An agreeably ramshackle film about the unshakable commitment of an equally rickety group of dirt-poor movie tragics producing a superhero spoof in their Muslim village, “Supermen of Malegaon” poses no threat to Warner Bros. but possesses a loopy, energetic DIY charm. Pic, which won the jury award for docu feature at Italy’s annual Asian film confab, the Asiatica Film Mediale, is too specialized to support a theatrical campaign, but is bounding along the fest circuit and should show its strength in ancillary.
Like “American Movie” before it, “Supermen of Malegaon” is about dreamers with more ambition than talent or resources. Here, the dreamer is wedding videographer and former videotheque proprietor Shaikh Nasir, who runs a cottage industry making spoofs of Hollywood fare and the Bollywood films produced a hundred miles away in Mumbai. The locals eat these films up, as life in the cotton-mill town of Malegaon provides little other entertainment.
Nasir is budgeted the equivalent of $1,200 for the project, which he explains by saying, “So far, nobody has messed with Superman.” One of his screenwriters, Farogh Jafri, reasons, “You open with a blast, so that you have the audience’s concentration,” while another, Akram Khan, who plays the bad guy, has a weird obsession with filth.
Reasoning that Superman would be “a victim of many diseases” with “asthma from flying through pollution,” they hire a scrawny guy named Shafique (who’s a dead ringer for Charlie Callas) to be their hero.
The shoot isn’t without incident: The helmer drops his camera into a river, Shafique needs four days off for his wedding, the handmade uniform must be washed and dried every day, and a local paper’s coverage repeatedly refers to the production as “Spider-Man.” Finally, the film, with the poster tagline “The Pack of Blasting Comedy,” is preemed at the resuscitated video parlor to much excitement.
Docu helmer Faiza Ahmad Khan is clearly fond of this endeavor and takes a benevolent view toward these passionate cineastes. Seventy-nine-minute version screening at SilverDocs appears to be a pre-existing 52-minute cut with the actual finished product grafted on; as rough as its creation would suggest, the pic sports a subversive humor.