Dara Singh was India's very own superman. He fought robots and King Kong, was Alexander and landed on the moon before Neil Armstrong.
When Dara Singh went to the moon
Mumbai - 20 Apr 2016 19:05 IST
Updated : 22 Jul 2019 15:36 IST
In 1958, NASA launched Project Mercury, the first step to US President John F Kennedy's national goal of 'landing a man on the Moon'. It was one of the most ambitious projects attempted by humanity. So ambitious, in fact, that it crossed the boundaries of human endeavour and entered the realms of science fiction. Films had already aimed for the moon, and found it. In India, a formidable director of fantasies, TR Sundaram, found himself trifling with the script of a moon landing. The only man who could have carried out such a mission from India was its superhuman son, Dara Singh.
TR Sundaram's Trip To Moon (1967) is a campy space adventure that competes for the title of being India's first sci-fi film. With a star cast of Dara Singh, Bhagwan Dada, Anwar Hussain, and Helen (in a dance number on the moon), it was quite a project.
In many ways, the film is a symbol of India's inability to tap into the genre of science fiction. In 1967, Satyajit Ray wrote the script of his famous story, 'Bankubabur Bandhu' (Banku Babu's Friend), about an alien who befriends a human on earth. Columbia Pictures fiddled with the script for a while before losing interest, and it eventually found itself ingrained in the imagination of a certain Steven Spielberg, almost two decades later.
This was also the time that Stanley Kubrick was filming his magnum opus on space travel, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Meanwhile, India had not even begun its space programme. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was only established in 1969. Hindi cinema was too engrossed in human stories to look beyond the frontiers of Earth. Some of the big films that released that year were Patthar Ke Sanam, Upkar, Milan, An Evening in Paris and Bahu Begum. To imagine a plot set on the moon was ambitious, to say the least.
Sadly, the failing appears to be endemic to Hindi cinema. There have been few good, or accurate, attempts at science fiction in the industry. Films like Koi Mil Gaya (2003), Joker (2012), and PK (2014) are symptomatic of the perpetual focus on drama and emotion, even in science fiction. It is hardly surprising then, that TR Sundaram's Trip To Moon was plagued with the same ills of a camp classic.
The opening credits with their stunning visuals of rocket launches (some of them are actual NASA feeds) catch your attention. The plot revolves around the disappearance of a scientist, leading to the hero being sent on a space recovery mission. On the moon, the hero fights the villains and robots and wins the heart of a princess.
Most of the props and costumes of the film are straight out of a forgotten Flash Gordon film. The film has not even a coincidental connection to science. But then, a Dara Singh film was never about reality. The only actor who came closest to the myth of 'Superman', Dara Singh was worshipped by the masses. From battling elephants to King Kong and dinosaurs, he could do everything. His maiden trip to the moon attracted little attention as compared to his hand-to-hand combat with a space gorilla, a robot and the boss villain himself. The lack of logic in the film was compensated by the high drama and adventure of its plots.
In 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo 11 pod to become the first man on the moon. His landing put an end to any theory about 'men in the moon'. But in some corner of the vast cyberspace, Dara Singh continues to battle villains in space to win the heart of the moon princess.