Has Indian Science-Fiction arrived?

The past few years have been a glorious period for Indian film industry like never before on the international scene. Bollywood has repeatedly made headlines about going global with billion dollar deals and stakes in Western media and Hollywood. According to FICCI reports Indian film industry that steadily grew in the last five years touched peak at 13.4% in 2008 with revenue of 2.2 billion dollars. In May 2008, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Big Entertainment added yet another leaf to the book of big “corporatization” strides by Indian film industry -by signing an equity deal of $500 million to $600 million with Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks SKG. With plan of making at least 10 movies in almost all the genres by drawing top talents of the industry, it promised to “take India to the forefront of global entertainment.”

Will the lofty investments and hefty budgets for Indian Entertainment conglomerates backed by Indian government’s pro-film policies mark as dawn of a new age for the genre of science fiction that has since eluded critics’ top charts of best Indian films?.


Indian Science –fiction films: Past and present


“Kaadu” first Indian-American co-production in Tamil, directed by William Berke, made in 1952 with few Hollywood casts along with leading Tamil stars was vouched as first Indian Sci-Fi film. However it took nearly three decades for the genre to have wowed the audience on the national screen with “Mr. India” made in 1987. The film was a roaring success and the Sci-Fi aficionados felt at last an era of Sci-Fi films had set in the Indian movie industry. But after a while it only relegated as a “good experiment with the genre” in people’s minds that were already in tune with the time with English movies like Star Wars and Jurassic Park. For more than a decade the audience could only keep its fingers crossed to wait for perhaps a new wave of Indian Sci-fi films to flood the scene. And that came with “Koi-Mil Gaya” released in 2003.

Take a cross section of Hollywood Sci-Fi flicks made in the past. They started off with two basic themes of Time (Time Machine) and Space (Star wars and Extraterrestrial). In later years those that veered off the mainstream and infused Sci-fi with horror, superpower or biotech also did wonders.

No wonder then that “Koi Mil Gaya” did the trick for the audience. It melded the concept of extraterrestrial within a traditional Indian theme when a scientist tried to connect to the outer world with the cosmic sound waves of “OM”. A love story mixed with an alien like creature coming from outer space and befriending the hero and bestowing him with the extra powers bubbled with the Indian audience.

It felt like a breath of fresh air in Sci-Fi for Indian movies. The movie was a hit and experts announced Indian Sci-Fi had finally arrived.  Its sequel “Krrish” worked further on the superpowers of the hero and his ability to build a computer that could see future completely resonated with masses and was a hit at box office.

However the latest 2008 release “Love Story 2050” with a travel to futuristic Mumbai of flying cars, holograms and robots appeared rather hideous and proved to be a box office disaster.


Sci-fi concepts sprinkled in Indian Mythology


Indian population that has grown up with stories of epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata was never alien to the concepts of Sci-Fi.  Pushpaka vimana in Ramayana has been likened to special aircraft and blind Drithrashtra’s ability to see the war in Mahabharata to tele-viewing. The powerful arrows and other warfare gadgets resembled Western sci-fi weaponry. Since decades films have depicted the myth and magic in mythologies very convincingly using technical ingenuity and skill that thrilled and awed the masses.

Today as more and more educated young Indians choose Indian film industry for their career and are set to make a difference,  the tastes of  the intelligent and discerning Indian audience have also changed.“ Film makers underestimate the audience. That is the reason they don’t want to risk by investing in a genre that may not be well received. But the fact is the new Indian audience needs a good story line .” says Ajay Bhuyan, 31,a debutant film director of Telugu movie industry who made a career switch from high flying  Banking job a couple of years ago.


Promising Future


Sci-fi analysts have argued that a true sci-fi movie while portraying the depths of plausibility of science artistically should not deviate from its basic principles. In November 2008 the National Council for Science and Technology Communication, India organized a National Conference bringing together for the first time, scientists, science fiction writers and science journalists on a common platform to discuss the progress of science fiction education for common masses and particularly for young students in India. Another highlight of the event was the screening of “The First World” a short sci-fi film by the Hollywood director Mark Lund.

Indian movies have always leveraged on technology and Indian technical expertise has drawn big names in Hollywood for its outsourcing works of Sci-Fi special effects to India. This has given a tremendous boost to animation industry also in recent years. But a Sci-Fi project involves investment in billions of dollars and if made for a very limited market they face huge risks. The potential risks involved stymie good script writers too from writing a brilliant Sci-fi story line.

Nonetheless Ajay Bhuyan holds the future of Indian Sci-fi to be very promising. “The young breed of filmmakers is looking for opportunities that push conventional boundaries. Personally I would go for making films of “Blade runner” and “Donnie darko” type rather than Independence Day”, says Ajay.

Hopefully the next big Reliance Big Entertainment’s movie under Spielberg turns out to be the biggest Indian Sci-Fi Blockbuster ever made.

We can wait.


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