Every year or so there’s talk of reviving Shaktimaan or Captain Vyom, those two great post-liberalisation clunkers that we as a nation have erased from our collective memories. And there’s a reason for the erasure.
Shaktimaan was a cultural epidemic in the 1990s and 2000s. One of the only memories (retrospectively, a traumatic one) I have of it, is of being a wee kindergartener who wanted to be Shaktimaan in a fancy-dress competition. But since everyone else did too, I was made to dress as his comparatively lame, photojournalist alter-ego Pandit Gangadhar Mayadhar Omkarnath Shastri.
This was hardly the biggest trauma anyone associated with the show though. There was much hand-wringing and pearl clutching over children setting themselves on fire or leaping off their balconies hoping Shaktimaan would save them. It got to a point where the show’s Mukesh Khanna had to ask viewers not to imitate any of the stunts.
Recently, I went back to watch as much of the show’s 500 episodes as I could to take, to see if it held up. I made it to 101, and honestly, if a show’s popularity doesn’t make sense by then, most likely it never will.
Mild-mannered Pandit Gangadhar Mayadhar Omkarnath Shastri is a photographer for Aaj Ki Aawaz. Shaktimaan himself is a superhuman with undefined powers (they seem to be whatever the episodes requires in that moment) gained through yoga (no, really!), who has been taught to energise the seven chakras of his body by a mysterious sect of rishis.
Shaktimaan’s arch nemesis is Tamraj Kilvish, but he is also generally on the lookout for evil and greed. And fake news. Morality play and tin pot production levels aside, the show puts up some cutting edge views on journalism that I really didn’t expect. There’s a whole subplot about paid media back in 1997 that should have warned us. In the second episode, the editor of Dhamaka newspaper is caught in a bind due to an expose by reporter Gita Vishwas—a name worthy of conducting a Cobrapost sting. (Aside: How much influence did Shaktimaan have on Cobrapost editor Aniruddha Bahal’s comic series?)
Gita is the only reporter worth a damn (and the only full-fledged female character) in the show, which takes place 5000 years after the Mahabharata. (IRL, Khanna had just played Bhishma Pitamah in the BR Mahabharata when he took on Shaktimaan.) Gita is fired and joins Aaj Ki Awaaz, with Pandit Gangadhar as a colleague, and Shaktimaan as her beat. The future is still a man’s world, after all.
At Aaj Ki Awaaz, editor Satya Prakash Nirala has the kind of romantic notion about his field that could only exist in the days before digital media. He’ll never publish a story without merit for the sake of content—the one time he does, he gets beaten up for it.
Before I rewatched it, all I remember about the show, besides my shitty costume, was the sound Shaktimaan made when spinning around: something like “fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck.” Or Tamraj Kilvish’s motto “ Andhera kayam rahey”—“Darkness prevails”. With journalistic integrity in such short supply these days, he might have won after all.