Hero worship

When it comes to films and books for children, superheroes rule, finds Time Out


darsheel safari, zokkomon, children, satyajit bhatkal, film, superhero,

In the book iBoy, an iPhone falls on 16-year-old Tom Harvey’s head and soon the embedded device gives him the ability to surf the internet at will. He uses this ability to take revenge on his friend’s rapists by accessing their personal information. In Joe Craig’s Jimmy Coates, the 11-year-old protagonist discovers that he is only 38 per cent human while the rest of him is robot. As part-robot, he is expected to aid the state’s dictator. In Gaurav Jain’s movie Ashoka, an eight-year-old boy has to ditch his homework to battle a mad scientist with powers bestowed on him by Emperor Ashoka’s medallion. And this fortnight, child actor Darsheel Safary stars as India’s first flying superhero in the Disney film Zokkomon, which has been directed by Satyajit Bhatkal.

Superhero books and movies have always been popular with children. But whereas in the past, one was more likely to read or see stories about adult superheroes such as Spider-Man and Superman, children are now increasingly donning the capes – metaphorically and literally – to save the world. Zokkomon is an adventure story about Kunal (Safary), an orphaned boy whose uncle [Anupam Kher] abandons him in a large city, said Satyajit Bhatkal. “Kunal is alone and friendless,” Bhatkal said, “In this situation, when he is most down and out, Kunal draws on his inner strength. Despite being small and without resources he manages to discover that you are as strong as you believe you are.”

The latest trend of child superheroes started with Harry Potter, said Sudeshna Shome-Ghose, an editorial director with Puffin, which has got books like iBoy and the Percy Jackson series to India.“Each new series tried to differentiate its hero from the earlier ones in specific ways,” she said, adding, “These books are all commercial fiction and a lot of thought would go in from publishers and authors on creating characters that are unique.”

And they are unique. Tom Harvey of iBoy by Kevin Brooks can pluck information off the web by just thinking about it but his nemesis is a no-network zone. Author Rick Riordan had a bestseller in his hands with the Percy Jackson series, a story about a boy who discovers that he is half-human and half-god. While Riordan’s story is about Greek gods, he sets his story in New York, explaining that with Western civilisation moving to America, Olympus followed suit.

When it comes to creating Indian superheroes, most publishers and filmmakers stick to mythological heroes. However, some are trying to think beyond Hanuman and Bal Ganesha. Kunal in Zokkomon will be India’s first flying superhero, Bhatkal said. Recently, Hachette India published The Fang of Summoning by Giti Chandra. The story intersects between Iceland and Gurgaon, where six cousins discover startling gifts – a toddler can bring her childish doodles to life while her older cousin can play music that causes metal to materialise out of thin air.

Another Hachette India book, the Taranauts series by Roopa Pai, focuses a fictional universe called Mithya, where three kids have to find the 32 stars that light their eight planets. All of them of course have their own set of superpowers. Vatsala Kaul-Banerjee, editorial director for children’s and reference books at Hachette India, said, “Both [books] deal with how ordinary young people come to terms with their own extraor-dinary powers, and learn that powers work effectively and with more impact when they work as a team, and for the greater good.”

The Taranauts series stands out as one of the few books with strong female protagonists – Zvala and Zarpa. The lone boy Tufan is the subject of some good-natured ribbing. But Zarpa and Zvala are the exception. Usually, girls use their special powers to help the superhero win. Shome-Ghosh said that it’s a shame that there are few female characters with powers, but pointed out that graphic novels often have strong girl protagonists.

All these books and movies have one common thread – they are about ordinary children who have powers but are still grappling with problems like acne or homework. “The creation of teen superheroes is a result of the popularity cult around these characters,” said Kaul-Banerjee. “What could appeal to a teenager more than reading about a character of a similar age group with similar growing pangs —only blessed with super powers!”

By Bijal Vachharajani on April 14 2011 

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