India has seen much progress in the last century but, little has been done in Science Fiction. Is it because, India lacks technology or are its people only interested in commerce and profit? The answer is 'no'. India is mainly an agricultural country and here labour is cheap. Industrialization came late. . Due to the second wave of industrialisation in the nineteen eighties, India saw the tremendous development of computer software services, medical research and biotechnology. As such, the SF film Koi Mil Gaya is a milestone symbolic of the nation's progress.
Though Koi Mil Gaya [I Have Found Someone Special] is India's first SF film, its film makers have a tradition of producing fantasy mythological films in various Indian languages. For example, the Hindu epics - the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha - are the rich storehouses of myth and magic. They feature many magical instances, such as in their war scenes, magic carpets, and magical rods. In the early days of sound films, fantasy/magic oriented productions were largely produced and directed by Mr. Vittalacharya. Originally these films were made in Telugu and later were dubbed into other Indian languages.
The Mahabharatha epic is rich in exquisite architectural structures. On the one hand, it describes lengthy floors like glass and water, and these are often juxtaposed one for the other. Conversely, there is the description of a palace built out of wax. Films of this kind have rightly acknowledged the expertise of the ancient architect Vishwakarma (a mythical character).
A number of India's films in the nineteen sixties have shown imaginary worlds with imaginary beings. There is: the paradise, the pathala (an imaginary world in the centre of the Earth); the fairy worlds such as Gandharva lok (lok means world) Yaksha lok; Kinnara lok; Mathsya lok (an underwater world with aquatic beings that have mermen and women: human bodies in their upper part and the lower part resembles the scales of fishes, but usually with divine qualities); Chandra lok (the Moon); Naga lok (the world of snakes) and others.
Indian myths usually are associated with the co-existence of human beings with other forms of life. For example, visit any Hindu temple and it can be seen that the Hindu gods are chimeras created with the combinations of man/woman bodies with the faces of elephants, lions, pigs, monkeys, and others. The female gods are of two types namely, divine and awesome. Invariably, the second type of gods are endowed with a variety of weapons held in each of their ten hands. Further, each god has his/her own animal vehicle varying from lion to mouse. Dashavathara (directed by B. R. Panthalu, 1964) is a film produced in all the Indian languages and which describes the ten avatars (reincarnations) of the god Vishnu. With each of his avatars the god kills evil and protects good. Just like with some early western Science Fiction tropes, evil used to be associated with monsters or (non-humanoid) aliens. InDashavathara 'good' is associated with human beings but with an exception in that they are invariably the devotees of that particular god or goddess.
The concept of air travel can be traced back to the depiction of 'pushpaka vimana' in legends that probably date back as far as 3500 BC. This is the earliest record of such travel in the history of humankind - the airplane belonging to the richest among the Hindu gods - Kubera - in the Ramayana. 'Technological gadgets' and vehicles like magical carpets, a sofa, a cot and others were made use of in films where transportation was required to other worlds. But in many films a few lines of incantation of Vedic hymns were sufficient to transport the protagonists (usually saints, and gods, or representatives of gods) from one world to another.
Interstellar travel is very common in these mythological films. In fact, Narada a character in many of those films. He is often referred to as 'thrilok sanchari' meaning one who could travel in all the three conventional worlds; namely, the Earth, Paradise and the Hell or the underground world. Makkala Sainya (directed by B. R. Panthalu, 1964) is the first social Kannada [a 1960s trend to explore issues such as feudalism, class structure, gender conflict and unemployment] movie in which travel to the Moon and life on the satellite is depicted albeit ridiculously (for example a lunar lady is portrayed with her head separate from her torso).
The concept of an H.G. Wells-type time machine is made use of in the Telugu language [spoken in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh] film Adithya (released in the 1990s). The protagonist goes back to the court of the king Krishnadevaraya who had ruled the Vijayanagar Empire (18th century) It also depict war weapons, which could chase the antagonist and instantaneously kill him wherever he might be. The well known among them is Vishnu Chakra - the circular disc weapon of god Vishnu, the preserver of human beings. Each war scene has special effects in for weapons that could bring rain, fire, and total destruction.
Conversely, the idea of tele-viewing is found in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharath. In it the King, King Dritharashtra, though visually handicapped is endowed with special powers at the time of the war. And so his half brother Sanjaya makes the King witness the war, much as if it was the live telecast we see today.
The use of science and technology in films is typically exemplified by the use of different kinds of arrows in war. These arrows vary in their destruction and effect. Some could bring instantaneous rain or fire, while other could split the Earth or the sky into pieces. There were even arrows, that could also bring total destruction. On the other hand , the protagonist's arrows could frequently neutralize the effect of the enemy's. In a social entertaining, or social escapist, film Muqabla (1996), particularly in the title song sequence, there is a transformation of the man into a machine and vice versa.
