might be some entertainment value hidden amongst this hack job of footage!” Don’t be fooled. There are many things you could call this Superman, but “entertaining” would definitely not be one of them. Boring is probably the most prevalent term in my mind at the moment, but even that isn’t quite expressive enough to relate just how bad it is. Maybe if I had watched this one first it would have been better, but after the total batshit Telugu-language version of the story, there was no way that this film could live up.

The heroics are largely avoided in this film as well, besides the ripped-off Superman footage. The first thing Superman does after getting the suit? He spies on some women getting dressed. OK! That’s about the level of Superman we’re dealing with here. Maybe this was Gupta’s variation on the comedic stylings of Richard Lester. When this Superman decides to actually do some good (like feeding some children via stop-motion), it can be pretty fun, but the budget here is a severe hindrance. The filmmakers do whatever they can to keep the story away from Superman, so most the film’s focus is actually on the asshole villain, who, according to IMDB, is named Verma (Chairman of the Underworld). He’s on-screen far more than either Supes or Shekhar (Indian Clark Kent).

superman_1987_10Even most of the songs revolve completely around Verma! And all but one of those Verma-centric songs are just a lone female singing and dancing for a rough group of underworld thugs! I was so disappointed. After the incredible imagination in the songs of 1980’s Superman, I had really high hopes for some more moments of zen here, but instead I was treated to creepy men wearing ’70s fashions lustfully staring at a dancing woman. There is a later song where Verma actually gets up and sings. It’s a big improvement because finally someone in this movie looks like they’re having fun, but even that is yet another song in front of the lazy rogue’s gallery sitting on the sidelines… and this time there’s a whole group of dancing women! If you could only see me now… Oh, and how could I forget that the first song is at a campfire dance party! Yup, it’s like a boring, uninteresting version of the campfire dance party song from 1980’s Telugu-language Superman. They’re even ripping off the other Indian Superman knock-off! How rude!

But what about the song featuring Superman? Surely, they didn’t screw that up too! Well… they did. They tried to replicate the flying sequence with Clark and Lois, but instead it’s just Indian Lois singing to Supes as they fly over the city. One guess what he’s doing while she’s singing to him. If you guessed, “Lustfully staring at her with a ‘Yeah, tell me how great I am, baby’ look on his face,” then you’re 100% right! They couldn’t even pull off a good Superman flying song! Did they get anything right?

superman_1987_5The answer to that question lies without your sense of humor. Even the bad stuff I’ve mentioned was pretty engaging, at least on a “reviewer” level, giving me lots to shake my head at and takes notes about. But the things I truly enjoyed were very few and far between. It’s hard not to enjoy an all-female, motorcycle-riding karate squad, especially when their leader wears a red t-shirt that says “SUPERDAD” and sports a big D in the style of the Superman logo on it. There’s also the “thrilling” sequence where Verma and his henchmen discover kryptonite by heading to Verma’s personal library of encyclopedias and flip through them at random till they reach points of pure exhaustion. And what about the comic relief guy — who I think was supposed to be either Perry White or Jimmy Olson — who dons a knock-off Superman costume and flails like an infant on Lois’s desk? Those are all fairly good moments, but none of them are as viscerally exciting as one that comes just 11 minutes into the film. Shekhar’s Earth parents are having a party and are very proud of young Shekhar. How does he show off his Kryptonian skills to the partygoers? A dope breakdance to Michael Jackson’s Beat It… how else?

superman_1987_3Admittedly, even Superman‘s best moments aren’t even to the level of the 1980 Superman‘s worst scenes, but they did provide just enough for me to make it through this one without it feeling like a complete slog. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this film my kryptonite, it’s more like the artificial kryptonite made by the villains in Superman III. It definitely affected me adversely, but it’s not quite strong enough to kill me. You did your best, B. Gupta, but I’m still standing. Although, I may very shortly turn into an evil version of myself, so watch out for that.

So yeah, don’t watch this. Unfortunately, this is the Indian Superman film which is readily available, streaming legally in full on Youtube (see below). This is a sad little film, and one I wholeheartedly do not recommend, but you might want to check out the Indian Krypton at the start and the kid breakdancing at about 11½ minutes or so. Perhaps Man of Steel will incorporate this newfound skill of Superman to burn up the dance floor? I sure hope so!

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