This is an anthology of stories about Indian superheroes. Before you burst into derisive laughter, just pause for a minute and think about Shaktimaan. Controversies apart, the Mukesh Khanna-produced (however badly produced it might have been) home-grown Superman enthralled children for more than five years on Doordarshan. To continue with a good thing, Khanna followed it up with Aaryamaan later.
Ancient India had its men of the moment. Hanuman is one. He is, according to me, the most popular Indian superhero of all time. The Mahabharat’s Bheema was another superhero to watch out for. For all that, there certainly is a shortage of supermen and superwomen from India. One has to really, really think hard to name even five superheroes in modern India. Bahadur (from the now-defunct Indrajal Comics) could be one. This book tries to address that deficiency—with eight “heroic” stories.
Superhero. Scholastic,181 pages, Rs200
Superhero: The Fabulous Adventures of Rocket Kumar and other Indian Superheroes has a string of famous names writing in it. Samit Basu, Manjula Padmanabhan, Indrajit Hazra, Sampurna Chattarji, Venita Coelho, Anita Roy, Anshumani Ruddra and Rimi Chatterjee contribute a superhero each in this collection of heroic tales with a local flavour.
No radioactive dragonfly or spider biting the hero here. But each of the characters, in true superhero style, is dedicated to acts of daring in public interest. And each of them tackles it in his own way. Basu’s hero is Rocket Kumar, the human cannonball in a circus. His only ambition is to join the Desi Defenders (a local Justice League). Membership is limited and he has to fight off the rhino-suited Kaziranga and Lucky Singh, the risk-taker, for a place.
There’s Hazra’s Flushman (aka Polton Palit), who gushes in and out of toilets fighting crime. There is even a canine superhero. Roy’s wonder dog, Trixy, flies out of South Africa to save the young master—who has just relocated to Delhi—from school bullies. Chatterjee’s heroine, Radharani, a slum girl, thinks up stories that come true.
Not everyone, however, has superhuman powers. Orijit in Padmanabhan’s story, Mr Ordinary, uses basic human intelligence to save a space station from being taken over by villains. Or, super villains rather.
Another champion troubleshooter is Bihari, the strongman who runs all the way to Mumbai to work in the movies. His night job is to clear the wicked streets of its criminal elements. Movies are not everything for Coelho’s protagonist, who has the benefit of humankind at heart. Ruddra’s Split Initiative saves the world from being eaten up.
Indian superheroes may not be a patch on their Western counterparts—but that is certainly not because of the storyline. Helped by some slick marketing, the Spidermans, Batmans, Ironmans and Supermans will keep flying ahead of our boys for quite some time. Be that as it may, this collection is worth a read. Hopefully, the authors will continue to give their heroes some more adventures.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org