In short, there are plenty of examples of technology, albeit magical technology, playing an important roll in the films. There is also magic and biology too.
Common to a number of films are paras mani (meaning a precious stone). The paras mani could bring back life and restore youth. There was even a film Paaras Mani released in the 1960s. A number of these films feature longevity of life and reincarnation. The prolongation of life span could be witnessed if one studies the character of Bhishma. He is a male character in the Mahabharath and the brother of the great grand father of Pandavas and Kouravas. He remained unmarried till the end. of the Mahabharatha. As per the legend, he was the 'iccha marani' (meaning he had the blessings of God to choose his time and date of his death). Another magical biological phenomena often portrayed is that of the body which could also expand as per the need of the hour. To cite a few examples: the character of Hanuman in the Ramayana has a tail that extends to unlimited length at the court of Ravana in Sri Lanka, and the Vishwaroopa darshan of Lord Krishna in Bhagawatha has a body that can be compressed. There are numerous other examples and even biotechnology of 'test tube babies' features in Mahabharatha with the birth of Dronacharya.
The afore represents just a cross-section of the SF and fantasy tropes to be found in Hindu mythology portrayed in films. In the past, particularly during the Vedic age (prior to the Ramayana before 3500 BC), magic played an important roll. Since it seems to have certain resonance with today's science, and as they have been narrated in fictional form, is this Science Fiction? Whatever, Indian mythological films do provide a rich tapestry of magic and fantasy. They capitalize on traditional mythological beliefs that many in the general population still hold. Neither the writer nor the producer need explain to the viewer any scientific principle because, the audience has grown up with such beliefs.
Though the advent of computers has brought in a revolution in cinema, it is a sorry state of affairs to note that films still largely focus on a belief in the unbelievable: fantasy rather than SF. Consequently anything is possible in India's mythical films. However one could say that these are all (what Brian Aldiss and John Clute might call) Proto-Science Fiction. Proto-SF because, one cannot exactly explain the scientific principle involved in each act, though there is a certain SF echo. Conversely, with India's first true SF film, Koi Mil Gaya, most of the questions or phenomena are explained as if scientifically.
Koi Mil Gaya [I Have Found Someone Special] was released in August, 2003. It directed by Rakesh Roshan who was originally an actor from the 1970s but who turned to directing and to date (2004) has directed about nine films of the 'masala' film tradition. [Masala films are formula films usually involving: a love triangle, a fight, the triumph of the hero, and the resolution.] In Koi Mil Gaya Rakesh Roshan also stars as well as directs.
The plot is as follows. Rakesh Roshan plays a scientist by the name of Dr Mehra. With positive optimism, Dr Mehra's life long ambition was to contact aliens. In his laboratory, he built his own computer and he utilizes a variety of sound patterns of the Hindu symbol "Om" to establish contact with aliens on other worlds. (This is a perfect example of the fusion of myth and technology and the protagonist believes in Lord Sri. Krishna and the 'Jadu'.) Dr Mehra succeeds in his alien contact attempt. Alas the scientific community does not believe his success, nor can he convince them as he dies in an accident. Coincidently, at the time of the accident and the time of the alien contact, Mrs. Mehra (Rekha) gives birth to a boy. Time passes. When the boy Rohith (also played by Rakesh Roshan) was studying seventh standard (equivalent to 15 years but Indian audiences will identify with him as his older physical appearance) we discover that he is a slow learner. But looking at his physical growth no body would suspect his mental ability. But not everyone likes Rohith. The boy's rivals, the Raj group, first challenges his physical ability and later on hassles him. They object him being in the company of a lovely, city-bred, girl Nisha (Preethi Zinta). Meanwhile, unknowingly by making a random motion on the computer keys, Rohith contacts the aliens. Promptly they land on the outskirts of the town. A team leaves their craft to explore, but one of them by chance does not return. The alien is hidden by Rohith from a police search. Rohith sees the alien as intelligent, harmless, helpful and obedient. In fact the presence of the alien brings solace to Rohith and his eyesight and the mental power were restored. He uses them not only to win the heart of the heroine Nisha but also to defeat his opponents. Meanwhile, the police with the help of Khan find out that the alien was with Rohith. The police capture the alien. However Rohith's mother tells his son to bring the alien back and so the providing, as is common in many of India's films, the opportunity for the lead star to demonstrate his dancing ability and 'muscle' power. Ultimately, the alien is sent back to its world so affirming that the laws of nature remain intact.
