OK Computer cast: Vijay Varma, Radhika Apte and Jackie Shroff
OK Computer creators: Pooja Shetty and Neil Pagedar
OK Computer rating: 3 stars
With OK Computer, we finally have a homemade sci-fi show, and we can finally move beyond Mr India as the only respectable sci-fi reference from Bollywood and Indian pop culture, because, let’s face it, Tarzan the Wonder Car didn’t really cut it for us.
The latest offering from Disney+ Hotstar takes a minute to settle into, and even then, it’s an acquired taste. We enter India in 2031, and Artificial Intelligence and robots are all around us. From the office cleaners to crime scene technicians, they are all over — though wonder why are they so rotund.
human has been killed by a self-driving car, and the Panjim cyber cell has taken over the case. Inspector Saajan Kundu (Vijay Varma), who hates robots, is at the helm of affairs. That’s the primary case setup, and how he goes down the rabbit hole to solve the case makes up the six-episode season.
Aided by a team of quirky, well-detailed side characters, Kundu has to fight an uphill battle, as he struggles against red-tape, bureaucratic snafus and even AI. Kundu is reminiscent of all those super cops — whom we have seen in the zillion police-procedurals streaming everywhere — who march to the beat of their own drum, have anger issues and generally don’t get along with the normal janta. But he does have the persistence and the quirk factor to unravel a seemingly unsolvable case.
Let’s be honest, India has never really done well with science fiction. We don’t even have enough local literature and writing on the subject, even though we have millions who aspire to be doctors and engineers. And let’s not forget that we Indians have singlehandedly shaped Silicon Valley in the US. But when it comes to sci-fi as a genre, Bollywood has never really embraced it. OK Computer comes at a time when we had to incorporate technology in our lives, right from society WhatsApp groups to attending Zoom meetings for work. The show, is quirky, at times absurd, but it does raise very important questions, pertinent to our time today.
While inspector Kundu is on the case, he locks horns with Lakshmi (Radhika Apte), who is a PETER representative, a robot rights initiative. While they both are at loggerheads, they examine various conspiracy theories — whether the car was hacked, or if CNX, the giant tech conglomerate, was behind the murder. The role of Pushpak Sundar, an anti-robots, anti-vaccine, anti-gravity cult guru, is also inspected. We also meet Ajeeb, the master super robot that was made in 2012, who had the nation eating out of its hand, but who left everything to pursue comedy as a calling. The sci-fi comedy is dressed up as a whodunit, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek satire of contemporary phenomena.
There are digs on fake news, Greta Thunberg, Satyamev Jayate, climate change, Hindi imposition, faith, surveillance state and patriotism, but they are subtly packaged. It’s not in-your-face, chest thumping, make-a-point satire. OK Computer is like a piece of literature, you have to wait for it to reveal its smarter points.
A special mention for the quirk factor: a Malyali cop, whose mother made her sign an NDA at the age of 15 as she was part of a cult; an inspector who lives in his car with fur-lined seats in the heat of Goa; and a a DCP who whispers sweet nothings to Kundu in order to channels her anger and not bash in his head instead. The graphics could have been better though, given that now everyone in the world has access to Japanese anime and has seen Westworld.
The show is produced by Anand Gandhi, and he has dared to go where no one ventured earlier. But given his repertoire, Ship of Theseus, Tumbbad and the game Shasn, this was expected. The highly layered show is not for everyone, and even for those who like sci-fi, this would take some getting used to. But tide it out, as it is worth it.