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Can Indians pull off an Interstellar of their own?

Christopher Nolan's intergalactic saga is sure to stun you with its spectacle. Such is the power of its imagination that this is likely to get counted as one of the best-ever impressions of space in cinema. It compels one to wonder - is India capable of pulling of such a feast?

hollywood Updated: Dec 28, 2014 13:15 IST
Nivedita Mishra
Nivedita Mishra
Hindustan Times

The intergalactic saga helmed by Christopher Nolan is sure to stun you with the spectacle unfolding before you. Such is the power of its imagination (story, set designs, computer graphics, compelling emotions et al), that this is likely to go down as one of best-ever impressions of space in cinema.

The authenticity of the visuals is something that even scientists seem to nod in agreement.

Watch the science of Interstellar explained

This compels one to wonder if the Indian film industry is capable of pulling of such a feast. A nation that produces about a 1000 films a year (random reports) surely should have in it the capacity for this genre as well. Sadly, the 100 years of Indian film industry has been desperately wanting in this department.

Here are some points to chew on:

Interstellar's sheer creative audacity

How dare Christopher Nolan even imagine thus? That man would, one day, have the facility and ability to travel between galaxies when in reality we are still trying to figure out if there's water on Mars. Even better, that there are 'superior beings' in out there watching over us, even wanting to save us from extinction by planting a wormhole in space for us. Yeah, right. And what's with this time travel, back and forth in time using gravity as the fifth dimension? Wild imagination…

Well, come to think of it, why not? Isn't that the job of a storyteller? Isn't he/she allowed the allowance to ride on flights of imagination? Isn't this which sets him/her apart? The story of Interstellar is a Nolan creation (Christopher and his brother Jonathan).

Now, let's talk of what we have in our cinematic idioms. Sadly, outer space has never really stirred Indian imagination. Coming soon though will be Rajkumar Hirani's PK where Aamir Khan's character is supposedly an alien. Prior to that we had Koi Mil Gaya, where an alien gets left behind when an spacecraft lands and, then, leaves.

But barring these two examples there haven't been too many examples where the creative thought has been pushed beyond the realm of convention. For most part, our storytelling is still quite limited to romances, slapstick comedies and revenge dramas.

Does that mean that we are not prepared for a story as audacious as Interstellar? Yes and no. A major impediment is certainly the concept of 'mass entertainment'. Who consumes your stories? Is the audience ready? Can't say about masses but the multiplex audience certainly is.

If MOM can be a reality, why not space travel, at least in fiction? And what about the money involved?

This brings us to the point - are we prepared to experiment at all?

Any notion of India producing an edge-of-the-seat adventure thriller, more so, about space is bound to raise laughs, nee, guffaws. For an industry that often, unabashedly, copies plots, storylines and borrows techniques from the West, it definitely seems a laughable idea, at best.

But think again. Does India have the capacity to do it? The answer is, if it makes a sincere effort, it could.

This may purely be a hypothetical premise, but if India has been successful with its Mars Obiter Mission (MOM) and done so at a much cheaper cost than, say, NASA, then why not space travel?

That brings us to the monumental cost of producing a project like Interstellar. Let's consider data: MOM cost us $71 million (Rs 450 crore, approx.) as against NASA's $671 million for its Mars mission.

Meanwhile, Interstellar was been made at an estimated budget of $165 million as against, say, the upcoming Tamil film I which has been put together at an approximated cost of $3 million (Rs 180 crore, apparently the costliest Indian production so far).

Given our expertise at putting gigantic projects at really cost-effective prices, it doesn't seem an impossible task to pull off. MOM's success is a classic example.

Do we have the knowledge of space-time (or any other scientific truism) to craft a tale around it?

If we have the knowledge to send an unmanned shuttle to study the atmosphere of Mars, we certainly have both the knowledge to go about crafting a tale about space and its dynamics.

But is it that simple?

One of the strongest points of Interstellar is that its basic premise is rooted in real science. World renowned Caltech physicist and wormhole expert Kip Thorne was taken in as the scientific adviser (he was one of Interstellar's executive producers) for the film. Hence, the imagery of wormhole and black hole (black hole called Gargantua is shown in the film) is based on real science. Thorne is said to have given Nolan specific calculations on the basis of which the said images were built.

Warping of space-time again has its basis in Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, pretty much an established fact today.

Even the portions in the film where Nolan takes cinematic liberty are not necessarily unscientific. Like the escape of Nolan's protagonist from a black hole may be an intelligent guess but certainly isn't wild imagination.

Now compare this with whatever we have seen in Indian cinema via-a-vis sci-fi. Rakesh Roshan's Koi Mil Gaya (whose Jadu was unabashed copy of Steven Spielberg's ET), Shankar's Endiran (Robot in Hindi starring Chitti, the robot), SRK's Ra.One (starring two robots, Ra.One and G.One), 2050 - A Love Story and now the upcoming Shankar film, I, which again uses a lot of CGI.

While the latter four may not necessarily be bad in imagery, the narratives are not always robust enough to have a legitimate scientific basis.

One of the real hindrances that seriously affects movie-making is the commercial, box office oriented nature of Bollywood, which then gets replicated across other smaller industries. A sizable semi-literate to illiterate audience only compounds the problem.

Is exiting permanently in keeping with Indian philosophy?

More often than not, Hollywood's sci-fi films are based on Biblical apocalypse belief. That a day will dawn when the world shall end; Dooms Day is close at heels.

Nolan's Interstellar, of course, weaves in the climate change angle logically into the tale. Hence, we are told, the earth is dying - the planet is fast turning into a dust bowl, only crop that grows is corn and soon that too won't. So do people have a plan to save the earth? No, we've got to leave it.

In contrast is the Indian philosophy which says that nothing is permanently destroyed - it merely transforms itself into another matter. Hence, humans are just another beings on earth. If Murphy's Law says whatever can, will happen, oriental philosophies insist whatever has to happen, will happen. Which would then mean, that if our earth came into being at all, it will die as well. So what's the big fuss about?

Why should the human race be accorded so much importance? Well, we could all get philosophical… but the truth is the human race, certainly, is the most evolved of all the livings beings on earth and it certainly is worth giving a shot at its survival.

But that should lead us to the next question.

Is the Indian audience ready for a true-blue sci-fi?

That is a tricky question. An audience brought up on a daily diet of melodrama and romance, and with little exposure to world cinema could be a tough customer.

Yet, we know, in the past that dubbed versions of Hollywood blockbusters like King Kong and Jurassic Park series have been successes here in India too.

Giving the daunting budgets these works entail, one can understand the trepidation a filmmaker is likely to have before taking the plunge. But, unless one swims in unchartered territories, we can never know for sure what's across the barrier.

Till then, keep tryin' buddy!

First Published: Dec 08, 2014 19:45 IST