There’s a lot going on in the web series OK Computer: a death caused by a self-driving car, a bunch of investigators who scramble about trying to solve the crime, robots that develop sentience, a Tesla-like corporation with overreaching influence on the government, debates on artificial intelligence, climate change, the meaning of progress and the future of technology and artificial intelligence, and Jackie Shroff in the buff.
We don’t quite see Shroff in his birthday suit, of course – that’s left to the imagination. But we have to marvel not just at how well-preserved the 1980s hunk is, but also what a good sport he is. As Pushpak Shakur, an environmentalist and head of a back-to-basics cult, the 64-year-old actor has a whale of a time teasing viewers with his suggested nudity and conveying some of the many ideas that OK Computer explores over six episodes.
Created and directed by Pooja Shetty and Neil Pagedar, written by them along with Anand Gandhi, the web series – named after the iconic Radiohead album – is an imaginative and goofy ride into a retro-flecked future. In the year 2031, robots are a part of the furniture, but disquiet over their presence remains. Memories of the wonder automaton Ajeeb, which went rogue, are still fresh. When it appears that a self-driving car has killed a man, police officer Saajan (Vijay Varma) is convinced that bad tech is to blame.
On the other side of the argument is robot-hugger Lakshmi (Radhika Apte). She inserts herself into the investigation to ensure that the rights of “robo sapiens” are protected. Forced to include her in his quest and saddled with the bumbling associates Monalisa (Kani Kusruti) and Ashfaque (Sarang Sathaye), Saajan grimly soldiers on to find out who the murder victim is and why anybody would want him dead.
Intervening from time to time are members of the company behind the self-driving car. Led by a man in colourful suits (Alok Ulfat) and his smooth enforcer (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee), the company works in front of and behind the scenes to ensure that its interests are protected. The series is being streamed on Disney+ Hotstar.
OK Computer is always determined to balance its heavy themes with frivolity. It is forever attuned to sight gags, silly puns and off-kilter comedy. The wacky tone complements the primitive gadgetry, lo-fi visual effects and the unthreatening robots, which appear to have been assembled in a garage. Packed into the cheerfully unruly and at times unwieldy narrative is a mild allegory about India as a global superpower that has taken a leap into the future without quite shaking off its past tendencies.
Comedy is a useful tool both to steer weighty ideas and express a form of rage against the machine, the series suggests. The production design by Gauri Tiwari and Prasun Basu inventively imagines a future that is never outlandish and always within the realm of possibility.
Not every flavour pops in the over-egged confection. The robot Ajeeb, portrayed by Ulhas Mohan, has a child’s voice run through a computer programme, an effect that soon begins to grate. Some of the cockamamie humour lingers long after the punchline has been delivered. The suspense over who is behind the crime is actually quite low.
What OK Computer excels at is the send-up. The humour comes alive when in deadpan mode, embodied by Kani Kusruti’s endearingly earnest policewoman who wants to help but doesn’t quite know how to. Other characters deliver the laughs by treating the numerous plot turns with deadly seriousness. Vijay Varma, who has been routinely cast as a seedy type, is superb as the Amol Palekar-esque dweeby investigator.
Radhika Apte too is in great form as the robot-loving Lakshmi. Among the other actors who leave a mark is Ratnabali Bhattacharjee as a part-sinister and part-ridiculous corporate drone who develops something resembling a crush on Lakshmi. Rasika Dugal has a fun cameo as one of the many adults in the show who doesn’t want to grow up.
There are several pop culture references to the 1990s, but a cameo by a reputed filmmaker points to the 1980s, in which a movie delivered wonderment through minimal effects and maximum emotions. OK Computer struggles in the wonderment department, but is perfectly at home tinkering with software and hardware and concluding that there is no better programme than human intelligence.