If there was ever the sign of the apocalypse, know that I’d want to spend it watching a desi hippie-version of Jackie Shroff telling a Lego-like robot about how technology poisoned the world of its humanity. I’m practically there with ‘OK Computer,’ a Hotstar Original that might be the most frustrating six hours of your life. On paper, the show is wildly original, scathingly funny, and uniquely satirical, and you want to like it so much. But as the season progresses towards its finale, it is evident that the makers have bitten off a bit more than they can chew.
What is the story about?
In the not-so-distant future (seriously, it’s only the year 2031 and you will be shocked at the rate at which the Earth has just… lost all meaning), we reach a version of Goa that every foreigner would rather die than visit. It’s the era of flying cars, holograms, and mass depression. Saajan Kundu (Vijay Varma) reaches a crime scene where a self-driving car has just turned an unidentified victim into “pav bhaji.” He is aided by a junior investigator, the Siri-like Monalisa (Kani Kusruti). Since the crime has been supposedly committed by a robot, a representative of ‘PETER’ or 'People for the Ethical Treatment of Every Robot' has to be present to be part of the investigation. Enter Laxmi (Radhika Apte), a former adversary to Saajan, who handles the tech and is the only one to do so with respect and dignity for them too. Along with many other whimsical humans (and robots) at the local police station, Kundu attempts to solve the crime which may or may not involve the rogue messiah ‘Ajeeb,’ a robot created for the protection of humans who left his true calling to take up stand-up comedy.
‘OK Computer’ has a six-part debut season and the first episode starts off absolutely bonkers. At the onset, it’s a bit difficult to unpack the idea that just a decade into today’s future (especially as we know it in the middle of a pandemic), life would be such a colossal mess, not to mention completely reliant on the existence of Artificial Intelligence to the nth degree. Human beings live well past their natural death in the form of server-based holograms, but robots also enjoy independent living (albeit ruled by the four commandments of robotics). Still, it is a science-fiction show and the ‘bizarre’ can be easy to not just get by, but also adapt to after a while. The production design and writing team do a great job in setting up a world which if not cool is bleakly funny. It seems that the police station is being shot by a documentary filmmaker (cinema verite style ala ‘The Office’) and every member is being interviewed amidst the strange occurrences happening around. From here, every scene is a commentary on consumerism, environmental devastation, fake news, mental health, economic disparity, and other perils, amongst others. Robots talk like humans with a digital twang. Every human being suffers from a variety of mild to severe psychosis and Saajan, Laxmi and Monalisa are stuck being the maximum level of the voice of reason in the middle of this madness, but only to the extent that their present can allow. It takes some time to get into if it does become a thing you can get into at all, and the episode ends on an intriguing cliffhanger. Problems begin with episode 2 which introduces us to the aptly-named ‘Ajeeb,’ a robot who has been specially created basis a code that could save humanity from all evil. This episode takes the ‘gag’ quality of what was just a random dialogue or moment in the pilot to across the whole episode where almost twenty minutes of the episode feel like an extended sketch video. The murder investigation and the hunt for the culprit (who at this time is an unknown billionaire entity named ‘CMX’ who owns everything) are completely forgotten. The third episode brings us back to the core issue of the season, introducing a faux villain to throw the audience off, and then the fourth is spent in some odd virtual reality game for a chunk of it. There are many stylistic ideas that the makers have for a show that, at its base, is ‘sci-fi’ and somewhere along the way, the ideas are all a mish-mash and the show comes across as more overindulgent mess than a consistent comedy/satire.
To be fair, ‘OK Computer’ is a significant upgrade from Joey Tribbiani’s failed pilot of ‘Mac and CHEESE’ on Friends where a dumb cop and wise-cracking robot solve crimes together. There is a lot of attention to detail. Every human in this universe is supremely intelligent and every robot is unassuming and naive. Avoiding spoilers, I’ll admit that I was touched by the idea of the season finale, one which unoriginally hints at robots bearing the brunt of human vices, and there are some genuinely surprising plot twists. There are small moments of genius to the writing, perhaps in a nugget of dialogue, or in a banter-match between Saajan and the DCP played by Vibha Sarraf. But these odd and fantastic moments don’t come together cohesively. The screenplay and tone of the show make these larger, more relevant points seem tedious. It’s as if the writer’s room was filled with people with many crazy, wacky ideas, and no one to shoot a single one of those ideas down.
‘OK Computer’ is extremely well cast as an ensemble. Vijay Varma is the post-modern nutty professor who loses his shit at the drop of a hat, and believes in bending the rules. Radhika Apte plays the ethical foil who will protect the AI at all costs and plays for that team. Malayalam actress Kani Kusruti makes a solid Hindi series debut with the show, and honestly, I could do with an odd little spin-off on Monalisa Paul, whose life looms under the shadows of her mother’s involvement in an extremist group called Jigyasu Jagriti Manch whose agenda is to incite violence against technology. There is, of course, a fantastic cameo by Jackie Shroff as the head of the JJM, Pushpak Shakur, a nudist hippie who spouts philosophy (much like the retreat of my dreams). Rasika Dugal makes an appearance as the creator of ‘Ajeeb,’ a hypochondriacal Satoshi Mondal. And finally, the main supervillain appears, and trust me, you aren’t ready for that cameo.
Music & Other Departments
Oscar winner Resul Pookutty works the interesting sound design for the show (along with Arunav Dutta). The production design by Gauri Tiwari and Prasun Basu is painstakingly intricate. The dialogues by co-director Neil Padegar are excellent. But the overall writing is choppy and the show doesn’t really come across as bitingly funny because it’s not zippy in pacing. Each episode is timed at around 40 minutes when it could have at least been cut by ten to fifteen minutes.
‘OK Computer’ is a bunch of great ideas, whether in casting, or in set design, or in concept, or in dialogue, but they are extremely hit or miss too. It is, of course, a remarkable achievement of thought (and to some extent, budget) to be India’s first sci-fi dramedy for a show. There is something to say about the non-fictional fictional world created by the showrunners even though it seems a bit off by timeline, and simply delving into the first episode won’t seem a waste of time if you find the premise interesting.
But this isn’t the tone and narrative that the writers seem to keep through the season. Perhaps if the element of the documentary, sketch-gags, or interspersing new technology like animation or virtual reality was consistently thrown in across all episodes, you’d still buy the strange cocktail of techniques that this sci-fi world inhabits. Considering there are two separate episodes that are dedicated to their own things, it’s difficult to care about the main plot of the show by the time the season is ending. More than anything, the crime itself, the one that draws you in, isn’t all that interesting. A random person gets killed by a machine and the person isn’t even identified for the longest time. Why should I care if all the annoying mouse-voiced robots in the world are being summoned for this crime? ‘OK Computer’ isn’t all that successful in making its computers/robots very likable (in fact, most of them are unfunny entitled brats) for us to care about them. I’m also not sure if this is the best or the worst time to release a show which is so adamant about making a point on global warming, corruption, fake news, and irresponsible use of technology when we’re in the middle of a pandemic that could have larger physiological and mental repercussions even once it’s over.
Did I enjoy it?
I thought it had potential and there were bits and bobs to like smattered across the season. But there was too much happening and someone really needed to reign their imagination in.
Do I recommend it?
That’s tricky. I see ‘OK Computer’ being divisive in the way where you’ll either love it or hate it, based on the first two episodes exclusively. This one’s on you.