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Up,Up and Away

There’s a quiet satisfaction as Faiza Ahmad Khan reflects on the award that has propelled her to the ranks of India’s serious documentary filmmakers.

Written by Dipanita Nath |
January 8, 2009 1:16:42 am

Faiza Ahmad Khan’s award-winning documentary captures the superstars of Malegaon

There’s a quiet satisfaction as Faiza Ahmad Khan reflects on the award that has propelled her to the ranks of India’s serious documentary filmmakers. The 27-year-old’s debut film,Supermen of Malegaon,was awarded the Best Documentary at Asiaticafilmmediale,Italy’s biggest event dedicated to Asian films,towards the end of last year.

Malegaon,296 km from Mumbai,has two major identities — the poverty in its bylanes and the popularity of its films. Malegaon’s film industry is called Mollywood,from which emerge spoofs of Big Brother Bollywood’s hits. Karan Arjun,Shaan and Lagaan,remade with local setting and dialect,were “Huos Full”,and Malegaon ke Sholay drew enough crowds in 1998 to make news even in Bollywood. Otherwise,the town is doomed to the vicious cycle of poverty and illiteracy.

Khan’s film begins with the incessant grinding of power looms,the town’s chief source of employment. “I first heard of Malegaon when the blasts took place in 2006,” says Mumbai-based Khan. The more she probed,the more fascinating the people seemed. The film has a clip of Malegaon’s barbers who specialise in Sanjay Dutt- or SRK-style makeovers (Rs 101 and Rs 151 respectively),and Khan says,“People who belong to the Mithun Fan Club will sport the Mithun hairdo,talk like him and dress like him. If a film with Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakraborty plays at a cinema hall,the two groups of fans will sit separately and shout each other down mimicking the voice of their favourite star.”

Khan,who had completed her course in Social Communication Media in Mumbai,was assisting director Manish Jha on his feature film Anwar when she chanced upon Malegaon again. And this time Shaikh Nasir,the director of Malegaon Ke Sholay,was planning his magnum opus,a remake of Superman. “I thought this was the right time to make a film on Malegaon,” says Khan.

Her film follows Nasir and his team as they script,conceptualise and improvise Malegaon ka Superman. Khan puts Nasir’s film in the context of the town’s squalor,communal tensions and lack of basic amenities like electricity,water and sanitation,so that the reel life appears as a corollary,an escape from reality.

Nasir ropes in local hero Shafique ‘Bachchan’ Ansari to play Superman. Ansari,who also works in the power-loom sector,dons his superman gear that includes an “M” monogram in place of the familiar “S”,red shorts and a pair of rubber slippers over knee-length red socks. “I have touched Bollywood,now it’s time to take on Hollywood,” says Nasir as he boasts that this time he would use Chroma software for the film. “They made these films with almost no money and innovated to overcome financial and technical constraints. I knew that this was an idea that had the potential to be turned into an interesting docu. Getting it right was the tricky part,” says Khan. Even as Nasir and his team struggled to get things together—they couldn’t afford Chroma and substituted it with a grey-market ware called Karoma— Khan remained a passive observer. “We made a conscious decision to stay out of their filmmaking process even when we knew we could help them”.

After over two months of shooting,Khan was left with 230 hours of footage. “We edited it to a 52-minute film in a month,” she says. The litmus test was screening it at Malegaon: “I was quite nervous. But thankfully,they liked what they saw,” she says. And so did the Italians.

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