OK Laptop Evaluation: Anand Gandhi’s Weird Hotstar Sequence Is ‘Pav Bhaji’


OK Laptop — the brand new Hotstar Specials collection — needs to be a variety of issues. At its core, it is designed as a sci-fi comedy. Whereas it is tonally impressed by Douglas Adams’ seminal 1979 novel The Hitchhiker’s Information to the Galaxy, its filmmaking model takes after modern-day mockumentaries reminiscent of The Workplace and Fashionable Household. However then, OK Laptop is wrapped in a whodunit thriller thriller plot, which seemingly attracts from the works of Isaac Asimov and HBO’s Westworld collection. Ship of Theseus director Anand Gandhi, a author on OK Laptop, has acknowledged the Adams and Asimov inspirations. He stated that they — together with creators, administrators, and fellow writers Pooja Shetty and Neil Pagedar — would consistently ask: “What would Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati, or Govinda do? That is the mindset of the collection […] wacky and zany.”

Sadly, OK Computer fails to emulate the perfect qualities of these inspirations. Within the title of being comedic, the OK Laptop writers drive quirkiness and idiosyncrasy all over the place. Each character is eccentric, has odd mannerisms, and says essentially the most random of issues. OK Laptop is bonkers and everywhere at instances. As for the narrative, exposition is stuffed in each nook. It does attempt to be inventive at instances, by making use of animated interludes or being self-aware about its monologues. However these are uncommon respites. So as to add to the expository mess, the OK Laptop script is riddled with logical gaps and different points. There’s little character growth because the six episodes — I’ve seen all of them — are overtly plot-driven, however even that’s messy. It is mindless how issues occur, and why they go in a sure route.

OK Laptop additionally sometimes obtained on my nerves. It is a dialogue-heavy present, to the purpose it seems like OK Laptop is competing with the Tina Fey comedy 30 Rock. That isn’t an issue in itself. The difficulty is that one of many main characters is a sentient AI robotic referred to as Ajeeb (voiced by Pagedar, and performed by Ullas Mohan), whose voice is very grating on the ears. I ceaselessly needed to punch Ajeeb by means of the display so it might cease speaking. At one level, OK Laptop inserted a high-pitched tone as a result of it was one thing the characters needed to endure as nicely. I muted the present. Who thought this was a good suggestion? These decisions are deliberate little question, however you are not going to attain extra viewers if they can not stand to even hearken to your present.

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Set in close to future 2031, OK Laptop opens in Goa and dives into its plot straightaway: a self-driving automotive has killed a pedestrian. The person’s face has been mangled so badly that it is unidentifiable — OK Laptop turns that right into a joke, with each character referring to the sufferer all through as “Pav Bhaji” — and there is not any match for his DNA too in any database. Enter Goa’s cyber cell ACP Saajan Kundu (Vijay Varma), a self-described lone wolf closely depending on others, who deems it a homicide. However Laxmi Suri (Radhika Apte), the CEO-founder of a non-profit that advocates for moral therapy of robots, objects — mentioning that an AI might by no means kill a human because it goes towards Asimov’s three legal guidelines of robotics. There’s historical past between Saajan and Laxmi, who appear to have cut up due to their differing values on the involvement of robots in human society.

Saajan’s investigation quickly leads him to Ajeeb, a one-of-a-kind robotic that kickstarted India’s AI revolution. For those who let OK Laptop inform it (which it does by way of a half-episode of exposition), Ajeeb was obtained so nicely when it was created years in the past that it was dubbed a messiah. It basically solved all of India’s issues, together with non secular concord — or fairly, the shortage of it. That is presumably the best (unintended) joke OK Laptop is able to. Extra so given how Ajeeb is offered as naïve and terrified. However Ajeeb quickly went in a brand new route that got here as a betrayal to most Indians, who pulled him down from his pedestal and all however discarded him. Forgotten and undesirable, Ajeeb has been lacking for some time earlier than Saajan’s group runs into him throughout their investigation. Saajan is satisfied that Ajeeb is responsible social gathering, however he’ll need to undergo Laxmi.

