Just another superhero

Just another superhero

All the rest of us, however, are likely to find the book nothing new. We’ve seen it all in various forms — comics, movies, TV shows. It’s a novelisation of the same weary concepts. It’s not even possible to say that the concept is new to India because it’s been done by the likes of Raj Comics and Shaktimaan ages ago. The only new thing is that it’s book-length fiction.

The story follows Arnab Banerjee, a geeky assistant librarian, who gets hit on the head one day during a bank robbery. He finds that the blow unlocks super strength, night vision, super fast reflexes and a couple of other powers in him, and he is driven to fix the wrongs he sees around him while hiding his true identity. As he becomes famous, people try to take advantage of him and Arnab must maintain his self-respect and independence. If Herogiri had been a comic, this would have been a whole year’s worth of issues. But the novel form lets Dhar create more closely interlinked plots, and potentially use the written word better.

But does he? The vocabulary and writing are certainly competent, with very little of the “Indian English” that plagues IWE these days. But since much of the book’s content is action-oriented, it required a certain zing to the pacing, which is missing. Twists are introduced with sentences like “Then something truly astonishing happened. […] What was happening to him? It was becoming increasingly clear to him that whatever had happened on the bus was no fluke.”

The story moves at the same stately speed, whether it describes two people talking, or a fight happening. So there’s very little advantage taken of the writing scope afforded by a novel form. There’s also no deep exploration of the characters themselves. Arnab is a goody-two-shoes, who reads biographies for inspiration, would never look at a girl the wrong way, and who lives by himself. There are no surprises about him anywhere in the story.

The villains are more interesting, and adapted to the current day — corrupt policemen, politicians, eve-teasers. Similarly, the plots that Arnab foils are inspired by true news headlines and the way some of these unfold is genuinely interesting. There’s a fake ‘serial killer’, several eve-teasing goons, booth-capturing and terrorist bombs. But the final sequence is not as large in scale when compared to the smaller skirmishes Arnab gets into, and so, is a bit of a letdown. A superhero story after all requires an over-the-top villain in the climax. One does wonder why there aren’t any other heroes or supervillains in the story, if getting hit on the head is all it takes to acquire powers.
The supporting characters are all stereotypical — Khan chacha, the ex-soldier who trains Arnab, Mishti — the glamourous heroine who can see Arnab’s pure heart, Jayanta da — the older mentor who never suspects his double identity. All in all, there’s not much to recommend this book, unless you’re a beginner reader and are missing the comics of your childhood.