It's a bird. It's a plane. It's ... the superhero monkey god?

While Bollywood stars often achieve a mythical status in film-crazy India, the star of India's first animated feature film is a genuine deity drawn from the Hindu pantheon.

Over the years India's burgeoning animation and special effects industry has cut its teeth working for foreign production houses - drawn to South Asia by lower costs - but "Hanuman" is the industry's first full-length, homegrown animated movie.

In promos being aired on Indian TV, Hanuman, wearing an orange loincloth, gold armlets and anklets, wields a mace as he battles fire-breathing dragons and ferocious demons in the 90-minute film.

"Hanuman is like a super superhero. We have tried to go beyond Superman," director V.G. Samant told The Associated Press. "Which superhero can leap up and touch the sun or move mountains with one hand?"

Samant studied Hindu scriptures for more than two years with some 60 animators and researchers to adapt them to celluloid for the movie, which was released Friday in India in Hindi and English versions.

His team had plenty of experience animating stories.

European, Australian and American production houses have for years sent detailed scripts to India to have local graphic artists and animators sketch, paint and digitalize the content.

A 26-minute animated episode costs $80,000 to $100,000 in India, compared to about $250,000 in the U.S., Samant said.

The size of India's animation production and special effects industry is estimated at about $666 million annually, and has grown at about 30 percent in the last few years, according to a March study by the trade group Confederation of Indian Industry.

But no Indian animated movies have been produced, and foreign animated hits have lagged behind Bollywood song-and-dance blockbusters at the box office in the South Asian country, said Komal Nata, who runs Film Information, a trade guide.

"Indians are not captivated by animation," said Nata. "But if Hanuman touches them, people may change."

That's what animators are hoping for in India.

Revered by India's Hindu majority, Hanuman is known for his wisdom, superhuman strength and loyalty to the god Rama. Like superheroes in Hollywood movies, Hanuman protects the weak. The plot follows the mythological story of the demon king Ravana who kidnaps Rama's wife, Sita. The hero sets out to find her, battling seven-headed snakes and confronting the 10-headed Ravana during the search.

In a bid to popularize the genre, the monkey god was selected to play the superhero because of his local and foreign appeal, said Sandeep Bhargav, chief operating officer of Sahara One Motion Pictures, which produced and distributed the film.

Bhargav said research showed Hanuman was well known in the Far East. "Hanuman may be a deity for Indians, but in China, Indonesia, Thailand, he's known as the monkey king," he said.

The English version will be released internationally later in the year, Bhargav said, particularly in countries that have large South Asian communities.

Creators said they wanted to draw on homegrown influences for the animated hero.

"Indian kids are so tuned in to Superman and Spiderman, they've forgotten superheroes in their own backyard," said Bhargav.

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