Indian SF in post-adolescent phase

Ra One, SRK’s labour of love, may not really set the screens on fire but it does push the envelope for Indian science fiction.

Shekhar (Shah Rukh), a South Indian who eats noodles with curd (yea, you read that right), is a bumbling geeky videogame designer. Straightaway reminds you of the most commonly used template – brawny superhero hero being a nervous brainy chap in real life. This Spiderman-Superman influence is just one of the other SF classic inspirations scattered in the movie. Shekhar’s son Prateek (Armaan Verma), an avid gamer, wishes his father could be a cool dad but is often embarassed by Shekhar’s outrageously clumsy and naïve ways. In an attempt to please his son, Shekhar creates a videogame baddie Ra One, empowering him with the seven deadly sins. The videogame’s hero, G-One, is armed with all goodness and virtue.

Due to a bug in the game, Ra One escapes into the real world after a duel with Lucifer, Prateek’s gaming avatar. How and why the character crosses from the virtual world to reality is not explained; SF fans will have their antenna up straightaway. In his pursuit of Lucifer, Ra One kills Shekhar. Before Ra One can get to Prateek, the boy activates G-One and gets him to cross into the real world as his protector. So now we have a kid being chased by one robotic character, and protected by another. Reminiscent of Terminator? The influence does not end there. Just like the robot in T2, Ra One too changes form as he relentlessy pursues his target. The rest of the movie takes us through how G-One and the boy team up to defeat Ra One. In between, there are some standard SF devices thrown in: a woman falls in love with a robot, the robot begins to develop emotions.

One gets the feeling SRK tries to please all his audiences here. So what we get is more than just sci-fi fare. An opening videogame sequence (with some whackily named Chinese characters) is funny. There is the emotional aspect of a father trying hard to please his son. These fit in perfectly fine without disturbing the core plot. The mandatory Bollywood songs though drag the plot when one would expect it to pick up the pace. ‘Chammak Challo’ is too awfully timed; why does every Hindi movie have to have a song and dance sequence? The movie also pays tribute to Rajnikanth’s Robot in a scene where G-One meets Chitti. This too could well have been avoided. With a tighter screenplay, G-One could have made his appearance much earlier in the film.

Inspite of these shortcomings, Ra One stands out as an Indian sci-fi flick. For one, Indian cinema does not have much of a legacy in science fiction. Mr. India was done ages ago (good concept, basic execution), and the films that came recently (Koi Mil Gaya, Krishh, Drona) made a mockery of science fiction. Robot, inspite of a few outlandish scenes, was a good effort. Ra One continues that trend with a strong plot and well crafted visual effects. The wit in the movie works well in most places except for Kareena’s lines – what the heck is funny about ‘condom condom’? Kareena and even Arjun Rampal have marginal roles; this film however rests of the shoulders of Shah Rukh and Armaan both of whom do a good job with their characters.

Ra One disappoints me because it dilutes the SF genre with the additional trappings of a masala movie. However it also pleases me because with the concept and special effects, it goes where no Indian movie has gone before. With Ra One, Indian SF enters its post-adolescent phase: though it does not tackle complex issues like Hollywood SF movies do, it certainly is a big leap forward from what we have seen in earlier Indian cinema. Hopefully it is only a matter of time before the genre comes of age.

I would rate Ra One at 3/5. If you can ignore the Bollywoodization of a superhero, this flick is worth a watch.

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Our gods, their gods

They pull the lampshade over their eyes
Chants repeated in a drone
As if unerringly timed
To an unforgiving metronome,
The idol stands garlanded,
The incense wafts in the air
The intonations grow louder
The deity will take up their cares.

Reason is just a dirty beast
Faith will provide for another feast
Someday every man will belong
To a single creed, they believe.
So the jihadis terrorise
And the missionaries evangelize
It’s a numbers game between followers
Lest their gods preside over us.

The bombs have shattered another city,
Back in the prayer hall the chanting ends,
And the preacher wonders
If tomorrow he will add another sheep to the flock,
And when all nations would follow one god,
His god.

Author’s note: I do not refer to any single religious group in this poem. The poem is indicative of my view about religion: that of it being superfluous and divisive.