OK Computer cast Vijay Varma, Radhika Apte, Jackie Shroff discuss blending science and comedy in Disney+ Hotstar VIP show
OK Computer cast Vijay Varma, Radhika Apte, Jackie Shroff talk about their experience of working on Anand Gandhi's futuristic comedy series
Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov introduced the Three Laws of Robotics, a code of conduct that states, firstly, that a robot “may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm”. The second law is that the robot shall obey orders given to it by a human and the third says a robot “must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law”.
These three laws have often featured in movies and television shows including Dr Who, The Simpsons and I, Robot. Add to this list of creators inspired by Asimov’s Laws are Anand Gandhi, Pooja Shetty and Neil Pagedar who have taken these three laws and blended them with several archetypes from the genre to craft OK Computer, a six-part sci-fi comedy set in India, replete with all its peculiarities.
The year is 2031 and a self-driving car has run over a human. Vijay Varma plays cybercrime detective Saajan Kundu. But his investigation into the accident will not be easy. Not only does he have to contend with Laxmi, a representative of People for the Ethical Treatment of Every Robot (PETER), played by Radhika Apte, but also with robots and the anti-tech radical Pushpak Shakur, played by Jackie Shroff.
These three cast members talk about their experience of working on a futuristic comedy series.
Comedy is serious business so how seriously did you take the comic parts?
Saajan was not written as a funny part. There are characters around him who have quirks and personality traits that could be funny. Since he is leading the investigation, you are with him through the story. I wanted to make sure that the pursuit is never compromised. I had to give up on so many opportunities for creating humour because I didn’t want to lose the audience or the goal. The seriousness in his pursuit for truth and justice meant he had to be completely intense and committed. In a world where everyone around you could potentially be a clown and you are that one person who sticks out like a sore thumb also allows for humour. The toughest job for me was to keep a straight face because I am surrounded by these actors who are so solid with their comic timing. I would break character so easily and start laughing. What you see now is after the directors and editors worked hard to make me look like I am playing this part seriously.
And how do you feel about AI (artificial intelligence and technology)?
I believe we need to be hand-in-hand with it. It’s not like if I disconnect from it, it won’t grow. It will grow and impact us, and also hamper our growth if we don’t embrace it. While on the one hand it enables us and makes our lives easier, on the other hand, it can cost me my privacy and sometimes give power to the hands of capitalists. Therefore, more than ever, we need more ethical people ruling the tech world. Those kinds of laws need to be in place. But it's nice to be able to navigate a map and order food online.
I believe there is a story behind the name ‘Saajan’. Can you share more?
Saajan is a geek from the future. He’s a tech-savvy sarkari babu with zero sex appeal. He could be a ‘Saajan’ because the name, face and job just don’t fit together. We took the archetype of a brooding male officer and twisted it to make fun of it. He is also a homage to Irrfan Khan’s Saajan Fernandez from The Lunchbox. He was also a bureaucratic clerical character. And it was so good to see Irrfan play a reluctant romantic called Saajan.
Are you a fan of the sci-fi genre?
No, I am not really into the genre though there are a few sci-fi films I have liked over the years. But OK Computer was really great, so when it came to me I instantly said yes. Plus this is a comedy and it is quite bizarre. We often had to stop shooting because we were laughing so much. Vijay was particularly bad. But that was fun too.
As an actor what notes did you have to keep in mind for this futuristic world?
I didn’t have to do anything specific. At times the co-actors were in robot costumes or we had to perform opposite a bot and that was fascinating. But other than that there was no specific prep. The directors, Neil and Pooja, gave us complete freedom to improvise and come up with some very random things. This was challenging, as I had not worked in this way before. I was not in my comfort zone. But it helped that they had a very specific vision and had tremendous faith in us. The atmosphere was encouraging. The dialogues are very well written; the co-actors were fantastic which always helps. It enhances your performance and inspires and challenges you.
What would you say are the themes of the show?
The main ideology of the show is what do robots mean for humanity – are they a threat or a boon? It’s also a basic study of human psychology. Machines are machines at the end of the day. The similarity between my character Laxmi and me is that, even though I am not tech-savvy, I do believe that there must be a better species than the human species. Laxmi believes that species is the robot. I find her apathy towards humans amusing.
What attracted you to the part of Pushpak Shakur?
What fun to set this kind of comedy in a country such as India. I also liked the team, which was behind films like Tumbbad and Ship of Theseus. They were fantastic to work with. The creators - Pooja, Neil and Anand were beautiful.
A line in the trailer says, ‘the real cancer of the human race… technology’. Do you agree?
That's my character, Pushpak Shakur talking. Personally, I believe that without technology we would not be able to treat many ailments. We would not be able to chat or communicate. We wouldn’t be able to cross from Mumbai to Delhi to wherever. So it would be foolish to say that.
What does your character believe?
He is a staunch believer that technology is disastrous for everybody. However, I feel technology is irreversible. You need it to extract your tooth. You can no longer take it out with a hammer. But I do feel technology should be sustainable for example using electric cars, solar power, wind power, conserving water, etc. To survive in this world you need computers and you need nature. And they both need to be handled correctly. What my character is doing is radical. According to him, nature is the only way.
OK Computer will be on Disney+ Hotstar from 26 March
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