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Amitabh Bachchan was a comic book Superman 40 years ago. In a tight, pink costume

Created by Pammi Bakshi and Gulzar, Amitabh Bachchan comics cost Rs 4 each 40 years ago. Today, they are a hot collectors' item costing $199 on eBay.

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Quick question — who is the original Indian Superman? Some would say Hanuman or Shaktiman. But in the 1980s, it was Amitabh Bachchan. Not just because of his angry, action-hero image, but there was a comic book called The Adventures of Amitabh Bachchan. You would see him sporting a pink, fitting outfit with a wraparound on his waist, not underwear worn outside, a holster, a chakra pendant, and a pair of welder-type glasses. Off he went, saving people with no extraordinary powers but merely with brawn and brain.

That was almost 40 years ago, and today, the Amitabh Bachchan comics are a hot collectors’ item costing $199 on eBay. Back then, the comics cost Rs 4 each and were created by movie producer Pammi Bakshi Gautam and had Gulzar as the consultant. The comics ran parallel to the world of Batman, Superman and Laurel and Hardy comics that were an urban audience’s delight.

The Amitabh Bachchan comics depicted him as a mere actor in daylight who would turn into ‘Supremo’ at night — after dressing up in a costume that would not give away his dignity — and save the world. Every edition included an introductory note by Big B himself, addressed to young readers: “Don’t tell anyone I’m Supremo!” Bachchan’s signature followed. And these comics weren’t made for just the educated, English-speaking readers — Kisse Amitabh Ke, the Hindi version, was popular too.


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Superhero charm at home

Young Indian readers have grown up with Tinkle as their go-to comic books; older superhero comics like Marvel, DC, and Big Hero have now turned into movies. But besides Batman, Superman, and Phantom, for India in the ’80s, Amitabh Bachchan as ‘Supremo’ had his own charm.

The idea occurred to Pammi Bakshi when she overheard a bunch of kids playing a superhero game. While most of them wanted to be either Batman or Superman, one decided to pitch Amitabh Bachchan. A fight broke out — everyone wanted to be the legendary Indian actor. Bakshi, who then was working with Movie Mag under IBH (India Book House), realised that ‘Big B’ held a strong hold on Indian audiences — the publishing house gave her a green signal without delay.

They chose the name ‘Supremo’ — something actor Randhir Kapoor would use to refer to Amitabh Bachchan on the set of Pukaar (1983). With Gulzar as consultant and scriptwriter, actress Sudha Chopra, and Pratap Mullick of Amar Chitra Katha as an illustrator, The Adventures of Amitabh Bachchan came into the market.

These comic books were sold between 1983 and 1984 and had about 10 brilliant issues that some people loved even more than Big B’s movies.


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Making it more real

To bring the comic book universe closer to Amitabh Bachchan, Bakshi Gautam and Gulzar even featured two of his most-loved characters from his movies — Vijay and Anthony. The very intelligent falcon, Alla Rakha from Coolie (1983) would inform him of any looming threat, and after dealing with that, the superhero would return as a normal actor on set. He was shown to be working with two prominent directors, Prakash Mehra and Manmohan Desai, who released some of Big B’s superhits, including Jaadugar (1989) and Amar Akbar Anthony (1977).

The Adventures of Amitabh Bachchan may have gotten lost somewhere in the big Bollywood world, but it makes sense why Big B was chosen as Supremo. The actor has always had a broody, mysterious aura. During the ’80s, Bollywood protagonists were either upfront macho heroes in action-packed movies or hopelessly in love with their partners, barely showing more sides to their personalities. Mithun Chakraborty and Dharmendra fit those moulds.

But Amitabh Bachchan was different — he was the perfect combination of muscle and method. Both in real and reel life, he was headstrong and starkly different. He knew how to punch the life out of a villain and could hum the perfect song to woo his lady love with equal finesse. On a lighter note, he loved peanuts and music. His adventures in the comics ranged from saving people from an extra-terrestrial attack to stopping a child trafficking racket and even discovering the hidden, high-tech city of Atlantis. The only thing the comics didn’t have was Big B with a wraparound on his head, singing, “khaike paan Banaras wala”.

Maybe an entire generation of the audience is waiting to see Big B in action again, fighting off the evil and saving all of us, if not literally from danger, then at least from the banal boredom of life by keeping us hooked to his movies or comics and entertaining us.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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