In the sci-comedy series OK Computer, set in 2031, a self-driving car is accused of killing a man. Robots, however, cannot legally kill by design, or so it is believed. This creates a conundrum for investigator Saajan (Vijay Verma), who discovers that the car was hacked.
The cast includes Jackie Shroff, Radhika Apte, Rasika Dugal, Kani Kusruti and Ratnabali Bhattacharjee. OK Computer is out on Disney+ Hotstar.
Ship of Theseus director Anand Gandhi co-created the series with writer-director duo Neil Pagedar and Pooja Shetty. The show includes giant holograms, flying cars, and a superintelligent robot called Ajeeb that cost “much less than what it looks like”, Gandhi told Scroll.in.
The series had been in the making for five years, with “four years spent on dreaming up this universe, and little more than a year to build it up and give it its current shape and form”. Excerpts from an interview.
‘OK Computer’ is the name of Radiohead’s seminal 1997 album.
Neil is a Radiohead fan, but we were also inspired by 100 years of science-fiction literature, including Douglas Adams and his book The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, its robot, Marvin, the Paranoid Android [which inspired the song of the same name in the Radiohead album], and Terry Prachett, and Dan Harmon [Rick and Morty], and Matt Groening [Futurama], and Issac Asimov’s three laws of robotics. We had the privilege and freedom to pay homage to them and have fun while doing it.
What was the process of putting together ‘OK Computer’?
Huge amount of rigour, sleepless nights and days, and hard work goes into making anything of this scale, especially when we approach areas not tried sufficient number of times in this region, and there are not enough systems to tap into. Hence, we had to educate ourselves and invent components of the system, from design thinking to world building to creating the architectural landscape to character and worldview building.
When we are approaching a question so unlimited in scope, from artificial intelligence to the trolley problem to the future of AI-based decision making systems, and what kind of decisions we can speculate about and what kind of decisions we can nudge AI towards taking, and what decisions will be spontaneous and surprising, there are multiple areas to optimise. We tapped into a huge amount of academic research to find accuracy even in the way we phrased our questions.
At the same time, we are asking these questions and setting it up in a region like India, which has one-sixth of the world’s population, and thus has an emerging role to play in the global conversation surrounding the future of AI and humanity.
The other factor was to make this discussion accessible for people who did not have sufficient access to this discourse before. So how do we make this funny, charming, intuitive, and seductive for these people? The first couple of years went into that, building the world component by component. How would India look in 2031, with its rich history of jugaad? For instance, surely no science fiction writer in the ’70s imagining a cyber cafe would guess it would look how it does in India today.
The question was how we as a community will absorb, respond, and react to this technology. So from the Dharavi cottage industry of robots to delivery trolls hunted by langars who want a piece of it became part of the story.
What was shooting ‘OK Computer’ like?
We began the shoot in December 2019 and wrapped up luckily just before the pandemic began in March. We shot in Goa and Ahmedabad. Pooja is an architect and she was the head of design on Ship of Theseus, and architecture and prop designer on Tumbbad [produced by Gandhi]. She tried creating the future with the architecture of today, so buildings by BV Doshi and Le Corbusier in Ahmedabad came into play.
The story is set in near-future Goa, but it could be happening anywhere. We worked on a limited budget as something of this kind is being attempted for the first time. All things considered, we have managed to just create a simulation or teaser or glimpse of the future.
The VFX was entirely done in India by a young, talented group from Indore. Four teams were asked to provide VFX tests, including those from London, Hungary, and Bombay, and the Indore team blew our minds with their results.
Jackie Shroff is quite an addition to your cerebral brand of entertainment.
Jackie Shroff truly understands his place and culture, and his role in the zeitgeist, and how to be a vessel of it.
When we met for the first time, he entertained us with his ideas and insights for seven hours straight. He got the character quickly, and his comprehension is so vast, that every time we presented him with a dense monologue, he simplified it saying, the bhidu log should be able to understand it.
He is the first person I have met who used neurons and bhidu in the same line. Henceforth, I will always go to him to simplify my work without losing the accuracy and precision of the language.
What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Right now, we are working on a series called New Aesop’s Fables, which is inspired by the fictional book Charvak shows Maitreya in Ship of Theseus. The book is about very strange evolutionary moments and evolutionary behaviour that baffles the mind.
Then there’s the non-fiction series Some of All Pasts, about the greatest scientific ideas in the subcontinent. There’s also a pandemic movie Emergence I have been working on for five-six years.