I attended an academic conference on Popular Culture last weekend as a friend was giving a talk on SRK and Fan. One paper presented was on the Indian Superhero and Mr. India, which until last night I had never seen. Tanushree Ghosh of University of Nebraska focused on the reverse of gender stereotypes in the 1987 cult classic Mr. India.
Anil Kapoor is Arun Verma and his hat and beat up coat obviously are an allusion to Raj Kapoor’s tramp character from Shree 420.
Arun is a down on his luck violin player, who has taken in several orphan children, since he lost his parents at an early age himself. But what Ghosh points out is how Anil Kapoor’s character is introduced to us. His very first image on screen is of him cooking breakfast for the children in his kitchen, normally a female space. He then proceeds to wake up all the children and get them ready for school. His early scenes don’t show him at work, but doing the household shopping, and other more typically female occupations on film. He is both mother and father to these children.
In contrast, SriDevi’s character is introduced in her workplace as a reporter. She rents a room from Arun because he lies to her that there are no children. She is the character who can’t stand children. Her softening to the antics of the adorable children is normally the plot track of the male hero.
Our villain is Amrish Puri as the iconic Mogambo. His famous catchphrase is Mogambo Khush Hua (Mogambo is pleased). Mogambo is like a Bond villain on steroids. He’s an evil general out to take over the world, and of course India. He’s searching for a secret formula that makes a person invisible. Turns out Arun’s father invented it and was killed for it.
Ghosh discusses all the humiliations that Arun goes through in the first half of the picture, the affronts to his masculinity as head of the household. He can’t pay the rent or feed his family. It’s only when SriDevi realizes the children are starving that she brings in food for them. At his lowest point, his father’s colleague reveals his father’s secret legacy – a watch that makes one invisible.
The scene where he practices making himself invisible with one of the children in tow, is one of the most joyful superhero origin stories I’ve ever seen — right up there with Spiderman flying down New York streets over the traffic on his webs.
Sridevi as intrepid Lois Lane type reporter impersonates a night club singer to find out the villains’ evil plan. The song sequences in this film are really delightful, but this one Hawa Hawai shows off her comedic chops. I had no idea she could be so funny. The song sequence takes an unwelcome turn into blackface backup dancers, though.
Arun comes to the rescue invisibly, and calls himself Mr. India. He’s just a common man out to right wrongs. Of course SriDevi falls in love with Mr. India even though she can’t see him! There’s both a humorous title song where she proclaims her love for Mr. India to Arun, not knowing he is our hero, and then a very sensuous number where she meets Mr. India and he invisibly kisses her.
One of my favorite sequences had SriDevi dressing up as Charlie Chaplin to win money at the villain’s casino with Mr. India’s invisible help. She is so funny in this movie!
Ghosh pointed out in her paper how this common man Indian superhero contrasts to the Westernized Ra.One with his blue eyes. Mr. India rights wrongs like punishing people who adulterate the food supply of regular people!
This film, with all the kids who both get kidnapped and participate fully in the fight to escape made me feel like it was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang crossed with Goldfinger (in a good way). I can totally understand why this was a blockbuster hit, and a cult classic. It’s just silly good fun.
And Amrish Puri is the ultimate campy villain as Mogambo. MovieMavenGal Khush Hua!
Just read that even with the flop of Mrizya, Boney Kapoor (producer of Mr. India) is talking about Mr. India 2 with Harsh, and Anil Kapoor playing his father.