When you ask about Bollywood science fiction, many resources point you to Mr. India (1987). This film - about a man who finds a watch that makes him invisible - has an excellent villain, wonderful actors, and some great item numbers. Unfortunately, while it may have been been cutting edge for its time, it is fairly campy by today's sci-fi standards.
Bollywood isn't known for it's science fiction. Due to limitations in the area of special effects, the really good sci-fi films have really only started coming out in the last decade. Hindi films have seen some recent sci-fi successes along with the Tamil film industry which seems particularly interested in exploring this genre.
It is notable that the most successful science fiction films coming out of India seem to include a Superhero. In The Making of Ra.One interview, Shah Rukh Khan explains, "Every actor somewhere along the line wants to do a superhero film. In India the genre is completely new and perhaps not the most popular one."
If you are a science fiction aficionado, here are the top 5 films of Indian cinema you must see. Each of these films has received numerous awards and nominations. The best way to view these movies is in the following order as the sci-fi storylines and techniques used build on previous films.
English Translation: The title has been translated as "You Are Not Alone" and "I Found Someone." This is the first film in the Krrish trilogy.
Release Date: 8 August 2003
Director: Rakesh Roshan
Music by: Rajesh Roshan
Description: Dr. Sanjay Mehra (Rakesh Roshan) has spent his lifetime trying to prove the existence of alien beings. After discovering he has made contact, he and his wife, Sonia (Rekha), are in a tragic car accident. Sanjay dies, but Sonia survives but is injured. Years later, we find their son Rohit Mehra (Hrithik Roshan) has grown into a young man, but because he suffered in-utero brain damage as a result of the accident, he has the mind of a child. Rohit befriends Nisha (Preity Zinta) and together they find Dr. Mehra's computer and unknowingly follow in his footsteps, making first contact with an alien, Jadoo ("Magic"). When Jadoo learns about Rohit's condition, he heals him and gives him extraordinary intellectual and physical power.
Stand Out Songs: All the songs are charming, but the most memorable item number for me is "It's Magic" (sung by Taz) where the character Rohit turns from a bumbling boy into a dancing don and wins the heart of Nisha (and everyone else). All the songs were composed by Rajesh Roshan.
Why I Love This Film: I have to admit that I avoided this film for some time because I had trouble picturing Hrithik Roshan in the role of a man-child along with an alien E.T.-like creature. However, after giving Koi... Mil Gaya a try, I discovered that the film really works. The characters are believable and the story, while not totally unique, has a decidedly unique spin. The special effects aren't overdone and the storyline is appropriate for children of all ages. The payoff is seeing the slow transformation of Rohit who emerges a confident and compassionate hero.
Recognition: Koi... Mil Gaya was the most successful Bollywood film of 2003 and swept the Best Picture, Best Director (Rakesh Roshan) and Best Actor (Hrithik Roshan) awards in all major award ceremonies of 2003 including the Filmfare Awards, International Indian Film Academy Awards, and Screen Awards. It is widely regarded as Bollywood's very first sci-fi thriller
Description: Several years later when we learn that Rohit (Hrithik Roshan) and Nisha (Preity Zinta) have married but died shortly after their son's birth. Now an adult, Krishna (Hrithik Roshan) lives with his Sonia Mehra, his grandmother (Rekha) in the countryside far away from civilization where people can't discover that he has inherited his father's superpowers. One day he meets Priya (Priyanka Chopra), who is on a camping trip, and falls in love. Priya returns to Hong Kong then invites Rohit to join her. Before he goes, his grandmother makes him promise to keep his powers secret. When he finds himself in a situation where he must use his powers to save lives, he dons a mask and black coat and becomes Krrish. He learns that his father is alive but a prisoner of Dr. Siddhant Arya (Naseeruddin Shah), a megalomaniac scientist, who is using Rohit to create a computer that sees into the future. Krrish confronts Arya to rescue his father and Priya, who has been kidnapped by Arya's men.
Stand Out Songs: Just as in Koi ... Mil Gaya, each of the Krrish songs (composed by Rajesh Roshan) have something to offer. But my favorite item number is "Dil Na Diya" (sung by Kunal Ganjawala) because it gives Krishna the opportunity to woo Priya (and the audience) through an entertaining song and dance performance. The song also depicts a time of simple joy immediately before Krishna enters the world of Krrish. Also of note is the Krrish instrumental theme music which is uplifting and evokes the superhero style; unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available on the CD. Hopefully, it will become available for download when Krrish 3 is released.
