Except for a brief sojourn in Kolkata (those days it used to be called Calcutta), Batman has not made it to India. During the Contagion story arc, Ra’s al Ghul, one of Batman’s many foes, unleashes the deadly Ebola Gulf-A virus upon the city. With a little help from Lady Shiva, that most masterful of martial artists, Batman saves the day.
It seems his visit did not go unnoticed. Anupam Sinha—a legend among followers of Indian comics—paid homage to The Dark Knight in his creation Super Commando Dhruv, the scourge of criminals and terrorists and protector of innocent Indians.
It’s not that Indian comics are mindlessly aping the West. Comic-book ideas, especially those of superhero comic books, inevitably end up being similar to one another. Isn’t there an obvious link between Marvel Comics’ Captain America and Detective Comics’ Superman, both upholders of the American way of truth and justice? Power rings, lightning-fast speed, superhuman strength—all of these, and much more, have been copied and adapted in different ways across the superhero universe.
Desi clone: Dhruv and Black Cat in action
It’s no surprise then that Batman seems to have been a wellspring of inspiration for Sinha. Sinha’s Gotham, renamed Rajnagar, could be Any City, India, where slums coexist with high-rise buildings and a cast of criminals, freak villains, terrorist leaders, aliens and demons battle Dhruv.
Like the Caped Crusader, Dhruv saves his city from a viral outbreak, caused by the supremely evil Dr Virus, who even manages to mutate a man into a tree (it’s another story that Virus bears a strong resemblance to Dr Viper from the animated series Swatcats).
Dhruv’s parents are circus acrobats. After they are killed in a freak accident, a policeman, who later becomes the commissioner, adopts him. The Dark Knight’s sidekick, Robin, has a similar parentage.
The similarities don’t end there. Purists argue that Batman isn’t a true superhero, that he uses his intelligence and wealth, rather than his superpowers, to battle evil. Our own Dhruv does not boast of any superpowers either, except his ability to converse with animals. One of his allies remarks: “He has the most extraordinary mind.”
The Bat’s utility belt seems to be another idea borrowed by Dhruv’s creator. Dhruv carries almost everything, from a grappling hook to nerve gas, tucked in that belt. His motorbike is modified; he has a plane too. It’s not clear where he gets the money for this. Last time I checked, being unemployed pays only if you’ve inherited the Wayne family fortune.
Dhruv finds a formidable opponent in the very pretty thief Black Cat. Though strikingly similar to Catwoman, our version sticks to being a villain, which is quite sad considering the depth of Batman’s love-hate relationship with his “feline fatale”. The writers of Dhruv have tried to rectify this in recent issues by making Black Cat fall in love with Dhruv.
Of course, the similarities aren’t limited to Batman and Dhruv. Indian comic-book superheroes are rooted in traditional comic-book mythology from across the world—be it Magneto’s Indian avatar, Chumba or the patriotic Tiranga, who carries a shield painted in the tricolour—a la Captain America—while battling terrorists in Delhi. But among all the local heroes, not one can stand up to the might of Nagraj, Superman’s desi clone.
With his newly created alter ego, Raj—a “mild mannered”, bespectacled public relations officer in a media conglomerate—there is no mistaking who inspired the character. More on that next summer, when the next Superman film is set to release.