Calling ‘OK Computer’ Ahead of Its Time Is Not the Compliment You Think It Is

Disney Hotstar’s OK Computer has been called “ahead of its time”, and “meant for a few” – phrases that producer and writer Anand Gandhi is perhaps most familiar with. There is a certain undeniable romanticism heaped upon posthumous fame. There is something ‘cool’ about only a few people understanding a piece of art, or appreciating it ‘in its time’.

Sholay (1975), they say, was a gigantic box office flop. So was Haasil (2003), That Girl in Yellow Boots (2011), Love Sex Aur Dhoka (2010) – the list is endless, really. Till this very day, these movies are prescribed for a rare breed of ‘movie buffs’. As though only those who can easily appreciate difficult discourses, are the only people who should be participating in them.

To me, this attitude discounts the entire purpose of these non-mainstream narratives. It’s like saying that life-altering or perspective-shifting art is only meant for those who are already convinced of those philosophies. That is hardly what art is about, isn’t it? Pink (2016) was not made to cater to those who already understood the meaning and value of consent. Aligarh (2015) was important for closet homophobes, or morality junkies, much more than it was for those who had already lived lives of oppression. To say that a path-breaking narrative is meant for the ‘few’ who are already inclined to break those paths, is a huge waste of artistic resources.

OK Computer, set in 2031, opens with a self-driving car having allegedly mauled over a human being. It immediately reminded me of Jamie Lynn Spears’ Instagram announcement, “We have now lost — I don’t want to tell you how many cats — because they don’t hear the Tesla (TSLA) crank…” The internet was dying over Elon Musk (allegedly) being a “secret cat-killer”.

In the series, the dead body is called ‘Pav Bhaji’ by Saajan Kundu (Vijay Varma). Sounds insensitive, no? Well, that’s the purpose of it. In a subsequent episode, Kundu is seen eating tiffin in a morgue, while standing over the corpse. In a Camus-esque desensitisation, one Simmel called ‘the blase attitude’ we see human beings’ emotional response to trauma being dulled by the sheer regularity of disaster. In a perfect world, we would be more empathetic towards people lying crumpled on the streets, but we sidestep sleeping beggars at least twice a day. The tech revolution, with AI replacing the human-ness of humanity, is only to make matters worse.

Under the series’ 5.2 rating in IMDB, a certain user wrote ‘Pavbhaji has left leaning masala! Grow up’. Another writes, “i saw…kamras face i switched it off because now i know who sponsered whom…” Anything that questions the status-quo automatically becomes one of the two things OK Computer has been called: anti-patriotic, or highbrow.

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The makers have taken exquisite care to keep the narrative from becoming ‘highbrow’. There are slam-dunk jokes, such as when Saajan asks who the nation’s current enemy is, and Monalisa Paul (Kani Kusruti) says “fake news”. Or, when Trisha Singh (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee) slaps an RTI on Saajan’s force and he suspends an officer for using mehendi to make himself seem taller during the entrance test.

On the other hand, there is the very fine parallel between Pushpak Shakur (Jackie Shroff)’s anti-science cult Jigyasu Jagriti Manch and the white supremacist terrorist group Ku Klux Klan. The connection is defined solely by the similarity in costume, hinting at the notion of human supremacy also being a violent and discriminatory ideology. The balance between a satire that is in-your-face and one you have to lightly ponder over for hours – that is the Herculean product of the brilliant writer trio (Pooja Shetty, Neil Pagedar, and Anand Gandhi).

While OK Computer’s plot unravels itself into a chaotic existential hodgepodge by the end, and the main character (robot) Ajeeb’s (Ullas Mohan) voice becomes incredibly annoying after a point, the series deserves to be recognised in its own time simply because there is path-breaking philosophy beyond its negligible shortcomings. David Wood observes how Ajeeb’s makers try to input their own morals, and priorities into the robot, but ‘it’ decides on its own that war can be of less urgency than the need to tell a joke. Are human beings really the authority on morality?

While posthumous fame can be a great artistic marker, it does little to fund or encourage more difficult discussions in a nightmarish time such as the one we’re living in. Although OK Computer requires you to think hard, and work to decode its golden script, it is not meant for a few. Its masterpiece is meant exactly for those who resist it.

Meghalee Mitra is a littérateur and hopes to change the world, one word at a time.

Featured image credit: Disney Hotstar