The Indian film industry should now explore space
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The Indian film industry should now explore space

For Indian filmmakers, the final frontier is there for the taking. As India’s space scientists compete with the US, Russian, European and Chinese space agencies, the film industry needs to capture the zeitgeist and prepare for liftoff into this realm.

columns Updated: Sep 15, 2018 23:49 IST
First Man, the biopic of American astronaut Neil Armstrong becoming the first human to step upon the lunar landscape, is the latest reminder that Hollywood can make out-of-this-world movies(AFP)

The space opera in recent years has attained such commercial heights that the Star Wars franchise, for instance, delivers a prequel, sequel, or spin-off at regular intervals. That phenomenon could well have Yoda, the Jedi master, moan, “Too much it is.” But the space epic, with its unrestricted scope for the imagination to reach its escape velocity, isn’t limited to such industrial-grade productions.

First Man, the biopic of American astronaut Neil Armstrong becoming the first human to step upon the lunar landscape, is the latest reminder that Hollywood can make out-of-this-world movies. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF, with director Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling reuniting to travel from La La Land to the moon landing. Similar projects in the past, like Apollo 13, have also soared. And unlike the fantasies of the unpredictable distant future, we’ve seen the emergence of a genre of speculative filmmaking earthed in the reality of present-day science, with fiction as the booster rocket.

There are plenty of such examples that point to this trend: Gravity, The Martian, Interstellar. They do very well in capturing the sheer drama of the vast expanse beyond us without requiring exotic or eerie alien life forms. To their credit, epics like Star Wars, Star Trek or Avatar, with their galactic-scale entertainment, may have created the space for reality-based dramas that capture the essence of the spirit of exploration. Bollywood, unfortunately, hasn’t taken to this star system, and its version of sci-fi has often been grounded in kitsch as with PK or Koi...Mil Gaya.

That’s strange, given how over 50 years back, Dara Singh was carrying a camp classic like Chand Par Chadayee, complete with combatting a space ape and the inimitable Helen gyrating on the moon. 2018, however, signals that this may be changing, with the Tamil film, Tik Tik Tik, or the planned films based on India’s space programme and Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space, although the latter seems grounded over which superstar can spare sufficient time for what could be the space epic launch vehicle in India cinema. Space sci-fi, though, isn’t limited to Hollywood.

TIFF this year features many such films, including French auteur Claire Denis’ High Life, the Swedish Aniara, or young Indo-Canadian director Akash Sherman’s Clara. Either way, the potential exists, even as special effects and animation are blooming in India. Like Hidden Figures, that film about the contributions of African-American women mathematicians to NASA, India’s ISRO, with its frugal innovation birthing a Mangalyaan, or possibly, a near-future Gaganyaan, are simply waiting for cinematic treatment. For Indian filmmakers, the final frontier is there for the taking. As India’s space scientists compete with the US, Russian, European and Chinese space agencies, the film industry needs to capture the zeitgeist and prepare for lift-off into this realm.

Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs.

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Sep 14, 2018 17:23 IST