A few years ago, one of the local big-budget theaters here in Little Rock started showing the odd Bollywood film, and because we are curious folks who don’t mind our action movies being interspersed with dance numbers, and also don’t mind being the only white faces in the audience, the wife and I make an effort to go see these movies when they hit town. Most recently, we went to see Krrish 3, the blockbuster superhero movie released in time for Diwali, because what better way to celebrate an awareness of the inner light within us all than by going to see a guy in a mask fight punch mutant people in the face repeatedly?
Now, three is s a number that strikes fear into the hearts of those who love superhero movies. Spider Man 3, X-Men 3, Iron Man 3—all critical failures, if not financial ones, with Superman III having long set the gold standard for bad comic book sequels. So does Bollywood, like its American counterpart, drop the ball in the third act of the superhero genre? I can’t honestly say, but for viewers like me who are coming in fresh, Krrish 3 opens with a helpful summary of the first two installments, Koi… Mi Gaya (2003) and Krrish (2006). (Apparently, the Rambo system of naming sequels also makes sense in India.) The story thus far: Rohit Mehra, a developmentally disabled child, befriends an alien who enhances Rohit’s mental and physical abilities. Later, Rohit eventually has a son, Krishna, who inherits his father’s supernatural powers and becomes the superhero Krrish (cleverly hiding his own identity behind a variant spelling of his first name), soon thereafter rescuing his father, long believed dead, from the clutches of a mad scientist.
In the present day, Rohit (Hrithik Roshan, looking for all the world like India’s answer to Brent Spiner) works as a scientist and lives with his son, Krishna (also Hrithik Roshan, but more in the vein of Rowdy Roddy Piper), and his son’s wife, Priya (Priyanka Chopra), who works as a television reporter. Life is good, except for the fact that Krishna can’t hold down a job on account of disappearing all the time to do hero work. The powers of Krrish are never properly explicated, but he does possess super speed, strength, hearing, and the ability to deliver corny lines like “When you help another person, you become Krrish yourself” as if he really means them.
Krrish has to square off against Kaal (Vivek Oberoi), a mad scientist who creates plagues and then sells the antidote to desperate countries in order to fund a more personal project. Confined to a wheelchair, Kaal spends his days at his mountaintop lair combining his DNA with that of various animals, hoping to produce a mutant offspring whose bone marrow might cure his paralysis, which rather seems to betray an astonishing lack of scientific knowledge for someone who has built so fine a laboratory and hired so many scientists to work it. Predictably, his attempts don’t exactly pan out, so, combining X-Men’s Dr. Xavier with Dr. Moreau, Kaal employs the resulting mutants (which he calls “manimals”) as henchmen, including the chameleonic Kaya (Kangna Ranaut) and a long-tongued brute reminiscent of the Marvel villain Toad (X-Men parallels abound in this movie). Team Kaal sets off a plague in Mumbai, but when Rohit finds a cure using antibodies in the immune Krishna’s blood, our villain suspects a link to his own past because he created that virus from his own DNA. Are Krishna and Kaal perhaps long lost brothers?
As a premise, it’s no thinner than most superhero movies put out by Hollywood. Moreover, Krrish 3 can also boast enough architectural destruction to compete with its American counterparts, as Krrish and Kaal (post-cure) level large swaths of Mumbai in their final battle, no doubt killing hundreds of bystanders in the act, though Krrish, always places himself in danger if there is an abandoned little baby dressed in bright pink left right where that chunk of skyscraper is about to land. (Seriously, why do movie writers always think that babies are going to be left behind? Babies are the most portable kinds of human beings we have. But I guess it doesn’t quite come off as heroic if the dude in the mask is putting himself between a falling skyscraper and someone’s grandmother.)
Unlike American superheroes, however, Krrish never broods but has real faith in himself, as any demigod should. When Kaal choses India as a plague target, he quips, “Let’s see if there are any gods who can protect them.” Of course, Krrish/Krishna is the name a preeminent Hindu deity, the avatar of Vishnu, which fact seems to establish a disturbing science-versus-faith theme, with science on the side of evil, while good inhabits the realm of sappy pseudo-philosophical sayings—and dance sequences (the devil doesn’t have the best tunes in this movie). For a big guy, Hrithik Roshan has some great moves; the “Raghupati Raghav” sequence, in particular, makes one smile with its delightful balance of silliness and eroticism.
Good versus evil, damsels in distress, rampant abuse of scientific principles, an emphasis on special effects, endless product placement, and a soundtrack replete with those loud “bwaaaahhs” popularized by Inception—yes, Krrish 3 has it all. This is the big-budget Bollywood superhero-musical fall blockbuster sequel you have been waiting for.
And in that respect, it is just as insidious as our American superhero movies, for it makes heroism an individualistic act. Krrish is always giving out bracelets with his symbol on them to people who commit acts of decency or kindness—even to a boy who gets himself tangled in power lines in order to free a pigeon. “When you help another, you become Krrish yourself.” This accords with how we have individualized the world’s problems.
Racism is a psychological condition that individuals have to overcome.
If you want to save the environment, you need to recycle.
Only you can stop forest fires.
All true enough, but when we individualize our collective problems, we not only abdicate responsibility for solving them in a collective manner, we also disguise the fact that these are problems not solved by an aggregate of solitary acts but rather have to be approached systemically. Racism emerges in the cultural and political environment of white supremacy. Recycling does very little to curb energy consumption. Forest fires are on the rise due to global climate change. Little individual acts of decency, despite their worth to us, will not save us.
“When you unite together against the forces of wealth, against the governments and corporations that are destroying your planet and degrading your lives for the sake of a greedy buck, you become Krrish youself.” No one is going to give us that superhero movie, but that’s okay. Who needs a movie hero when we have reality right here before us?