By Manik Sharma Mar. 26, 2021
Anand Gandhi’s OK Computer is an example of a series that had too many good ideas on the table at the start to let go of any one. Is it a sci-fi drama, a parody, a satire on the present, or a vanity project, masquerading as concept-level induction for dummies like myself? To me, it felt like everything and eventually nothing.
Pheww. Where to even begin? OK Computer is a six-episode series incorrectly billed as India’s first sci-fi comedy. It is also a six-episode hallucinatory romp through the Disneyland of morphing genres that’ll leave you thrilled, dizzy, and baffled at the same time. On paper Hotstar’s OK Computer is set in 2031 Goa, where robots (not rowdy north Indians mind you) have somehow become ubiquitous to the point of being everywhere. Holograms flash in the sky when a light-and-sound show postures as the city of the future. “Bhavishya mein aap ka swagat hai,” a voice announces. It’s all haywire from this point forward. From the stable of the unpredictable yet dependable Anand Gandhi, this series is one coked-up idea after the other, unrestrained by concern for tonality or consistency. As far as farces go, OK Computer is one of the most intriguing ones you’ll see in a long long time.
Written and directed by Pooja Shetty and Neil Pagedar, the series begins at the site of a murder, where a self-driven car has allegedly killed a human. Saajan, played by the committed Vijay Varma, is tasked with the investigation. Saajan’s cynical worldview, his belief that robots aren’t all good, is countered by the pro-robot Laxmi (Radhika Apte). I’m not sure if the two were given the same cue for their dialogues, but for some reason their exchanges are shouting matches, debating everything from the ethics of robotic intelligence to human narcissism. Saajan’s contemptuous slow-motion of being perennially frustrated is never really explained and it wears you down soon enough. As the investigation meanders every which way, the series introduces as many tangential concepts and ideas as it could possibly imagine. There is rampant political critique of the times the series is set in, with enough suggestions that while India may evolve technologically, our anxieties will remain as primitive as they are today.
For unexplained or unjustified reasons, the actors break the fourth wall mid-way to segue into a mockumentary format. It could have been a useful tool to feed the notion of an imagined future to unsuspecting watchers, but the placement is so inopportune it comes across as gimmicky. Not too long ago in an interview Nawazuddin Siddiqui said, “Our cinema is verbose.” Neither character in OK Computer, big or small, is hunkered down to a pause. At one point, you feel bad for the largely silent robots, who better evade sentience for the risk of entertaining some of the mind-boggling conversations humans are having in front of them. Nobody, literally no one, talks straight or gets to their point. Every line seems burdened by the necessity to pass on a witticism or a commentary of some sort. “Woh mere lips padh rahi hai, this is a violation of privacy,” Saajan says at one point. You get the kookiness the writers are going for here but come on, really?
OK Computer wants to punch above a bar that has really not been defined in the Indian context.
There are so many baffling creative choices in this series, it will make you want to sit next to the ocean for a site of clear vision as relief. The robots speak in weird voices, all of them a drugged version of Rosesh from Sarabhai vs Sarabhai. The holograms, niftily pulled off by the graphics team are wasted as nuisance value, their presence as auspicial as it is imprecise. Some narrative choices like the unbearable backstory of a perceptive robot, his awkward investigation, though creative, are awfully stretched. At some point, the robot chooses to become a stand-up comedian perhaps as a topical jibe at the state of comedy in this country. But by the time Jackie Shroff appears in a series-stealing cameo, a confetti of half-assed ideas have been blown in your face and you are left trying to wipe your memory clean in order to appreciate the simpler things we know about filmmaking – acting and directing.
OK Computer is an example of a series that had too many good ideas on the table at the start to let go of any one. It also comes across as a show that was built unrestricted by the gaze of an outsider, a layman who could have offered valuable insight after he had picked up his jaw from the floor. Is it a sci-fi drama, a parody, a satire on the present or a vanity project, masquerading as concept-level induction for dummies like myself? To me, it felt like everything and eventually nothing. There are some creative flourishes that hint at what this series could have been had the makers pinned down a tone. A robot-making corporation, in one scene, enlists a human to literally moan the death of the victim at a press conference. It’s a Black Mirror kind of moment but it’s happening in a Charlie Kaufman/Airplane kind of world.
Certain incoherent pieces of cinema become cult because they remain true to their inaccessibility. OK Computer wants to punch above a bar that has really not been defined in the Indian context. In doing so, it neither knows if it should give us science or sarcasm, story or commentary, characters or plot. Invariably, it muddles everything up, ending up as an avalanche of half-baked eggs that the creators give up on flipping, so convinced they are that the goofiness will alone pardon their incoherence. To which effect, the abstract, almost absurdist tone of the series may itself be the perfect metaphor for the future where language and personality all cease to make sense. Even in that case, it’s a future we will take some time getting to, as this series is a taste that will take some acquiring, at least in the present.
Manik Sharma writes on Arts and Culture.
He tweets at @Manik1Sharma