Doordarshan played to every kid’s wildest fantasies in the 1980s – a war of the worlds (Ramanyana, Mahabharata), paper boats and gully cricket (Malgudi Days) and glimpses of the first-world life enjoyed by affable American kids (Different Strokes). But none of these can recreate the magic of a precocious little boy and his 100 feet-high robot.
Giant Robot, a Japanese series dubbed in American English, exploded onto our television screens with sprays of bullets, flaming crucifixes and bombs that dropped all over the clay model sets like bird poop. Life for the average Indian kid was never the same since the day the earnest Johnny flipped open his wrist-watch to yell instructions to his robot. Toy watches flew off shop shelves and afternoon game time was often about talking to one’s wrist. Heck, the Robot friend was also handy to deal with neighbourhood bullies. “Robot, destroy them,” was the familiar war cry echoed at street corners and in parks.
Every week, there was a new monster that threatened humanity, and at the end of 20 minutes, it was always the awkward-looking Giant Robot who was summoned by Johnny to save the day.
Released in the United States of America as Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot , the show has a fantastic cult following even now, with its high degree of violence, monsters in colourful masks and fangs, and the antagonist in chief, Emperor Guillotine, who masterminds the attacks on the peacekeeping outpost Unicorn. The action in the series is strictly out of a story book – boiling oceans, trembling lighthouses and zombies and monsters that gobble up entire trains.
Giant Robot is a small-screen spin on the Japanese giant monster genre, which was fuelled by the success of the movie Gojira (as Godzilla is known in Japan) in 1954. Genre fan expert August Ramone explains the pull of the 26-part series that was syndicated the world over in the 1970s and ’80s: “It appeals directly to pre-adolescent boyhood fantasies. It’s a world where a ten-year old child is in charge, he’s involved in dangerous, life or death situations as a secret agent, and he wields the most powerful weapon in the world: Giant Robot!”
Johnny Sokko’s successful run inspired Anand Mahendroo to produce the first local science fiction series, Indradhanush. Featuring a talking computer assembled by a kid from an old typewriter, a black and white TV and a spool deck, the show is about clones and time travel. For some reason, young audiences appeared more favourably inclined towards the terribly dubbed and awfully filmed Japanese manga series than the local version. Shot in a bungalow in the Mumbai suburbs and the Juhu beach on occasion, the settings, situations and issues of Indradhanush were nothing like the out-of-this-world universe of Johnny and his gang.
Nonetheless, Indradhanush managed to hold its own, with a timeline going back to 1942 and into the future of 2013. If nothing else, watch it for the cast, including a chubby Karan Johar whose shirt changes several times in the same scene, a screechy Urmila Matondkar with a giant beehive on her head who plays a clone from the future, and Akshay Anand, who became a bit of a national crush with his baby face and striped shirts.
Nonetheless, Indradhanush managed to hold its own, with a timeline going back to 1942 and into the future of 2013. If nothing else, watch it for the cast, including a chubby Karan Johar whose shirt changes several times in the same scene, a screechy Urmila Matondkar with a giant beehive on her head who plays a clone from the future, and Akshay Anand, who became a bit of a national-level crush with his baby face and striped shirts.
Indradhanush paved the way for Space Station Sigma, a Star Trek knock-off. But the heart still belongs to that gun-wielding Japanese boy and his Giant Robot.