Malegaon Ka Superman fought tobacco on screen, is losing battle in real life

Hollow-cheeked and skinny, factory worker Shaikh Shafique vowed to end the tobacco menace in Malegaon ka Superman, which was screened at IFFI in Goa last December. Shafique, 23, is in an advanced stage of tongue cancer, and he is praying he can survive long enough to see the film, set for release in Malegaon on the occasion of Bakri Id.

Shafique got addicted to gutkha when he was barely eight. Submucous fibrosis made it difficult to open his mouth. By the time he was 19, he could barely open it one centimetre. His mouth became very sensitive to heat, cold and spices and he had trouble eating solid food, his wife Jameela, 21, told The Indian Express from Malegaon.

Although Shafique’s health continued to deteriorate, he was so addicted to gutkha that he could never give it up, recalls Shaikh Nasir, the director of Malegaon ka Superman in 2009. The low-budget spoof won awards at film festivals in Los Angeles, Prague, Italy and Pakistan in the last two years, he added.

Jameela, who has two daughters, one aged three years and the other two months, said Shafique used to chew 30-40 packets of gutka everyday. Today, he seeks assistance to buy expensive medicines. After surgery, Shafique struggled to speak and had to undergo radiotherapy that sapped his energy and good looks, said older brother Atiq, who, along with other family members, spends Rs 1,500-2000 everyday on medicines.

For Shafique, lying on his bed with a deep hollow in his neck and mouth, speaking is an ordeal. In the film, the Superman’s father tells him to “Save Malegaon” and the hero does several things right, like taking babies to hospital for anti-polio drops.

“There is a shot in the film where someone chewing tobacco accidentally spits on him and he decides to end the menace. During the shooting too, we had urged him to give up the addiction,” the director said.

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