How to Make a Superhero Film in Tamil | Video Essay Script
Hi, this is Kishor and welcome to Moving Images. Before we begin, I must confess that I am a comic-book nerd. I’ve been reading comics both old and current since I was a kid. I enjoy DC, Marvel, Vertigo and even the old Fawcett and Dark Horse comics. I love superheroes and my love obviously transferred to superhero movies as well. I was the first one in line to watch Spider-Man in 2002, in Tamil of course. I was the only guy in the theatre to clap my hands in joy when I heard the iconic John Williams score for the 2006 Superman Returns. Being both a hardcore superhero fan and a Tamil movie fan, I was disappointed at some of our attempts at this genre. I am tired of waiting, and so here are 4 ways I feel we can make a good superhero film in Tamil. I’ll be taking Mugamoodi as our case study and see if we can fix it.
Before we begin, one might argue that in Tamil we already have superhero films in the form of the “masala” hero films, that have unbelievable stunts and superhuman feats. For which I say, they are only super on the surface. There is more to a superhero film than mere stunts. But these points can also be used to make a good masala hero film too. Also, there is a superhero film in Tamil that came very close to being good. I will reveal the movie at the end. Hint: It has Jiiva in the lead too. (insert Mugamoodi) No, not that!
A superhero origin story has two key aspects. The “super” and the “hero”. The super part is about the main character’s extraordinary abilities. How he gets it and how he learns to use it. The hero part is what motivates him to use the said superpower for the good. Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider, granting him extraordinary abilities. But the death of his uncle at the hands of a thug Peter let escape, makes him realize that with great power comes great responsibility. That turns him into the hero.
According to the book “Superhero Origins” by clinical psychologist Robin Rosenberg, an origin can be three types- Trauma, as in the case of Bruce Wayne losing his parents and turning into a vigilante, Destiny, such as Superman or Captain America who were chosen or destined to be a superhero, and Chance, such as the Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Flash all receiving their powers through accidents. Sometimes, an origin can have a combination of these three, like Spiderman again who got his powers by chance but turns into a hero due to trauma.
The origin story should also show the main characters life before they turn into a superhero. Usually a vigilante hero has a strong connection to his city or locality and a strong commitment to bettering his community that motivates him to continue as a superhero.
The costume is an iconic representation of the superhero’s identity. Hence it should be functional and should reflect a part of the character. A costume isn’t highly necessary in some cases but helps establish a heroic identity. A symbol even. So far, in Tamil movies, the costumes have never reflected the identity of the superhero. The costume had nothing to do with who they were. A good costume will help the hero in their mission and also be iconic and announce the arrival of the hero.
A superhero film isn’t actually a superhero film but a film that has a superhero in it. That might sound confusing but let me explain. Captain America: Winter Soldier is actually an espionage film that has Captain America in it. Wonder Woman is a “fish out of water” and a coming of age story that has Wonder Woman in it. These films will work even without the superhero aspect. It can be of any genre, even comedy as we saw in Deadpool. It is not about the powers, but about the characters.
Finally, the villain. Probably one of the main aspect of a superhero film. A hero is only as good as the villain is. This applies to a lot of our masala films too. You can’t have a hero without adversity. If everything is easy for the hero or if he is all powerful, there is no conflict and that makes for a boring story.
A villain should be cut from the same cloth as the hero. They should be two sides of the same coin. The villain should be a slightly skewed yet opposite version of the hero. To write a great villain, look no further than the Joker. (insert Narean) Again, no, not him! I know many would think the Joker from The Dark Knight film is a good example, and though it showed us a great version of the character it didn’t spell out why he is the way he is. Let’s go to an even better interpretation of the character for that. I am talking about the comic, “The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore. In the words of the Joker on what made him “All it takes is one bad day. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.” Batman too had one bad day, but he chose to use that to turn himself into a force for the good. A villain’s origin is usually not that different from a hero’s origin, except for their choices.
To illustrate this further, let’s take another comic “Flashpoint”. Here we have an alternate history where Bruce Wayne dies as a kid in the mugging and his parents survive instead of him. Thomas Wayne, his father, turns into Batman. But he does not have the no-killing rule Bruce did. How do you have a Joker, whose sole purpose is to make Batman kill, exist in this world? The writers did a simple yet effective trick. They turned Martha, the mother, into the Joker. She goes insane at the loss of her son. Thomas cannot kill or stop Martha now. Same event, but different outcomes. Now that’s how you write a great villain.
Now, let’s try taking all of these points and try rewriting Mugamoodi. Starting with the origin, we have Lee who likes Kung Fu and that’s it. He is otherwise a generic jobless hero, who is berated by his dad. And the reason he becomes a hero is to woo a girl and clear his name. Not very heroic. Now let’s try switching it a bit. Our Lee runs a martial arts class for the underprivileged kids from the slums to give them discipline and purpose in life. His day job is that of a fish vendor. His business is constantly interrupted by the local goons but Lee refrains from fighting them in the day. But instead, he dons a mask in the night to spoil their smuggling activities. Now, we have an interesting character and a more solid purpose for Lee to be a hero. His love for his community.
Next part is the costume, the film’s costume is bulky and has no great purpose. Lee is a martial artist, but he cannot move around in a bulky costume like that. A stealthy handmade costume with a prominent mask will work just fine. Remember, Lee attacks in the night, so all the goons see is just his mask and they start calling him the mask or mugamoodi. This gives both his costume and the name a purpose. The costume also has flaws, as they can’t stop bullets. But this can be used as a story advantage and have Lee getting shot and beaten up, only for him to rise again. Have a better costume maybe in the second film.
Finally, the villain. Oh boy! You can’t write a good villain by just watching one film and basing a performance on that. Let’s give our villain a purpose. Dragon is from the same locality as Lee but is a smuggling ring leader who is destroying the community. Not just someone who robs old people. With that, we have an opposite of Lee in terms of ideology. It is a huge challenge for Lee to reach him against all his henchmen and save his community. The story follows the constant battle and also some of the failures of Lee. Finally, in the climax when they both face off each other and when Dragon realizes who Lee is under the mask, it is revealed that Dragon used to be Lee’s teacher. Dragon was a good person and a great martial artist, who loses his family due to some tragic event and turns into a thug by using his fighting skills. He believes that his community let him down by not helping him and so wants to take over it by using his strength. The day Dragon lost his family, Lee lost his mentor. Same event, different outcomes. Will Lee be able to kill his old master or make him see the right path? Will he save his community? Now, that is a superhero film I’d love to watch.
Now these points are just what I feel will make a good superhero film, or even an interesting masala hero film in Tamil. It is not about the budget, but about the characters and the story that makes a good film. We did see some bad examples of superhero film in Tamil but there is also a film that came close to being good. I am talking about the 2016, Jiiva starrer “Pokkiri Raja”. Jiiva is Sanjeevi, a guy who yawns a lot and is later revealed to possess the power of the wind. Fate brings him against “Cooling Glass” Guna, a notorious gangster, who is weird yet funny. The film took a more comedic approach to the superhero genre, but it gets the origin, world and even the villain right. If you haven’t watched the film, then I urge you to watch it and let me know what it did good and where it failed as a superhero film in the comments.
Until next time, this is Kishor signing off saying…