Jun 23, 2017

Meet (once again) sky warrior Captain Vyom: The first Made in India on-screen sci-fi superhero

Captain Vyom, the 1998 sci-fi space opera series, is back digitally remastered and restored the WOW TEENZ youtube channel.

BYGautham Shenoy

It may be hard to believe now – going by the quality of the current programming on Indian television – that Indian TV serials were once good, and many great. Perhaps as hard as it is to believe that the M in MTV stands for Music. But both of these facts are in fact, true.
Most, if not almost all, of those good programmes came from the channel that gets a lot of grief today, the national broadcaster Doordarshan. And, at a time when sci-fi was not as mainstream as it is today, DD gave us TV shows such as Indradhanush (The Rainbow) and the Star Trek-inspired Space City Sigma in the late 80s. But the one show that stands heads and shoulders above the rest is Captain Vyom, the 1998 sci-fi space opera series that gave us India’s first bonafide onscreen superhero (sorry Krrish) that has since gone on to attain cult status with many a 30-something bonding over their shared love for the series.

And, at a time when sci-fi was not as mainstream as it is today, DD gave us TV shows such as Indradhanush (The Rainbow) and the Star Trek-inspired Space City Sigma in the late 80s  

I know nostalgia is in, but Captain Vyom goes beyond that. As far as the premise and the story goes, it still feels fresh and original once you get past the animation and the costumes that look slightly dated and kitschy respectively. But put in its proper context, Captain Vyom was as good as Indian animation could get in those days, the costumes excusable. And, as I mentioned, it was the story that was the main draw and kept those of my generation looking forward to the next episode in outer space. It deserves a rewatch — or a watch if you haven’t seen it — for more than just nostalgic reasons, and for the landmark of Indian sci-fi that it is.

The one show that stands heads and shoulders above the rest is Captain Vyom, the 1998 sci-fi space opera series that gave us India’s first bonafide onscreen superhero that has since gone on to attain cult status  

Created, written and directed by Ketan Mehta, who most recently gave us the movie Maanjhi, the Mountain Man starring Milind Soman as the titular hero, along with a host of other big names and actors including Tom Alter, Rahul Bose, Kartika Rane, Madhu Sapre (the lady Milind Soman so famously posed dressed in a python with), Netra Raghuraman, Dino Morea and others. Captain Vyom is all about a good story, well told and in a fast-paced manner with hardly any time wasted in its 54 episodes, each of which is just about 20 minutes. If you noticed the present tense in the previous sentence, well spotted! We’ll get to that in a bit.
The creator and director of Captain Vyom, Ketan Mehta, on set with some of the cast and crew of the series. Via: Captain Vyom Facebook Page

It’s the early 22nd century and humankind is spread all over the solar system that consists of 11 planets — it’s sci(ence) and fi(ction) after all! Earth is governed by a Vishwa Sarkaar (world government) with its capital in Delhi, whose lingua franca is obviously, Hindi, and headed by a Vishwa Pramukh (world president, played by Tom Alter).
Enter Lieutenant Maya, who is to be the newest jailor of the solar system’s most advanced maximum security prison On Lo, which houses 12 of the most dangerous criminals aka supervillains who used to be great scientists before they crossed over to the dark side. They comprise a rogue’s gallery that includes a cyborg, a shape-shifter, a man who can travel through space and time, another who can control gravity and yet another who can transmute matter. Each with names that’d make any self-respecting supervillain proud — like Morpho, Kineto, Sonic, Gravito, Chornos and even Mohini (the hypnotist), Chalasur (the illusionist) and other such.
The supervillains of Captain Vyom in suspended animation in their respective cells before they escape. Screenshot via: Wow Teens on Youtube

But just as Maya’s about to take command, all the supervillains escape. With the peace of the galaxy and the lives of all its inhabitants under threat — a perfect setting for a superhero — the daredevil Captain Vyom is tasked by the world president with the job of capturing and/or neutralising these scientists-turned-criminals. Even a superhero needs a team, so Captain Vyom puts together a motley crew that includes a medic, and engineer, a fellow soldier, a pilot, Lieutenant Maya (of course!) and even a humanoid android, SYD-E. Together Captain Vyom and his team have a lot of adventures and misadventures as they go about their mission. They meet different people (one of who Vyom falls in love with and who becomes key to their mission) and aliens in different worlds, across time and space.
Left: Captain Vyom and his team just before they embark on their mission to re-capture the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals. Right: Tom Alter as Vishwa Pramukh (world president); Screenshot via: Wow Teens on Youtube

But the series is more than just about how they go about seeking and destroying the threats to the galaxy. There is also a very interesting sub-plot about Captain Vyom’s origin itself. All in all, good fun.
ALSO READ:  Science and fiction meet in India: The scientifiction of Jayant Narlikar
Now the bit about the present tense. If I’d written about Captain Vyom last year, there’d have been no way for anyone to watch it. And we’d still have been talking about it in the past tense. But thanks to Ketan Mehta and the animation studio, Cosmos Maya, all the episodes of Captain Vyom — digitally remastered and restored — are now available for 90s kids to rewatch, and for a whole new audience to discover it, on the WOW TEENZ youtube channel. The bonus this time around is (given the shuddh Hindi used in the original series) that it’s available with subtitles in (pretty decent) English. Here’s the first episode of Captain Vyom:
Go ahead, enjoy watching Captain Vyom. And share your feedback and suggestions, your Captain Vyom stories and memories in the comment section below, tweeting with #NWWonFD or on the FactorDaily Facebook page.
I hope to see you meet you here again seven days from now for yet another edition — the 52nd next week — of New Worlds Weekly. Live Long and Prosper!

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Gautham Shenoy is a writer of FactorDaily.