Thursday, October 31, 2013

Filmi Fridays: History of Computing in Bollywood

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.

As Mickey hopes to go ‘viral’ today, it might be a good idea to look at the times Bollywood has used computers to catch thieves, impress women, get a job and kill villains. Bollywood has always been more partial to hand-pumps than hard-drives but here is a small selection from the history of computing in Bollywood.

The first time a computer was mentioned in Bollywood was way back in 1978 – in Trishul.
When Shashi Kapoor returned from abroad, he called Raakhee (his father’s super-efficient secretary) a ‘computer’ ek aisi machine jo har sawaal ka theek jawaab deti hai! Clearly, this ‘computer is always right’ notion was before GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out) was coined. Rakhee’s ability to remember cement quotas, her boss’ appointments, design files – while remaining unflappable all the time – was the reason for the nickname.

The computer made a reasonably high-profile entry in a high-profile film, starring a Tam-Brahm engineer – Roja.
Arvind Swamy was the good boy (presumably a computer engineer from IIT) who had a computer at home, which was quite a big thing in 1992 when the movie released. He turned out to be a ‘cryptologist’ who was hired to crack codes in Kashmir and he did so with a computer which had wildly blinking signals on the screen. From his facial expressions, we didn’t know if he cracked the code because he retired to sing songs in the snow with his wife immediately afterwards.

Sooraj Barjatya’s films are full of heroines who start off ambitiously on the academic path before settling down in happy domesticity. In Maine Pyar Kiya, heroine Suman (Bhagyashree) stood first in her Inter(mediate) exams by scoring 87% but instead of attending college, became a house-guest at her father’s friend’s house. 
In Hum Aapke Hain Koun, heroine Nisha (Madhuri Dixit) had moved with the times and was studying ‘Computers’ but no device was visible in her vicinity.
By the time, Sooraj Barjatya made his next film – Hum Saath Saath Hain – Alok Nath had graduated to tinkering with computers and staring at long sheets of dot-matrix printer output.    

Probably the first online banking transaction in Bollywood happened in Ajnabee.
In typical Abbas-Mustan style, an elaborate cat-and-mouse game played out between Akshay Kumar and Bobby Deol as the former tried to make off with a fortune by framing the latter. The climax happened in a cruise ship and Bobby finally pulled a fast one by transferring back the $100 million Akshay had got as his dead wife’s insurance payout. How? Hacking was still some years away in Bollywood but smart ol’ Bobby just guessed the nineteen letter password. Everything was planned, you see.

Hacking came into age by the time Om Jai Jagdish was made in 2002 (the year after Ajnabee).
In Anupam Kher’s directorial debut, Abhishek Bachchan was the ‘ethical hacker’ who illegally entered his college’s website to leak exam papers for his friends. After he was rusticated for his troubles, he became a pizza delivery boy in Bangalore and tried for a job in India’s leading software film – Softcell Technology. By finding out who hacked the company’s website in 100 seconds, he got himself a deal to make anti-virus software. And in true Bollywood style, he named the software Om.

A Wednesday was full of gadgets we use in our daily lives that can be transformed into deadly weapons of terror with a bit of information from online tutorials. Terrorist (Naseeruddin Shah) used a combination of changing SIM cards and a laptop to create a web of fear. When the regular efforts by the police cyber cell failed, a cool dude – who turned out to be a college dropout – was brought into trace the calls being made. In an interesting shift of power, the heroic police force was left to do the brawny things (fighting, chasing, interrogating) while the young hacker did the delicate tech tinkering.

When the personal computer revolution reaches a peak, you need people to sell them. That was exactly what a shady computer company called AYS Corporation was doing. They were doing the standard computer industry practice of over-promising and under-delivering till Harpreet Singh Bedi joined them and questioned them all.
After a lot of software, Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year was about the computer hardware industry with its aggressive sales managers, porn-addicted maintenance guys and exasperated customers. The whole activity of closing a sale, assembling the order and delivering it was shown wonderfully well.

Computer games came to the forefront when geeky game designer – Shekhar Subramaniam – invented a super-villain called Ra.One. The game was created to please his gaming addict son, who went by the online name Lucifer and who could beat even the super-villain. But in a fantasy twist, the super-villain got livid at losing and came out of the game into the real world. All hell broke loose. Till a super-hero called G.One emerged out of the game as well.

Himesh Reshmaiyya starred in Radio as a RJ with Radio Mirchi, who was probably Hindi cinema’s first socially active character. As RJ Vivaan Shah, he chatted on Facebook while his less-enlightened colleagues were still figuring it out (‘Yaar, yeh Phesbuk hota kya hai?’). His relationship status was ‘complicated’. His listeners complained about boyfriends on porn sites. And he was supposed to be super-cool.
A more complicated take on Facebook happened in Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge, which poked a lot of fun at the practice of cyber-stalking and online-despogiri. What Bollywood sidekicks have been failing at since time immemorial – wooing heroines – suddenly became very easy with assumed online identities. A complicated love polygon ensued when people posed as each other on Facebook (or something like it) and fell in love with online avatars and out of love with offline ones!

A South Indian woman came to Kolkata to find her missing husband and landed up at the Kalighat Police Station to file a missing person report. The officers turned out to be grappling with the Kolkata Police Database software they had to install on the police station’s computer. When she saw them getting hassled by the beeping ‘System Error’ message, she effortlessly moved in and helped them out. Her knowledge of the computers would come handy later in the film when she had to extract some information clandestinely. After all, she was a software engineer just like her husband. Except her husband turned out nothing like what she had said.
And that was the Kahaani

My friend Asha (also an acclaimed VO artist, who has worked in Dibakar Banerjee's Shanghai) has this to say: "All those fancy glowing and beeping buttons in Shaan and Mr India were computers too. Just that we did not know it then. And you deliberately missed the image of a CPU-hugging Emraan Hashmi running to safety in a riot-affected, curfew-declared wannabe-Shanghai?"
Whatay brilliant addition!


Abhishek Mukherjee said...

What was that movie based on an internet relationship that had the song "saagar ke liye hai fishing net, yaari ke liye hai internet@? Dil Hi Dil Mein?

Also, same concept, Mitr.

Fidaa had a hacker in *cough cough* Fardeen Khan. You had no right to miss that one.

Straight Cut said...

Hi Dipta, ‘Yaadein’ will perfectly fit into your Computing chronology. It was probably the first movie which captured the ‘dotcom’ boom and made it’s hero the CEO of a ‘happening’ dating/ marriage website!
One query though - Between Trishul (mentioned only in dialogue) and Roja (plot-point), didn’t the Computer play any role in any movie in the 80s??

suryadip said...

One other movie where computer plays a major role:

- Raju ban gaya gentleman - SRK aka Raju gets his job because his calculation matched the computer's calculation. Never mind that the computer analyst typed only "dir" and "mkdir" in his DOS console - it matched raju's projection

Randeep said...

I think '16 December' definitely deserves a mention..

Anurag said...

pretty awesome stuff!

My two-cents. A small but significant example of how bollywood kept up with the times. In one of songs of the iconic 'Love 86' [yes yes!] computers make a guest appearance. Must watch!

(skip to 1:45 if you're impatient but I suggest watch the entire song. It's a travesty!]

rajeshwar mukhopadhyay said...

I believe uday chopra had developed world's best os, and carried it in a floppy. Forgetting the name of the movie

napolean said...

Pyyaar immmpossible