Parle-G and Shaktimaan
A nostalgic recollection about the 90s that saw the dawn of the Superhero era in Indian Television
Last weekend, I went to the supermarket and a huge pack of Parle-G caught my attention. It kindled so many childhood memories. The pack of biscuits reminded me of my favorite superhero, Shaktimaan.
For those who didn’t recognize both the names, you will, by the end of this post.
As a kid, I had very limited choices when it came to TV programs. My friends who had cable TV connection had Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. But, for others like me, it was just Doordarshan, the government TV channel that telecasted kids programs only during weekends. ( The government was concerned about our studies.)
On weekdays, a bunch of old people would play Sitar or Shenoy or sing their lungs out in the name of the Hindustani music that will fill the whole living room with melancholy.
This is when I came to know about a new TV series that was going to be aired on Saturdays. It was India’s first superhero series, Shakthimaan. Our country’s answer to Marvel and DC Universe.
They aired the show every Saturday from 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM.
But for me, there was a problem. I had school on Saturdays till 12:30 PM.
That did not put me down. Shaktimaan was the first and only series that helped me put my athletic skills in action. I usually run home after school before the end of the title credits. And, most of the time I was able to do it. Shaktimaan in a way contributed to my fitness.
Mukesh Khanna, a Hindi actor who played Bheeshma in the Mahabharata series played the role of Shakthimaan.
The series started with yogis and rishis in the Himalayas transferring the universe’s energy into another yogi, making him Shaktimaan.
The word “maan” refers to the “possessor of” and the word “shakthi” means “power.”
So after the transfer of the universal energy, Shaktimaan gets ready to go to earth. He wore a flashy new maroon suit with golden boots, belt, and anklets. On his chest was a golden chakra denoting that he got his power from yogis, or so I thought.
His superpowers include: Moving from one place to another by spinning himself (Yeah! You heard that right! He can move from one place to another when he moves he would look like a moving tornado of red and gold), super strength, flight (if he felt too giddy from all the spinning), shoot laser from the eyes, blow powerful air, withstand fire, hear distant conversations, etc.
He was the total package deal.
His mission is to save everyone from Thamraj kilvish, the dark lord whose aim is to spread darkness on earth. The villain looked more like the Grim Reaper’s cloak. Most of the episodes showed just the cloak with a voice coming from it and not the actor. (Cost-cutting, I guess)
After coming to earth, shaktimaan realizes that he can’t roam around in his flashy maroon suit. (A color scheme similar to iron man.)
So, he disguises himself as Pandit Gangadhar Vidyadhar Mayadhar Omkarnath Sashtri and he joins a newspaper office as a photographer. (On your face superman!)
And the chief editor pairs himself with the leading female reporter Geetha Biswas (Indian Louis Lane!)
And what was the disguise? A grey coat, a pair of glasses, and all the hair combed in such a way that it fell on the forehead covering the top rim of his eyeglasses.
And, in the case of emergencies, he didn’t even have to tear off the shirt to show the logo like Superman. He’ll simply have to spin off the old clothes and get on into his suit.
The series was exciting as it had bits and pieces from superman, star wars (yeah! Which was later spun off into an entire space opera series called ‘Aaryamaan’), spiderman, Indiana Jones (a scene from ‘The Raiders of the lost ark’ was actually ripped off) and several other movies and comic books. The production house had put so much effort in making the series. Each episode rough cost 10 lakh rupees, of which 2 lakh was spent on special effects (which was a humongous amount of money in the 90s).
It was exciting and it didn’t make me miss much of the other series on cartoon network. I was getting all the excitement in one series.
Now, you might wonder what is that have to do with Parle-G?
For those who don’t know Parle-G, Parle is a brand that makes biscuits and Parle-G is the brand of Glucose biscuits they have been selling, for god knows how long.
The biscuit will usually come in small packs, with a baby’s photo on top of it. The pack is always priced at Rs.3.
Even now, you can get a pack of Parle-G for Rs.3. It’s been more than twenty years and the price of the biscuit is still the same. I don’t know how they do it!
Parle-G sponsored the show right from its first episode.
When Shaktimaan became popular (so popular that a kid in Delhi or somewhere actually jumped from a rooftop thinking Shaktimaan would save him.) Parle wanted to make use of the opportunity.
They introduced an offer where, if you buy two packs of Parle-G you will get a Shakthimaan sticker.
The stickers came in three variants: One with Shaktimaan with his hands on the hip; Another one where he fights the electric man (like the one from Amazing Spiderman 2) and I honestly do not remember the third one.
For the next couple of weeks, I ate Parle-G biscuits three times a day and had had multiple copies of the same sticker. Even though it all looked the same, I never got bored.
I had a sticker notebook, where I used to paste all the stickers that I’ve collected as a kid. I’ve dedicated a section for Shaktimaan.
I’ve also collected other Shaktimaan stickers from a stationery shop nearby. It was one of the best times of my childhood.
What happened to Shaktimaan?
I don’t really know. I think they ended it abruptly or I might’ve missed the epic ending. They discontinued the series and launched the Star Wars-like space opera series “Aaryamaan”, which was also discontinued after a few episodes due to huge production costs.
Recently there have been talks about bringing the series back, but I don’t know how far it is true. But, all the episodes of the old series is now available on Amazon Prime.
Even now, every time I see Parle-G packs in a supermarket, my mind would think of times where I madly ran home to catch the title song and eat as many packs of biscuits to get multiple copies of the same stickers.
From the archives: Originally published on Medium in 2016.