Why I Love This Film: This second film in the trilogy is an introduction to and coming-of-age story for the character Krrish. After learning about his secret past, Krishna leaves his sheltered, simple world and enters the modern world where he must keep his identity hidden. He is tested emotionally and psychologically yet rises to the challenges he must face with the strength and empowerment of a true superhero. In one of the fight scenes near the end of the film, the battle takes on the look of a live action motion comic - a stylistic treatment that fits nicely within the context of this film.
Recognition: Krrish received numerous nominations and awards. Filmfare Awards: Best Special Effects, Best Action, Best Background Score; International Indian Film Awards: Best Actor, Best Action, Best Special Effects, Creative Person of the Year (Rakesh Roshan); National Film Award: Best Special Effects. Krrish swept the major film categories at the Pogo Amazing Kid's Awards, which are voted on by children across India. Winners were: Hrithik Roshan (Most Amazing Actor, Male), Priyanka Chopra (Most Amazing Actoe, Female), Most Amazing Film, and Most Amazing Moment in a film (Special Effects).
3. Endhiran (2010)
About the Title: Endhiran is the Tamil title which was translated to Robo (Telugu) and Robot (Hindi). The film is based on a novel by Tamil writer Sujatha Rangarajan titled En Iniya Iyanthira ("My Dear Machine") about robots in the year 2020. The original Tamil version of this film is difficult to find in the United States, but the Hindi-dubbed version is available.
Release Date: 1 October 2010
Music by: A. R. Rahman
Description: Dr. Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth), a scientist specialized in robotics, creates Chitti - a sophisticated android robot in his own likeness with the intention of joining it to the Indian army. But because he cannot understand human emotions, Chitti is does not pass the review board's evaluation. Dr. Vasee upgrades Chitti's processor and introduces synthetic hormones to simulate human emotions without realizing the repercussions. Chitti is transformed and falls in love with Vasee's fiancée, Sana (Aishwarya Rai). Dr. Vasee dismantles Chitti, but Vasee's mentor Dr. Bora (Danny Denzongpa) rescues the robot. Chitti turns against both Vasee and Bora and begins to create his own society where he will be king and Sana will be his queen.
Stand Out Songs (Hindi version): The film's background score and soundtrack, which was composed by A. R. Rahman, became the best-selling world album on the iTunes Store in three countries within a few days of its digital release.
- The love song "Pagal Anukan" is beautiful and managed to incorporate the words "neutron" and "electron" which should please any physics major.
- "Boom Boom Robo Da" offers a mantra-like chorus and the item number pleases while moving the story along.
- "Arima Arima" offers a vision of a Chitti-ruled world where everyone moves on his command.
Why I Love this Film: For a young genre, this film is a remarkably high-tech, computer-savvy film and is extremely enjoyable to watch. You can understand why Rajinikanth has such a strong following. He plays the double-role effectively and the story does a good job of incorporating computer programming and scientific principles in a believable manner. My only issue is with the one or two item numbers (not included above) that just don't seem to fit within the context of the film.
Recognition: This film received numerous nominations and awards, including the following - Filmfare Awards South: Best Cinematographer, Best Art Director, Best Costume Designer; International Indian Film Academy Awards: Best Special Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Make-up Artist; National Film Awards: Best Special Effects; Best Art Direction; Tokyo International FIlm Festival: Winds of Asia-Middle East (Special Mention, S. Shankar); Screen Awards: Best Special Effects, Spectacular Cutting Edge Technology; Vijay Awards: Best Villain (Rajinikanth), Best Cinematographer, Best Make Up Artists, Best Find of the Year, Favourite Film, Favourite Hero (Rajinikanth), Favorite Director (S. Shankar).
4. Ra.One (2011)
About the Title: Ra.One stands for "Random Access Version One" aka Ravan (pronounced as in Lankeshwar Ravan) whose arch-enemy is G.One (Jeevan).
Release Date: 24 October 2011
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Music by: Vishal-Shekhar
Description: Shekar Subramaniam (Shah Rukh Khan) lives a middle-classed life abroad along with his wife, Sonia (Kareena Kapoor), and a school-going son, Prateek (Armaan Verma). Shekar is employed with Barron Industries, where the owner insists his staff come up with a plan to launch the ultimate video game. Hoping to create a super-hero, Shekhar instead faces criticism from Prateek - who hopes to instead see an awesome villain. This conversation changes Shekhar's thinking and he sets about to create an indestructible villain, calls him Ra.one (Tom Wu/Arjun Rampal) and its arch-enemy G.One (Shah Rukh Khan). The game is launched, but their lives are shattered when the shape-shifting Ra.One finds a way to enter the real world...
