It was during the climax of the critically-acclaimed Shah Rukh Khan and Deepa Sahi starrer Maya Memsaab (1993), based on Gustave Flaubert’s well-known novel Madame Bovary, that director Ketan Mehta had a moment of reckoning. Maya was supposed to disappear in a frame overcast with light. Despite many attempts, Mehta was disappointed with the outcome. “I tried to pull off that scene, but was never satisfied. The right technology just wasn’t available in India. The special effects were still being done in a very mechanical way. I realised that something had to change,” says Mehta.
Five years later, he conceptualised Captain Vyom — India’s first live-action superhero science fiction series along with Maya, one of the first animation studios in India, which he founded with Sahi. There wasn’t much manpower available to operate the studio and hiring trained staff posed a challenge, but Mehta felt that “something was better than nothing.”
So at a time when colour television in India was only a decade old and cable TV was creeping into our lives, a post-liberalised generation growing up in the ’90s was transported to the year 2220 with Captain Vyom. In the series, planet Earth was ruled by the World Government headquartered in Delhi, and space stations were established on various planets. Science met astrology, and Captain Vyom, son of a scientist, was on a mission to save the planet from four fugitives in a high-security prison located on Mars. We were introduced to queer-looking creatures that hobbled out of the glass boxes they were usually kept in — Paras, the alchemist; Chhalasur, the illusionist; Mohini, the hypnotist; Durgati, the biologist; Morpha, the shape-shifter, Kineto, the psychic; Venom, the toxicologist; Gravito, the gravity expert; Computo, the cyborg; and Vikaal, the sociopath, among others. Back then, the show had almost every kid in India watching wide-eyed.
Now, almost two decades after it was launched, Captain Vyom has returned in a digital format. The resurrected versions are being released online on a weekly basis. The first episode was aired on June 23. “Over the years, I’ve been receiving calls and mails to bring the show back. I have also realised that the ideas that we spoke about in the show are universal. The philosophies are relevant even now. That said, it pioneered the art of computer animation in Indian television and demonstrated the power of technology we had. With the availability of digital platform, I realised, we could revitalise it and present it with a better soundtrack and better animation,” says Mehta, who was inspired by the ingenuity of Star Wars when he thought of creating the film.
Mehta, 63, also recalls that back in the ’90s anything supernatural was presented in the garb of mythology, and the series changed that. “Education was a very significant element of the show. When we educate through entertainment it is much more effective. Children at that time found the show very interesting. I’m hoping kids in India, who’ve grown up on a dose of Internet and animations, will also be able to appreciate it,” says Mehta.
And though the entire star cast of the show was impressive — featuring the likes of Tom Alter, Chandrakant Shastri, Madhu Sapre and Sanjay Singh — the one actor who made maximum impact was Milind Soman as Captain Vyom. Popular after Alisha Chinai’s music video Made in India, he had a huge fan following and Mehta felt that there was something “universal about the way he looked”. “I asked him and he got very excited about the project and readily agreed,” recalls the filmmaker, whose last project was Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte starrer Manjhi: The Mountain Man.
Even as he waits for the reactions to the show in the Internet age, Mehta is also all set for the release of his upcoming short film Toba Tek Singh, based on Manto’s popular satire of the same name. Starring Pankaj Kapoor, the film is part of an initiative by Zindagi channel, where five Indian and five Pakistani filmmakers have created one art film each. It will be travelling to the London Film Festival in October this year, after which it will be screened on Zindagi channel.