Virus 2062 on Spotify is an immersive attempt at audio storytelling

Virus 2062, featuring Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal’s voices, can surely be considered a step forward for Indian science fiction

Tatsam Mukherjee September 03, 2021 11:46:31 IST
Virus 2062 on Spotify is an immersive attempt at audio storytelling

Sci-Fi as a genre needs to be handled with care in India, given how rarely we see something with ambition. One needs to be mindful of the limited resources, the lack of familiarity of the Indian masses with concepts like time travel or multiverse, and how it’s nearly always a big swing on the part of the makers attempting to build a story around it. Even while consuming it, it’s important to be mindful of the big picture, even if one were to eventually give up on it.

Having all of the above context, Spotify original Virus 2062 can surely be considered a step forward for Indian science fiction. Featuring Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal’s voices, the Hindi adaptation of Julio Rojas’s Caso 63, builds reasonable intrigue in its initial episodes. Fazal and Chadha’s foray into an entirely new medium, where they throw themselves in the deep end in the first project itself, deserves kudos. Also, even though I haven’t heard the original, if the folks at MnM Talkies did the bare minimum of replicating the experience, it’s still more than enough for the listener to be immersed in the world of Virus 2062.

The audio thriller unfurls like a series of sessions in a psychiatric facility. ‘Case 63’ voiced by Fazal claims he is ‘from the future’. Dr Gayatri Rajput, voiced by Chadha, is hardly surprised. This is not the first time she’s hearing something like that in her 12-year career in psychiatry. However, the more she listens to her subject, the more she’s convinced about his convictions. “I’ve been sent back to save the world,” the patient tells her.

The ambiguity of these sessions is reminiscent of K-PAX (2001), starring Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey in similar roles. In the Hollywood film, Spacey claims to be an alien from a faraway galaxy, while Bridges is more intrigued about what’s triggering delusions like this in the patient.

Fazal seems like a natural when it comes to voice acting. There’s a free-flowing assurance that allows him to modulate his voice in different ways, while effortlessly switching between English, Hindi and Urdu. The same cannot be said about Chadha, whose recent work has been questionable at best. One trick about an audio story that Fazal seems to embrace early on, is how he uses the microphone as a medium to confide in the listener. As opposed to Chadha, who assaults the listener with her lines, as if she were trying to reach out to the last rows of a large theatre. One can almost *hear* Chadha acting in her laughs, becoming confrontational or even when she feigns disinterest in what he apparently delusional patient is telling her about dystopia.

Despite the grating styles of Fazal and Chadha, the storytelling in Virus 2062 is top-notch in the first five episodes.

Even though it entirely takes place in a ‘cage’ inside a psychiatric facility, the show manages to paint a bleak (almost Blade Runner-like) picture of the future. Maybe it’s the rain outside coupled with the stories we hear about how the machines took over, and the planet became anything but uninhabitable.

It’s interesting how the show borrows from the pent-up frustration of the last 18 months as a runway to go to darker places. While we wait for the ‘pandemic to get over’, the show asks what if this is only the first domino for armageddon? The show has a sense of humour too, and it’s visible in the way it acknowledges how its premise sounds like a Hollywood movie. They riff on Terminator, and there’s also a couple of mentions reserved for Taarzan: The Wonder Car.

It’s only during the later part of the show when the responsibility falls on Chadha’s shoulders, that the comprehensibility of the show begins to wobble. The central ambiguity around whether all this is actually happening, or do the characters of this show have an overactive imagination, is an interesting one, but it wears thin by the end. An ‘ailing sister’ introduced to raise the stakes of the climax, feels like a narrative convenience rather than an organic part of the show.

Mantra Mugdh’s Virus 2062 seems like a project that might inspire more actors to consider diving into the world of audio storytelling, and for that alone it’s worth the 173-minute runtime.

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