The year is 2220. A meteor has crashed into one of Jupiter’s moons that is home to a high-security prison that holds 12 criminals. The criminals are at large and the universe is in danger. There is only one possible saviour — Captain Vyom.
At a time when the genre of Indian sci-fi was, well, an alien concept, director Ketan Mehta’s show Captain Vyom made it cool, educational, and accessible. And now, more than 20 years since its release, the show is still so cherished that it will soon be adapted into a five-part web series and a five-part movie.
Aired in 1998 on Doordarshan, the show documented the journey of Captain Vyom aka the Warrior of the Sky, played by none other than everyone’s favourite ‘made-in-India’ man, Milind Soman. It also featured well-known actors and models such as Tom Alter, Rahul Bose, Madhu Sapre, Dino Morea and Nethra Raghuraman.
But Soman’s popularity wasn’t the only thing that helped the show become a hit. Unlike many Indian TV serials that would run endlessly and spin off into countless dramatic subplots, Captain Vyom’s storyline was crisp, engaging and only lasted 54 episodes, each of which was around 20 minutes long.
Despite this, the show wasn’t an easy one to create. The special effects and animation used in the show had never been seen before on an Indian television, and they came at a price. The serial cost three times more than average production. But Ketan Mehta had promised that the show would be “exceptional” and that is what we got.
A treat for India’s Trekkies and Star Wars fans
The genesis of the show actually lay in Bollywood. Ketan Mehta had attempted to use certain visual effects in the climax of Maya Memsaab, his 1993 film starring Shah Rukh Khan and Deepa Sahi. Mehta recalled, “I tried to pull off that scene, but was never satisfied. The right technology just wasn’t available in India. The special effects were still being done in a very mechanical way. I realised that something had to change.”
And so the germ of an idea was born and five years later, Captain Vyom beamed his way into Indian living rooms.
Coimbatore-based Suresh Natarajan tells ThePrint, “I grew up in a village and we didn’t have access to other TV channels, only DD. So, we weren’t exposed to things like Star Wars or Star Trek. Watching Captain Vyom, where people travelled to different planets, was so fascinating for me.”
The show can also be credited for spurring kids on to learning more about the universe. Chennai-based entrepreneur Aravindhan Anbazhagan recalls, “As a kid, I made it a point to visit many planetariums because I was so inspired by the show.”
If the audience loved it, so did its lead actor. In an interview, Milind Soman revealed his experience of working in a sci-fi superhero show: “I was always interested in working in this kind of a serial because I have been a fan of Star Trek. In fact, I had this dream of playing Batman. And Captain Vyom is quite close to that.”
A relatable superhero and cool villains
Setting aside the special effects, audiences liked that Captain Vyom wasn’t inaccessible as a superhero, that they could relate to his story and superpowers.
Anbazhagan explains, “Something that really struck a chord with me was that Captain Vyom got his superpowers through practising yoga. And that made the superhero very accessible to me. I thought practising yoga could turn any person into a superhero.”
Natarajan reminisces, “I liked the show because they created a balance. Captain Vyom wasn’t winning all the time and he had so many downfalls initially. That kept us on edge.”
The villains, too, had their own back stories and were intelligent beings, full of personality. There was Paras who was an alchemist, Mohini, a daring hypnotist, Chhalasur, who created illusions in air, Kineto, a psychic, Gravito, who could sway gravity according to his whims and fancies, Venom, the toxicologist and so many others, each of whom had something interesting to offer.
And now, Ketan Mehta, who won’t be directing them but will be creatively involved, is excited to take these much-loved characters and ideas to newer, younger, more demanding audiences.
“Captain Vyom was the first Indian sci-fi series and an entire generation of kids enjoyed it at that time. It was also India’s first encounter with space age. Now, with India getting into space, it is an incredible concept to be reinvented for the younger generations,” he said.