Malegaon is a small town in the Nasik district of Maharashtra, mostly known for bomb blasts of 2006 and communal tensions. It has all the ingredients for being a small town. It has power cut problems, it has an industry that it’s known for – powerloom. But it has something else that we usually don’t find in most places: a film industry of its own, known as Mollywood, or occasionally, Malliwood.
Don’t let the words ‘film industry’ fool you, though – although that’s how it’s known to the world, the making of films in Malegaon has been more like a community project at times, than a business one.
Nasir Sheikh is almost wholly responsible for the fame of Malegaon’s film industry. Nasir once owned a video parlour and in the course of his business, used to buy and watch lots of CDs of Bollywood & Hollywood movies. From there, he got the idea to make his own films. He began with a spoof of classic Bollywood flick “Sholay”, and named it, very appropriately, “Malegaon Ka Sholay”. This has been pretty much the USP of Mollywood since then – they pick classics and make parodies of it. When asked why he chose to make parodies, Nasir says that comedy is permanent, it stays with people. See how they recall Charlie Chaplin easily, but they have trouble recalling any action or horror movie.
The formula is quite simple for every movie made in Malegaon. The characters, be it Jay and Veeru or Superman himself, have to undergo a transformation to become local. Their food, language, costumes – everything is infused with the taste of Malegaon. The hero doesn’t need to have a six pack, and is usually one of them: a hero who takes leave from his work in the powerloom factory to become Superman. The actress is sourced from a nearby village; women aren’t allowed to work outside the house in Malegaon.
The 2012 documentary “Supermen of Malegaon”, directed by Faiza Ahmad Khan, takes us into the inner echelons of this film industry.
Khan’s documentary follows Nasir, as he begins working on one of his projects “Malegaon Ka Superman”. We join Nasir, as he visits the tailor to get the costume made, finalises the cast and gathers all the equipment. Khan makes sure that the camera doesn’t come between the audience and the story, keeping her own presence negligible so that we feel like we are the one tagging along with Nasir as he moves from place to place. The cameraman also, is quick to catch all the necessary bits. When an elder says that working outside is not suitable for women, and there is no greater work for them than domestic work, the camera quickly zooms in on Nasir who amusingly shakes his head.
Five years down the line, reality has caught up with this dream project. Unable to cope with piracy, the rise of online streaming, and resistance from religious heads and other villagers, Nasir now runs Hotel Prince and offers Namaz regularly.
At its core, “Supermen of Malegaon” is about the innocence of dreams, a passion that refuses to be bogged down by real world complexities. A guy with no prior training and experience decided to make films and succeeded in doing that. How many of us can claim to be so straightforward when it comes to our dreams? His movies may not be the epitome of creative genius, but his passion for making them is unparalleled.
The documentary went on to win 15 awards in total, including Jury Award for Best Documentary at Asiatica Film Mediale, Rome, but it achieved much more in bringing the Malegaon film industry to the limelight. As media attention converged on Malegaon, Nasir also got an opportunity to direct a TV show for SAB TV, where he created a silent comedy show, “Malegaon Ka Chintu”, inspired by his favourite, Charlie Chaplin.
The greatest achievement of this documentary, however, comes in the fact that it doesn’t try to pass judgement on anyone. It lets them be the characters they are, and keeps itself focused on observation. And it is by virtue of this observation that we come to know the ingrained conflicts of the village. We see how Nasir, who is investing everything in this film, is painfully aware that this is not his profession and never will be.