Stand Out Songs: The soundtrack of Ra.One was composed by Vishal-Shekhar whilst the lyrics were penned by Atahar Panchi, Vishal Dadlani, Kumaar,Anubhav Sinha and Anvita Dutt Guptan. The soundtrack offers something for everyone and is definitely worth owning. Here are my favorite songs and item numbers:
- "Chammak Challo" was the most hyped song of the film - with good reason. Sung by Akon and performed by Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor, the song was a hit even before the film was released.
- "Criminal" was another hugely popular song sung by Akon will get you up on your feet to dance along.
- "Dildaara Dildaara" is a sweet remix of the song "Stand by Me" sung by Shafqat Amanat Ali, Vishal Dadlani, Shekhar Ravjiani and Clinton Cerejo.
- The heart-wrenching "Bhara Naina" - sung by Vishal Dadlani, Shekhar Ravjiani and Nandini Srikar - asks the question "Why?" when bad things happen to good people
Why I Love this Film: Along with Ethiran, this was the most expensive, highly advanced film in terms of special effects. The film takes the idea offered in the film Tron and turns it upside down. Villain and Hero enter our infinite world of possibilities and hash-it-out based on a finite set of rules as programmed in the computer game - and the game must be played regardless of the consequences. By being coded with a bit of humanity, G.One is better able to connect with the world and successfully carry-out his mission. You are sure to enjoy the opening sequence about a character named "Lucifer", played by SRK, who rescues a desi-girl. In the role of G.One, the added touch of giving Shah Rukh Khan steel blue eyes makes this character seem as if he walked out of a video game. In one memorable scene, Chitti (Rajinikanth) appears and rescues G.One who has found himself in a tough situation. It is a brief cameo, but a truly delightful one.
Recognition: The film won more than 50 awards and nominations. Some of the awards it won include - International Indian Film Academy Awards: Best Special Effects, Best Production Design, Best Song Recording, Best Sound Recording; Star Screen Awards: Best Actor (Shah Rukh Khan) – Popular Choice, Best Special Effects, Best Action. Zee Cine Awards: Song of The Year "Chammak Challo", Best Sound Design, Best Action, Best Visual Effects, Best Marketed Film, Best Use of New Media.
5. 7aam Arivu (2011)
About the title: "7th Sense" in Tamil. It is believed that masters of the seventh sense have a greater control of their other six senses.
Release Date: 26 October 2011
Director: A. R. Murugadoss
Music by: Harris Jayaraj
Description: The film begins with a bit of historical fiction based on the life and legend of the 28th Zen Patriarch Bodhi Dharma ("Buddhist monk"). In this film, Bodhi Dharma (Suriya) is the son of a great Tamil king of the Pallava Dynasty. He is sent to China to stop the spread of a pandemic disease from spreading to India. After curing a young girl, he begins to teach how to cure many diseases, the skills of hypnotism and the physical training of the Shaolin monks. When he expresses his desire to return to India, the villagers poison his food believing that if he is buried there their place would be disease free. The film switches to modern-day China, where Dong Lee (Johnny Tri Nguyen) is given the task of starting a government planned biological war against India, known as Operation Red. Dong Lee arrives in Chennai and starts this operation by injecting a virus into a street dog. This disease was the one which occurred during the time of Bodhi Dharma in China. Subha Srinivasan (Shruti Haasan), a genetic engineering student, tries to bring back the skills of Bodhi Dharma through his descendant Aravind (Suriya) to save India from the deadly virus attack.
Stand Out Songs: Tamil film songs are generally upbeat and enjoyable, however my favorite item number was "Oh Ringa Ringa" which is a advertisement for the community to attend the circus where Aravind performs. The item number has a cast of hundreds as it was performed and filmed on the busy streets of Chennai. It has the flavor of a flashmob and is just as fun.
Why I Love this Film: Suriya convincingly plays both Bodhi Dharma and Aravind, two very different personalities. As the modern day character, Aravind is unaware of his inherited power as he faces Dong Lee who is more deadly than the Terminator and able to turn almost anyone into a mindless zombie willing to do his bidding. Subha is intelligent and driven and it is through her that Aravind derives his strength. The ancient story of Bodhi Dharma is that of one man's willingness to share his strength and abilities with the world. The modern-day story is a race against time to save the world from the actions of one man. In the end, the film also serves as a statement against the brain-drain of those who leave India and settle elsewhere.
Recognition: Nominated for several awards, including Vijay Award for Best Actor, Vijay Award for Favourite Hero, Filmfare Award for Best Actor (Tamil), SIIMA Award for Best Actor.
Don't know which film to watch first? The following playlist features trailers for each of these films.
If you like this post, check out our other Friday Five lists of Bollywood films.