Ruchika Oberoi’s debut feature Island City premiered at Venice Days, an independent parallel sidebar section at the Venice Film Festival, which is promoted by the Italian Association of Filmmakers and authors. It also won the FEDORA prize for the Best Young Director. The film had its Indian premiere at the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival.
Here’s ThePuccaCritic‘s post on the film.
“6 AM. Good Morning.” Says an alarm clock.
“5th floor. Humidity is 38%.” Informs an elevator.
“Due to wastage of water, we have removed water filters. Thank you, Systematic Statistics. Fun. Frolic. Festivity.” Announces an automated electronic voice.
These are the voices we hear, while we follow this gentleman called Suyash Chaturvedi, which informs us about his daily routine. He is a part of the crowd which enters those tall, shiny glass buildings everyday sharp at 10AM and leaves at 7PM, as if their biological clocks are synchronized with that of a computer. The building he enters is of Systematic Statistics, which swallows numbers and data to churn out graphs and pie-charts, where, like any other corporate office, there is little difference between a man and machine. Where a man’s freedom, personality, and individuality are sucked out of him, and in those tidy, dull-colored formal shirt-pants, everyone look the same – rusted and worn out, like a cog wheel. Which he is. In the scheme of this mechanical system, and, in this quest of earning a livelihood, he has lost his liveliness.
If you’ve ever been a part of any corporate job, you would have cursed the Branding/HR department at least a hundred times during your course there. Every office has this “Fun Committee” that has the pressure on them to make their employees feel happy just because one corporate legend said ‘fun is necessary for productivity’. “Why are you not having fun?” yells his boss. Chaturvedi is now made to have fun. Obviously, he is not asked what he would like to do. A set of instructions – like how we program a computer – has to be “obeyed” by him to complete his mandatory procedure of fun. This satire on corporate culture then naturally grows into a whole commentary on the middle-class urban idea of fun. Chaturvedi is taken on the Bollywood’s kidnapping machine — a van, to a surrealistic dark chamber that leads to humankind’s most dreadful construction of all time that now exists on every other road-corner :a shopping mall!
Island City, in its third short, Contact, which encompasses the time span of events occurred in both the earlier shorts, is about the people who is at the receiving end of the technology developed by companies for which people like Suyash works. The protagonist in Contact, Aarti Patel, in her daily job reads newspapers freshly printed off by machines. One day she starts receiving heartfelt, hand-written love letters. These letters make her hopeful of leaving her egoistic, disrespecting, and neglecting fiancé whom her family has chosen for her. But as one day doom strikes –(SPOILER ALERT) —we learn that these letters are no different than the newspapers she read…they have been written by some artificially intelligent machine. This is The-Lunchbox-meets-Her in a traditional space where technology is prospecting to invade. (SPOILER OVER) And as a consequence of the first story, Fun Committee, we see this (failed) technology pushes her back to the regressivity she wanted to escape. In this war of man v/s machine, both are losing out to each other. While we are trying to make machines that speak and feel like humans, we fail to realize that in the process machines are making us one of them.
These two shorts form an arc for man-as-machine and machine-as-man aspects of the narrative. In the second short, Ghost In The Machine, the patriarch father-husband of a Maharashtrian Joshi family is in coma, hospitalized, and is replaced by a TV at home. This replacement of man by a machine turns out not bad after all for the family. The kids, the mother, and the wife see the respective ‘spirit’ of the father, son, and the husband they wanted, in the lead hero of the daily soap, ‘Purushottam‘ (impeccably created) aired on this TV. Kids enjoy seeing him daily; the aged mother wishes well for him; the housewife (lovely Amruta Subhash) can now work as a school teacher which her real husband had denied. Satirical about our daily life and relationships, this is the most hopeful (and also the most “entertaining”) short in this portmanteau feature about the nature of men and the machines.
Technology’s primary aim has always been to advance humankind along with its culture. While the opening and the closing shorts (Fun Committee and Contact) critically looks at the despair it is causing to the human form of life, Ghost In The Machine’s hopefulness, with technology replacing the man of primitive thoughts by the virtual model of another mythological man, keeps the cycle and war of man versus machine going.