As a result of that is not sufficient plot and with one eye on a season 2 (that has but to be greenlit), OK Laptop additional expands by bringing in Pushpak Shakur (Jackie Shroff), the chief of an “anti-tech, anti-science, anti-vax, and anti-gravity ecoterrorist” group referred to as JJM, Jigyasu Jagrati Manch. (Sidenote, however is not anti-vax and anti-gravity, no matter that even means, basically anti-science? Pushpak additionally does not imagine in clothes, which leads to Disney+ Hotstar having to censor its personal unique. That is one aspect of Indian theatres I’ve undoubtedly not missed on this unending pandemic.) Pushpak confesses that he is behind the demise, although it is instantly clear that he might need ulterior motives. Shakur serves as a mouthpiece for the OK Laptop writers’ values and viewpoints, just like the present wanted one other expository gadget.

Jackie Shroff as Pushpak Shakur in OK Laptop
Photograph Credit score: Vinayak Kashinth Vetkar/Disney

When it is not consumed by narrative calls for, OK Laptop makes an attempt to ruminate on the affect of AI robots on human society (like I, Robot from Asimov) and that we have gone overboard with know-how (like Hitchhiker’s). The world of OK Laptop is crammed with robots able to advanced language processing and understanding however they appear to share restricted rights. And like the Radiohead album it is named after (which in itself was a line from Hitchhiker’s), OK Laptop tries to be political. Nevertheless it barely registers, ending up as jabs fairly than deep-cut observations.

Weirdly sufficient, OK Laptop finally ends up saying essentially the most by means of its picture of India. On this close to future, India is the chief of the world from science (India saved the planet from warming, Laxmi is the Greta Thunberg) to soccer (India now beats European giants handily). It is half wishful pondering and half pop nationalism. That does not replicate immediately’s India in any respect, which makes OK Laptop appear like an alt-history sci-fi collection. However OK Laptop remains to be very a lot an extension of immediately’s India elsewhere. It is nearly as if OK Laptop is saying that we’re sure to finish up who we’re as a individuals, regardless of the technological progress, a shift in grassroots priorities, or celeb teenage activists (if we do not jail them first).

Gandhi additionally used the “India” motive to justify OK Laptop’s lo-fi aesthetic — it is paying homage to Hitchhiker’s once more, in order that works — although in my view, it is extra doubtless a consequence of what the funds allowed. There’s extra proof of that in a portion of OK Laptop that’s set inside a VR online game (it is publicly accessible however described as a darkish internet online game as if meaning something), given how cartoonish the graphics are. And oh, the VR headsets look precisely just like the Oculus ones, humorous given it is 2031 and India is the projected chief in each division.

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Vijay Varma as Saajan Kundu in OK Laptop
Photograph Credit score: Disney

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is likely one of the funniest books I’ve ever learn. And since and regardless of it being over 40 years previous, we’ve and haven’t come a good distance. Adams envisioned a world overrun by know-how that was extra annoying than useful. It is why the reply to life, the universe, and all the pieces, the ebook’s supercomputer Deep Thought deduces, is 42. However as our world has change into overrun by know-how, we have witnessed an entire vary of sudden penalties. OK Laptop is born out of that worldview, that know-how has carried out extra unhealthy than good. At this time’s damaged “digital India”, extrapolated to 2031 with sentient AI robots, is ripe fodder for a sci-fi collection. However OK Laptop has not one of the ebook’s satirist powers or the mind to think about the latter world.

Its creators have digested a few of the world’s main sci-fi works, however what they’ve produced is actually the collection equal of Deep Thought’s reply. It is Pav Bhaji.

All six episodes of OK Laptop are actually streaming on Hotstar and Disney+ Hotstar.

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