An Indian sci-fi series with nothing to say

OK Pc is a masterpiece. It’s a remarkably prescient treatise on time and expertise, a uniquely impressionistic temper piece. How startlingly it begins, the ambiance it creates, the way in which its phrases mislead and course-correct, and the way you’re left dazed and spent and endlessly modified. I can’t overlook the primary time I heard it. It was Radiohead’s third album, instantly separating these English rockers from all contemporaries. I may gratefully write a complete column on that devastatingly lovely tune No Surprises, about suicide and “a coronary heart that’s full up like a landfill”. Beautiful.

I’m, alas, not doing that right here, as OK Pc additionally occurs to be the identify for a brand new Indian web-series, streaming on Disney+ Hotstar. Created and directed by Pooja Shetty and Neil Pagedar, this bold try at homegrown science-fiction takes India a decade into the longer term to serve up a satirical murder-mystery that includes gender-neutral robots, big holographic policewomen, and a merrily bare Jackie Shroff. It’s the type of present we’ve by no means seen.

We might not have been lacking a lot.

The collection begins with a corpse. Within the 12 months 2031, a human has been killed by a self-driving taxicab, however automated automobiles — like all synthetic intelligence — are programmed to not hurt or disobey people, so who’s the assassin? The physique is mangled past recognition, so who’s the sufferer? Solutions are sought by a short-tempered AI-hating cop paired along with his ex, a robot-loving activist from an organisation referred to as PETER (Folks for the Moral Therapy of Each Robotic). He believes these damned machines would be the dying of us. She believes machines are incapable of malice.

The present has an incredible solid, and a handful of doubtless meaty concepts, like a robotic meant to save lots of humanity selecting to carry out stand-up comedy, and the member of a cult making her teenage daughter signal a nondisclosure settlement. What the collection doesn’t have is any tonal consciousness, with every second was one thing nonsensical, a street-play method to a science-fiction collection. Add to this an disagreeable visible aesthetic and an agonisingly shrill speaking robotic, and you’ve got six 40-minute episodes which really feel particularly designed to torture the viewer.

The principal plot of investigating a homicide dedicated by a self-driving automotive feels suspiciously near Amazon Prime collection Add, and OK Pc concocts a infantile thriller with — actually — two suspects. It feels much less like a whodunnit and extra like a spoof of a movie that doesn’t exist.

Absurdist comedy might be wondrous. Whereas this oddball collection most intently resembles Pankaj Parashar’s anything-goes stoner comedies of the Eighties — Peechha Karo and Ab Aayega Mazaa, the place spies and lovers ran literal circles round one another — these movies unabashedly celebrated silliness. This collection desperately needs us to consider it’s sensible. That makes it tedious. Every episode stretches endlessly, a disappointingly banal plot embellished by too many quirks, too many winks to the viewers, and, most crucially, too little real wit.

Visually, it wanted model. It’s a intelligent (and budget-friendly) transfer to develop a scruffy sci-fi aesthetic for India, a non-streamlined future in step with our technologically backward authorities places of work. The intentional shoddiness of future tech shouldn’t be the issue, however apart from a few thrives — a cop with a police-car model flasher on his shoulder, a Video Sport Fee constructing with a Tremendous Mario sort question-mark hologram over its doorway — the present seems to be largely unimaginative. It’s too boring to be memorable.

Vijay Varma is flat-out improbable as Saajan Kundu, the clueless officer skeptical about expertise, shifting with the awkwardness of a nerdy little one poured right into a tall man’s physique, seemingly uncertain how people work. He lives inside a fur-lined van, will get smacked within the face by toast, and eats a pineapple with wild gusto. Radhika Apte is a riot because the robot-sympathising Lakshmi Suri, with a Thunberg-ian backstory. “Do you want water?”, she coos lovingly to a robotic, and later kisses one other — formed like a big teddy bear — in an intimate, decidedly non-platonic method. It’s liberating to see the actress, solid so usually in tormented roles, right here embracing the lunacy.

The third protagonist is a robotic referred to as Ajeeb, one who was meant to save lots of us all — one who turned manure into water throughout a drought, and again into manure throughout a manure scarcity — and s/he seems like a damaged wind-up doll doing babytalk. That is so infuriating that I really modified the present’s language to Bengali for scenes the place Ajeeb talked rather a lot, merely to flee that godawful voice. Be aware to creators: There’s a purpose Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Information To The Galaxy (an apparent affect right here) is narrated by The Ebook, and never by Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Kani Kusruti shines as Monalisa Paul, an enthused policewoman caught between Laxmi’s ideology and Saajan’s seniority, an intern even in her personal fantasies. Jackie Shroff laughs that booming chortle as “anti-vaxxer, anti-robot” cult chief Pushpak Shakur, however regardless of his magnetism (and fixed nakedness), the actor tragically will get solely a dozen minutes of screentime. These actors deserved higher.

Good on Disney+ Hotstar, although. This present is made for such a small and particular venn-diagram — stoners inquisitive about science-fiction who might know Hitchhiker’s Information, however haven’t learn Kurt Vonnegut or Philip Ok Dick, or watched real sci-fi — that it feels weirdly thrilling OK Pc even exists. It opens a door even when it might not know the place to go.

By the point I made it to the final episode, like a hallucinating long-distance runner, OK Pc immediately appeared actual. As characters began feeling issues, and the barrage of one-liners halted to let in penalties, the present whirred to life. Briefly. Then a filmmaker confirmed as much as lecture us about mankind. Greater than something, OK Pc is responsible of the one unforgivable science-fiction sin: it provides no new perspective, perception or query. No Surprises.

Stream of Tales is a column on what to observe on-line. Raja Sen is a movie critic and the creator of The Finest Baker In The World (2017), a kids’s adaptation of The Godfather.

@rajasen

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