On science fiction in Indian cinema

The hugely-successful Tik Tik Tik is the latest addition to the small but significant canon of Indian science fiction movies

Though Tik Tik Tik brought up flashbacks of the super-fun 1981 P Bharathiraja thriller featuring Kamal Haasan as a photographer and Madhavi, Swapna and Radha as models, Shakti Soundar Rajan’s space actioner is engaging as well. The Jayam Ravi-starrer tells of an asteroid scheduled to hit the earth, a rag-tag team assembled to steal a nuke and blast the asteroid before it reaches earth. Any resemblance to Michael Bay’s Armageddon (1998) is coincidental.

On science fiction in Indian cinema

While the plot could have been tightened, and instead of a magician and escape artist it would have been more plausible if Jayam Ravi’s character had been a maverick astronaut, the Tamil blockbuster works as a masala film. That it doesn’t take itself too seriously is proved by putting the red/blue wire conundrum to rest. The special effects (made for a fraction of what it would cost in Hollywood) have set the template for future explorations to where no one has been before. It is like the grid for the liquid metal terminator from Judgement Day, the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, or the nightmare vision of Alien have been set up for others to build upon.

Ray of light

Science fiction in Indian cinema, while not as popular as rom-coms or musicals, has had a presence. Satyajit Ray wrote the script for a sci-fi film in the 60s based on his short story Bankubabur Bandhu, about an alien landing in Bengal and making friends with a boy. There are echoes of Ray’s script in Steven Spielberg’s ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Science fiction in Indian films is told through an Indian prism. As long as they have emotion, drama, comedy and nice songs, they work and resonate with the audience. Look at Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India (1987). With dialogue such as Mogambo khush hua, Sridevi’s ‘Hawa Hawaii’ and ‘Kaate Nahin Kat Te’, loads of laughs courtesy Calender (Satish Kaushik) and Annu Kapoor as the harried newspaper editor Gaitonde, Mr India was a blockbuster. The invisibility device in the form of a watch was the cherry on the cake.

On science fiction in Indian cinema

Back and forth

Kapur directed the ill-fated Time Machine in 1992. Inspired by the Back to the Future movies, it starred Aamir Khan as the hero, who goes back to the 60s to meet his parents, Naseeruddin Shah and Rekha. Vijay Anand played the inventor of the time machine. Unfortunately, the film was shelved due to financial trouble. Kapur has been talking about Paani, a futuristic look at water wars, for quite some time now. Aamir waited 22 years to star as the little, lost alien in Rajkumar Hirani’s PK (2014). The satire, which questioned dogma and superstitions through the innocent eyes of the alien, was a super success.

On science fiction in Indian cinema

Rakesh Roshan’s Koi… Mil Gaya (2003) featured an alien named Jaadoo who made a simple boy turn into a handsome hunk. The stunts were mind-blowing, CGI jaw-dropping and dances blisteringly choreographed. There were two sequels Krrish (2006) and Krrish 3 (2013).

Biting the hand…

Two superstars — Shah Rukh Khan and Rajinikanth — explored what would happen when machines became self-aware in Enthiran (2010) and Ra.One (2011). In S Shankar’s Enthiran, Rajinikanth plays a scientist, Vaseegaran, crossing swords with his android, Chitti, after it falls in love with Vaseegaran’s girlfriend Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and turns homicidal. Never mind the Oedipal subtext. The movie was famous for the elaborate song sequences and cutting-edge special effects.

On science fiction in Indian cinema

Directed by Anubhav Sinha, Ra.One has SRK play game designer Shekhar Subramaniam, whose creation, Ra.One, steps out of the game to hunt and kill Shekhar’s son, who is the only one to challenge it.

On science fiction in Indian cinema

Love all

There are some rom coms in the Indian sci fi space, mostly working around time travel. Nitya Mehra’s Baar Baar Dekho (2016) stars Sidharth Malhotra as a maths professor who realises the value of relationships only by travelling through time. Not particularly well-acted, (Katrina Kaif is shrill; Malhotra bemused), the film is notable for its futuristic gadgets. Like a Philip K Dick story, they aren’t outrageous; just slightly-skewed everyday objects.

Popular Indian cinema is all about escapism, so bleak dystopian futures have no place. The future is shiny as in Baar Baar Dekho and the unfortunate Love Story 2050 (2008), starring Harman Baweja and Priyanka Chopra. On the serious side, Manish Jha who wrote and directed Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women (2003), looked at a grim future as a result of female foeticide and infanticide.

Upcoming science fiction movies include Mangal Ho about life on Mars, Saaho, a thriller written and directed by Sujeeth, starring Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor, and psychological thriller Kee, written and directed by Kalees. Now for a saga with the width of Star Wars, the breadth of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe or the wonder of Star Trek.

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