SUPERMAN (1980, Telugu language)
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: A man is able to fix his family's problems when Hanuman gives him super powers. This 1980 Tollywood film is an ultra-cheesy rip-off of the DC Comics character Superman. It was a blockbuster in an India at a time when busting blocks must have been extremely easy. Rating: -2 (-4 to +4) or 1/10

This Tollywood film (like Bollywood but in the language Telugu) creates a cheap Indian version of the famous superhero. The main character in this film is called "Superman", but the film gives every indication that was not the name it was shot under. It could easily have already have been completely filmed before the decision was made to name him that. My un-informed guess is that he was to be called something like Hanu-Man. But under the title SUPERMAN it was much more likely to be a hit. Raja, the main character, wears a super-suit much like the DC comic hero, but he has a big H on his chest.

While our hero has powers like Superman, his origin is closer to that of Batman. The film begins during a festival to honor Hanuman. (Note: Hanuman is ape-like and actually the Lord of Apes. If this sounds a little like Sun Wukong, China's Monkey King, there may be a common origin. Hanuman is a loyal servant to Lord Rama in the Ramayana.) Getting back to our story, young Raja is partaking of the festival with his loving parents. They honor a strange-looking stone statue of Hanuman, preparing an offering of valuable gems. But then three badmen, apparently outlaw cowboys, break into the house, steal the gems, and kill Raja's parents before Raja's eyes. The mourning and angry Raja prays to the Hanuman statue that he might be given the power to avenge his parents. The statue at first does nothing, but as his prayers become more fervent suddenly he stands not in front of a statue but before Hanuman himself. Hanuman transforms the grieving Raja into a boy with the powers of Hanuman which are pretty much those of our Superman. His suit is also a minor variation on Superman's suit including a big "H" on his chest. Still, everybody calls him Superman in the dialog and Tollywood songs.

But there the similarities end. Forget about Truth, Justice, and the South Asian Way. Raja has his hands full just punishing his enemies. Raja can fly as a last resort, but prefers to chase villains in his not-very-super mini-van. There is no changing in phone booths for this Superman. At will he can just flash between street cloths or super-suit. In his secret identity he does not wear glasses. In fact, I could not detect any visual difference in his face between his normal and super forms. I guess the tights distract the locals and his identity remains secret. This makes it even less understandable why nobody recognizes him than it does for Clark Kent. Neither Clark Kent nor Raja can dance, but at least our Superman at least knows he can't dance. It has been aptly observed that the actor who plays the adult Raja looks like an Elvis impersonator from Elvis's later, fatter years. Even in tights Raja looks more like a lounge lizard than a superhero, and in or out of costume he looks like just exactly the same lounge lizard. Rama Rao, who plays the adult Raja, could take acting lessons from Paul Naschy. The film attempts a romantic and has a ten-rupee version of the "Can You Read My Mind" idyllic flight.

The special effects of the film have no magic whatsoever and are several steps below even the 1940s Superman serials. At least in the serials the filmmakers knew that they could not do flying effects. In this film when you see Superman fly he is clearly standing on a solid floor and the floor seems to fly with him. To change direction the actor stands still while the camera flips upside-down. The effect is less convincing than it sounds. One rarely sees a film that leaves the viewer with the feeling he could have done the special effects better.

The actor who plays Superman is almost as interesting has the character he plays. Earlier in his career, N. T. Rama Rao had been in a very large number of mythological films, frequently playing deities such as Lord Rama and Lord Krishna. This film was made late in his acting career. Three years later he was elected the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, a southern India state. It did not work out well as he was thrown out of office only to be elected again and again be thrown out of office.

The people I know who like this film, like it to laugh at its incompetence. I generally do not rate a film higher for ineptitude. I will however say that people who do like bad films for parties could do a lot worse than the Telugu SUPERMAN with or without subtitles. I have to rate it a -2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 1/10.

An excerpt can be seen at; however, the film *did not* plagiarize the song "Can You Read My Mind?" from SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. The music in the film is much more like what you hear in the last ten seconds of this clip.

Film Credits:

Thanks go to Lakshmikanth Madapaty for showing me this film and serving as a reference for technical details. The information is his; the errors are mine. Sorry I could not rate it higher, Lax.

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper