by Anmol AhujaMar 29, 2022
Science fiction stories have existed for a long time. While we may now consider Jules Verne's novels adventure stories when they were first published, they were perhaps the earliest versions of a science fiction tale. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein may be a horror story and Halloween favourite, but we must keep in mind that the titular character is in fact a scientist. There is a fine line that separates the genres of fantasy and science fiction, one which can often be read in the worlds they are set in. Since the 60s, with the move of both fantasy and science fiction from the written medium to a more visual medium, these worlds have taken on a strong visual language, where science fiction is visually seen in a world that is very close to the one around us. Science fiction postulates the possibility of the story becoming a reality in the future. The art of world-building plays an important role in reaffirming this possibility of fiction turning into reality.
With the advent of green screens and CGI generated spaces, there are certain motifs, materials, patterns and designs used repeatedly. To a degree, these elements of spatial design begin to reveal character and plot details as well. Then there is the other side of science fiction world-building, movies that are filmed in existing buildings. The buildings featured are not from the future and sometimes they are in fact from the past, take for instance Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1924 building Ennis House, which appears in the 1982 film Blade Runner, depicting a structure in the year 2019. It is interesting to relook at our current built environment and imagine a futuristic buildscape transplanted onto it. Indie sci-fi comedy series OK Computer, created by Pooja Shetty and Neil Pagedar, attempts to do just that with modern Indian architecture.
Heralded as the first Indian sci-fi comedy, OK Computer features buildings by Indian architects Gurjit Singh Matharoo and Pritzker laureate, BV Doshi. The series takes place in near-future India and features urban artefacts that visually resonate with contemporary Indian cities. In an interview with STIR, Shetty, who is an architect by education, and a filmmaker by profession, explained the methodology of finding and reinterpreting spaces through the film’s narrative. One of the key spaces featured in the series is Matharoo’s architectural studio. Already an office space, Pagedar and Shetty spoke about the tactile nature of the office that allowed them to frame their scenes strategically. A closer viewing would reveal that scene unfolds based on the architecture that houses them.
With architecture, we often talk about the quality of light generated or its ability to unravel a narrative. But what happens when a filmmaker reinterprets these? It is an interesting conversation about the duality of a habitable space and a film space. While film space only exists in one’s imagination, a habitable space exists as a memory. It is at this disjunct that a filmmaker can create movie magic and encourage the audience to engage with the cinematography. One of the projects prominently featured in the series is Doshi’s Gufa. A surreal space on its own, the series uses its natural spatial quality to build on its own surreal narrative. In this situation one has to question which came first, the script or the selection of the structures.
Using the works of well-known and celebrated architects from the sub-continent, Shetty and Pagedar have given an absurdist meaning to structures that have existed for decades. Pagedar went so far as to say that the experience of filming in these spaces gave him a sense that Doshi and Matharoo had perhaps designed their structures with the foresight of them one day serving as a set for a science fiction series.
OK Computer was created and directed by Pooja Shetty and Neil Pagedar, who wrote the script alongside Anand Gandhi. Gandhi and his team produced the series through the studio Memesys Culture Lab. The series stars Radhika Apte, Vijay Varma, Rasika Dugal, Jackie Shroff, Kani Kusruti, and Ullas Mohan. The series is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.