OK Computer review: Hotstar's new comedy is too alienating to attract an audience, wastes a wonderful Jackie Shroff

Mar 26, 2021 11:50 AM IST

OK Computer review: Besides adopting an absurdist tone that will alienate virtually all kinds of audiences, the new Hotstar series wastes its trump card -- Jackie Shroff.

Not all bad shows are alike. Some — and these are more common — are made by people who have no idea how to tell a story. But others, like this week’s OK Computer, are created by folks that are significantly more cine-literate. In the span of one month, Hotstar has produced both.

OK Computer review: Vijay Varma and Radhika Apte in one of their many scenes of bickering.
OK Computer review: Vijay Varma and Radhika Apte in one of their many scenes of bickering.

While 1962: The War in the Hills was aggressively inept in every imaginable department, OK Computer, co-produced by the always interesting Anand Gandhi, is considerably more esoteric. When we’re first introduced to Radhika Apte’s character, she’s barging onto the scene quoting Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. It should be noted, however, that the show never mentions Asimov, and almost appears to pass these concepts off as its own.

Watch the OK Computer trailer here

OK Computer borrows the absurdist tone of Jacques Tati’s films and combines it with the kookiness of Kundan Shah. Vijay Varma’s Saajan Kundu, a policeman who uncovers a conspiracy while investigating a murder, is a lot like the everyman characters played by Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. And although the show is set in the future, it tackles many of the same themes as that cult classic did; a mishmash of corporate corruption, red-tape, and free will, with a dash of topical cultural commentary about the fake news media thrown in for good measure.

When a self-driving car kills a man, Saajan is called in to investigate. He is joined by Apte’s Laxmi, and their dynamic can essentially be described as an unscripted screaming contest that lasts approximately four hours. They’re talented performers, but OK Computer leaves them stranded in a mess of nonsensical plotting and half-baked ideas.

The lo-fi absurdity of the show takes a while getting used to. It’s billed as India’s first sci-fi comedy, but even those making the claim know that this is not true. Set in a Goa where majestic holograms dominate the skyline and drones buzz overhead, the show’s idea of the ‘future’ is very clearly defined by the B-movies of the 1950s. There are lots of beeps and boops, janky gizmos, and a full-fledged supporting character that looks like its been made out of discarded Nilkamal furniture and sounds like a Parsi aunty.

His name is Ajeeb, and (in an example of the show’s ambitious core) he was created as a new deity for impressionable Indians to idolise. His arrival inspired a fresh wave of nationalism, but sent him spiralling into an existential crisis. After three months of meditation, Ajeeb re-emerged with renewed career goals. He became a stand-up comedian.

The show conveys this backstory, admittedly one of its brightest ideas, in the most clunky manner — through news clippings and narration. Virtually half of episode two is an exhausting exposition dump.

Jackie Shroff in a still from OK Computer.
Jackie Shroff in a still from OK Computer.

Because there are no real characters to speak of in OK Computer, it’s difficult to form an emotional connection with anyone. And the show itself keeps getting distracted from the central ‘murder mystery’ with such regularity that it would be a bit rich of it to expect us to care. In every episode, it introduces new ‘rules’ that are frankly impossible to keep up with. Episode four, for instance, is decided as the best time to reveal that Saajan carries custom-made coins that he tosses into a wishing well, in which there lives a turtle, with whom he has some sort of connection, and so on.

And then there’s the mockumentary aesthetic that the show keeps forgetting it’s supposed to adhere to, after having needlessly established that some sort of film crew is following Saajan and Laxmi on their investigation. This might be the filmsiest exercise that OK Computer embarks upon.

Also read: Cargo movie review: Innovative but inert, Vikrant Massey’s Netflix film wastes promising premise

But all crimes pale in comparison to the show’s treatment of Jackie Shroff, an actor who has the rare ability to single handedly elevate any project by simply being there. In OK Computer, he plays the leader of a cult that has forsaken technology of all kind; this is a terrific idea, considering that Shroff is perhaps the only actor in Bollywood capable of believably starting a quasi-religious clan, and more importantly, attracting followers. As always, his ‘bindaas bhidu’ persona takes over his character Pushpak Shakur, to the extent that it almost feels as if the crew convened at his farmhouse and secretly filmed everyone’s favourite ‘maushi' in his natural habitat.

He might have done this for a lark, but his 15 minutes of screen time in OK Computer are more engaging than any revolutionary idea that the show botches.

OK Computer

Creators - Pooja Shetty, Neil Pagedar

Cast - Vijay Varma, Radhika Apte, Jackie Shroff

Follow @htshowbiz for more

The author tweets @RohanNaahar

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