Why is there such a crisis of superheroes in our cinema? When the 2.0 trailer dropped, people took it apart on social media; primarily because it’s visual effects and digital imagery left much to be desired. The sequel to the mega-blockbuster and superbly entertaining Robot, 2.0 has been long in the making with Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar, two superstars whose ages are well past the standard superhero actor’s timeframe. Yet, this much is to be said - Rajinikanth has returned with yet another superhero film, of a bad robot and a superbad crow and that is more than we can say about Hindi cinema!
I recall an interview with Rana Daggubati from 5 years ago. Unassuming and visibly restless with a plethora of interviews lined up, the actor told me that he was shooting for Baahubali, and would continue to do so for about 3 more years. Intrigued, I found out that Telegu cinema, with SS Rajamouli, was attempting to make a spectacle that bridged mythology, action and the superhero space. Masterful in its use of film technology and smart in the adaptation of an Indian idiom (of king and battles over a crown), Baahubali made a start in this space that Bollywood will probably never be able to match. It was spectacular all right. To recall Daggubati’s words, both Prabhas and he, along with the film’s director, were signing off 5 years of their life in intense prep, physical training and rigorous shooting for these films. That kind of commitment - both in terms of time and focus - would perhaps never happen in Bollywood, where a star’s date calendar is measured in terms of lucrative returns. So a shoot date can be adjusted or compromised for an event appearance, a wedding dance or a brand shoot if it fetches the moolah. It also points towards a pure passion for cinema that brought together Prabhas, Dagubatti and Rajamouli, along with the film’s leading ladies and other cast members, gave to this project without rivalries and rifts. Sharing so much together onscreen is non-existent in Hindi films. Like John Abraham says with a completely straight face during interviews, it would be impossible to make an Oceans 11 in Bollywood, so deep are insecurities and internecine competitiveness amongst its handful of male stars.
While not yet having tackled the scale of Rajamouli’s mega project, Shankar is also a filmmaker who tackles the whacky, the wildly imaginative and mass entertainment smoothly. He can straddle all of these, sometimes going off key with a film’s commercial performance but always standing out with a unique concept. So I, the film with Vikram that had a random plotline and strange moments, stood out for the sheer dedication that it’s leading actor brought to it. Similarly, it might be early to judge 2.0 from its average trailer. There will be more to offer from this turn of Rajinikanth in what is attempted to be a superhero franchise. At least, there’s courage to make and commit to an expensive, elaborate and demanding film like this from the country’s biggest movie icon.
Hindi cinema’s walk on the special effects rope has always been disappointing. Remember SRK’s costly misadventure Ra.One? Similarly, A Flying Jatt, starring Tiger Shroff reminded one of VFX from Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan, so very economical and mediocre this effort was! Then there is the upcoming Thugs of Hindostan, which has been constantly criticised on Twitter for looking like a Pirates of the Caribbean rip-off. In all fairness, matching Hollywood’s VFX standards and creating something that will catch up with the Marvel generation of moviegoers is a tall order. Originality lies in the concept and story; like a Baahubali that adapts Indian folk tales to a superhero like fantasy flick. Such writing and research barely exist in Hindi cinema today. Of course, Ayan Mukerji has ventured onto a homegrown fantasy action flick, aiming to create an immersive experience with Brahmastra. Ranbir Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Alia Bhatt and Mouni Roy make up its impressive cast and the film is being shot patiently and elaborately. But, will this film carve out new ground for Hindi films? We sure hope so.
In the meantime, as our hero syndrome continues to affect our big ticket films and filmmakers, it might be worth serious consideration to create a superheroine franchise in Hindi. And no one is better suited to do this one than Katrina Kaif. Playing a caped crusader doesn’t require great acting skills. It essentially needs solid action and fighting skills, the ability to stay on track, train and prepare with dazzling star power. Kaif, who handled guns and fights like a pro in Tiger Zinda Hai, has been focusing on building herself as a fitness and fighting star currently. Her Instagram handle is ample proof of just how far she pushes herself for fitness and strength building. She also dances like a dream. Rather than make her ape Sridevi like dance steps in a fantasy adventure, perhaps putting Kaif up as the fighting rescuer is a smart move. A heroine would any day commit to such an ambitious project with more focus and sincerity, as good parts are always in short supply for women. Maybe make her like an Indian Jessica Jones, flawed but noble and blessed with a superpower, or like the luminous Wonder Woman. Having left behind a very public romance with Ranbir Kapoor and a messy break-up, Katrina has re-invented herself as a popular heroine who makes up for her not so good acting with action, dance and romance. Utilising her often-stated desire to act in proper action films, it might be the ideal way to present a fresh and convincing superheroine for a film industry that desperately needs one today.