This is an ideal Science Fiction story as the film explores, and hints at, the possibilities of alien encounter for this to be both speculative and positive. Secondly, there is the concept that myth combining with technology could be good for the growth of Indian science.
India's fantastic films have traditionally focused on fantasy. So why the move to SF and why aliens? Perhaps, it is that magic or the supernatural can be replaced by technological rational without undermining traditional plots. Or maybe the unbelievable is less ridiculous and more acceptable in Indian society now in a period of continued change. We should note that the Indian filmmaker is obliged to reach a very large audience that includes sceptics, religious fanatics, innocents, and the people who are on the threshold of religion and science. So the end of the film might be seen as catering to a collective opinion and the aspirations of a heterogeneous people.
Still, a science fiction reader might wish that the director should have given a thought over the shape, the level of intelligence and alternative speech patterns for the alien. The alien 'Jadu' though conceived as intelligent, has not been convincingly depicted. For instance, how could it help humanity when it needs protection from a vicious but primitive group of humans? Then again the alien seems to require constant nourishment from energy absorbed by its antenna, but no thought is given as to how the alien does this at night? It would have been more satisfactory if it were depicted that the alien walking in the forest area for it to lose its antenna. In spite of having an intricate communication system (which they make use of at the end), there is no justification for the fact that the Jadu was left behind on Earth.
Nonetheless, Koi Mil Gaya is a work of fiction blended with science and technology. It notes that there are so many things in the world yet to be testified, and that his is just the beginning. Indeed the film has resonances with Steven Speilberg's ET: The Extra-terrestrial (1982). The Indian attempt is polished, and arguably has a better story and justification although includes inseparable romance married with the SF element.
In their way, as discussed above, Indian mythological films have dealt with all the elements of Science Fiction. The film producer knows the lowest common psychology of the people, and so everything is considered possible in the hands of unseen superpowers. Those films entertain but do nothing to inform the masses of modern interpretations. However, Rakesh Roshan has made a good beginning and this is praiseworthy. The actor playing Hrithik did so superbly. Preethi Zinta and Rekha have won the hearts of the audience. In addition, the special effects, the location, the musical hits, the dialogue delivery, editing, are all meritorious. But what is the impact of the film as a whole? "kuch bhee dikhayi nai rahahai" becomes gradually, "muje sab kuch dikhayi de rahahai!" ("I could not see anything" -has now transformed into "I can see everything.") This is also especially relevant to the progress being done in the rest of the field of Indian Science Fiction today.
Further information on Koi Mil Gaya can be found from http:\\koimilgayaindiatimes.com and www.koimilgayathefilm.com. (Though the websites seem to have variable accessibility.)
Dr. Srinarahari is presently teaching English Literature at a Government institution in Gundlupet, Karnataka State. He is awarded PhD by Kuvempu University for his dissertation entitled "The Robotistic Works of Isaac Asimov: A Study". He has the credit of bringing together SF scholars, writers, readers, and enthusiasts. He is the General Secretary of Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies. Since its establishment the IASFS has brought out a biannual magazine, the Indian Journal of Science Fiction Studies. He is a SF short story writer. He has edited 101 SF Short Stories Written by Children (2004; DSERT, Bangalore); Yanthra Manava (2001, NCSC, Mumbai; An Anthology of Marathi Robot stories);Vaijnanika Katha Guccha (under print, NBT, New Delhi; an anthology of SF short stories written by scientists and science writers). He has conducted SF writing workshops for children, scientists, science writers, and women. His recommendation of the best Indian SF story has been accepted for publication in the USA, China and Germany. He can be contacted at: 3293, 'Harithsa', 21A Main, II Stage, Vijayanagar, Mysore- 570 017, India. Phone: 91-821-2302124. Email: sciencefiction_India-at-yahoo.com; srihari2122-at-yahoo.co. (Converting -at- to @ which we do to avoid spam crawlers.)
Update information: Koi Mil Gaya [I Have Found Someone Special] was screened at the 2007 Eurocon in Copenhagen. It had a British terrestrial TV broadcast on 2nd April 2008.
After Koi Mil Gaya there came Krrish (2006) (also known as Koi... Mil Gaya 2) which was India's first superhero film: that is superhero more in the SFnal sense as Indian cinema has had numerous religious/legend fantasy superhero films. Krrish was also directed by Rakesh Roshan and starred his son Hrithik Roshan. It is Three hours long it is in effect in two halves. In the first the protagonist falls for the girl (played by Priyanka Chopra) in the traditional Bollywood way. In the second he becomes a superhero. Krrish had its first British terrestrial broadcast on 10th April 2008.
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[Originally Posted: 04.9.15 (Updated: 08.4.15) | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]