The Supermen of Malegaon

Supermen of Malegaon is a 2012 documentary directed by Faiza Ahmed Khan. It is a unique story. The 65 minutes long movie chronicles the adventures of Nasir, Farogh and Akram as they make a parody of Superman in their own native town, Malegaon.

That sounds very simplistic, doesn’t it? Patronising, even. But its not as simple as that.

Malegaon is a small town in Maharasthra, in the district of Nashik, located on the Mumbai- Agra Highway. It has a population of 471,006, according to the 2012 census. At first glance, it sounds like your stereotypical sleepy little town, that no one has heard of, tucked away in the middle of nowhere. But Malegaon is far from that. What Malegaon is known for is its power-loom industry. But that industry is breathing its last breaths, faced with fluctuating government policies, frequent electricity outage, lack of political will and a reluctance to change over to more modern techniques. But at the same time, another industry is breathing its first breaths over here. A film industry.

Yes, Malegaon has a film industry and it is called Mollywood. And they have made three films so far, Malegaon ka Sholay, Malegaon ka Shaan and Malegaon ka Superman. All three are parodies. In fact, the Superman of Malegaon is like none other. He slips, he falls, he tumbles over. He’s out to rescue small children from drowning but ends up needing rescuing himself. He’s up there, flying in the sky and oh no, there that was crash landing. Director Nasir Shaikh maintains that he wants to make comedies because laughter, in this world, is so rare and precious. Truer words were never uttered.

Through this documentary, Faiza Ahmed Khan gives us a glimpse into a world that we often belittle, that we often take for granted. It it is not so simple. Humankind is a much more complex organism. And Malegaon is no exception to that. Malegaon is a land of contradictions, a land of surprises, and yet not exactly so.

A film industry; what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that phrase? Glamour? Liberal? Maseratis? Mollywood has none of that. Yet there is another side to every film industry. One that is gritty, down to earth, overworked and is a kindgdom of dreams. Malegaon embodies that. Malegaon shows us the true side of every film industry on earth.

Film industries, all over the world, are hypocritical. We only see the world of the stars, their spats, their fights, their flamboyant lifestyles and their three day parties. But the people who truly make up the film industry are not stars. They are the worker bees. They are dreamers, yes, but they may or may not ever achieve that dream, but they will work day and night for it. They are the strugglers. They are the ones on a daily wage. They are the unsung heroes. Mollywood embodies this face of the industry without any veneer on top.

The star of the movie does not arrive in a Merc. He is a poor loom worker. The Director owns a garment store and constantly belittles his own profession. He maintains that this is a hobby, only a hobby. Any more, and you are inviting disappointment. The Star is excited to be part of this production, yet does not hesitate in helping the crew set up the set. In fact, come down to the gritty of it, and you see that these are people struggling to earn a daily bread. They can barely make ends meet. So why? Why are they doing this? That is one question that constantly haunts the audience throughout the documentary. What power does cinema have that it can generate a ‘cottage industry’, as critics have called it, in a society that can barely feed itself? Why are they doing this?

Maybe the answer to this lies deeper in the social make-up of their society.

Malegaon has had quite an interesting history. Malegaon was not always Malegaon. Once upon a time, it was little more than tiny hamlet known as Maliwadi. It was only in 1740, when a local Jahagirdar called Naro Shankar Raje Bahadur started building a fort in the area (which was a source of employment for both manual labourers and artisans) that Maliwadi started to grow in size. Since then, it has been both a shelter and a source of employment for the Muslim community whenever they have faced upheavals or reversals anywhere else. During the 1857 revolt, many Muslims from the North relocated to Malegaon. A famine in 1962, forced Muslim weavers from Varanasi to seek shelter in Malegaon. Similarly, political upheavals in the 1940s and the 1950s, communal riots in the 1960s have seen similar Muslim Migration to Malegaon from elsewhere. For the Muslim community, Malegaon has been their refuge.

But in recent times, things are changing. Malegaon is not a refuge anymore. It is the cause of their troubles. Originally a handloom weaving center, in 1935, Malegaon became the hub of power loom weaving. No doubt, in 1935, this was a cause of rejoicing for Malegaon. No doubt it increased their prosperity for then. But lately, a reluctance to move on to better technology added with frequent power cuts has pushed this industry to the brink of starvation. Most of India in the last century has seen an increase in prosperity with each coming generation. Malegaon has seen the opposite. The adults today, have seen prosperity as children, but despite the best of their efforts are unable to replicate it in their own lives. And with a lack of exposure to the outside world, it is hard for them to conduce why this is happening.

Movies are an extremely new form or art, just above a hundred years old. And largely, we have seen, especially in India, that whenever society has gone through a depressive phase, whenever unemployment has soared, whenever per capita income has dipped, the movie industry has boomed. It is not hard to understand why.

Movies provide us with an avenue to a fantastical world. To a world where anything can happen, a world where the demons are vanquished and the bravehearted wins. To a world where dreams come true. The world of movies is indeed a beautiful one. And in times of trouble, we have often turned to them for comfort. Keeping this in mind, it should be of no surprise that the citizens of Malegaon also turned to movies in times of distress. But what is surprising is that they didn’t just stick with watching movies, but also decided to pick up the camera and make some on their own.

Why? To answer that question is hard. But undoubtedly, this signifies an acceptance of responsibility towards one’s circumstances and the will to put things right. However, fear gets in the way.

The Director, Nasir Shaikh is constant in discouraging others from going down this route. There is no future here in filmmaking, he says. It is fine as a hobby but as a career can only lead to disappointment. He himself holds on to filmmaking as a simple part time hobby, nothing more, nothing less. This brings in a very interesting dichotomy in their manner of thinking. They dare to dream, but only so much. Beyond that, no more.

Not only do they dare to dream, but they lend us the hope to dream to. A community which, despite all odds can go ahead and make movies (no unremarkable feat) must be a truly utopic community, we feel, as they viewer. A community that shows us that nothing is impossible must be balanced and liberal, far from the borders of gender, race, religion and ethnicity. But in that, their reality is truly limited. In Mollywood, women do not work, neither as actresses, nor as crew members. Women are expected to stay at home because as one interviewee said, what can be greater than maintaining a household? The city, sadly is also very divided among communal lines. Sitting on the confluence of Mausam and the Girna rivers, on one side of the river live the Muslims, while on the other side of the river live the Hindus. The Hindus do not cross over to the Muslim side, nor do the Muslims cross over to the Hindu side.

In that, it really is not very different from the rest of the country. It is just as misogynistic and communal. But despite all its fallacies, Mollywood still lends a ray of hope. It shows a changing society. It shows a generation that wants to go further, much further than their forefathers did. And that can only be a good thing.

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