‘I find robots harmless’: Radhika Apte shares her 'OK Computer' experience

In September 2015, one of Google’s self-driving cars ran into a conundrum. Upon detecting a pedestrian crossing the road, it applied the brakes as programmed. The pedestrian was safe. But the car was damaged as a human-driven sedan crashed into it from behind. Apart from the wreckage, this accident also triggered an ethical mess: in a similar situation, should a speeding self-driving car try to protect its passenger or the pedestrian?

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The upcoming sci-fi comedy OK Computer (created by Anand Gandhi, Neil Pagedar, and Pooja Shetty) deals with a similar dilemma. A self-driving taxi is hacked and ordered to kill an anonymous human. Who should be held responsible?

Amid this imbroglio is Radhika Apte, who plays robot rights activist Laxmi Suri. The setting, the genre, the character and even the OTT platform (OK Computer is a Disney+Hotstar show) are new to her. The actor talks about working with robots, the philosophy in science fiction among other things. Excerpts:


What made you sign up for the series?

I loved the writing. I read all six episodes in one go; I couldn’t put the script down. It is a unique genre, too — a sci-fi comedy murder mystery, which is also a mockumentary. The makers, Neil and Pooja, were extremely original in their vision. They weren’t corrupted by any other influences. I also haven’t done anything like this character before. Neither have I explored this kind of comedy before. It made me a bit nervous but excited at the same time.

‘I find robots harmless’: Radhika Apte shares her 'OK Computer' experience

You said that working with robots was fun and that they were really helpful. Can you describe the experience?

The bigger robots in the show had people in them. But AJEEB (the AI in the show) was basically Ullas Mohan, who was incredible. He brought AJEEB to life. There were also a few bots, which were actual machines.

It was fascinating to have them around, doing things that humans usually do. After a while, you start feeling affectionate towards them.

What makes them endearing?

It has to do with the novelty, I think. There was a time when a person used to grind things manually. Then, when a mixer came, that person would have felt something towards it. With robots, yes, it is a different ballgame, because it has limbs and a face like a human.

There are movies like The Terminator and The Matrix because of which people fear the advancement of AI and robots to an extent. Do your view on robots and AI match your character, Laxmi Suri’s?

Laxmi Suri’s point of view is extreme. I don’t even have that much information to have an opinion.

I am not a person who is curious about AI. But when you see Maushi (a robot in the series) doing things for you, you get a feeling that they can’t possibly be harmful. That way, you can ask if a car is a harmful machine? It can be... if you use it badly. You do not think about such things because it doesn’t have a face. When a Maushi robot has a face, you think about whether it is good or evil.

‘I find robots harmless’: Radhika Apte shares her 'OK Computer' experience

Anand Gandhi’s works raise philosophical discussions. This one too seems to have ethical and moral dilemmas. Did you just focus on your role or did you engage with these philosophical questions?

I spent most of the time with Neil and Pooja, who were on the sets. And, we did have such conversations.

Any sci-fi is based on philosophy. It is just not about, ‘Oh, look, a flying machine!’.

It evokes existential questions. I also got to watch a lot of clips from shows and documentaries about robots in the world.

There were a lot of questions for which I don’t know the answers though I find them exciting.

What are your favourite AI/robot films?

I like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator. I like The Fly because it is philosophical. I am not heavily into sci-fi.

There aren't many futuristic sci-fi shows or films set in the Indian milieu. Was it challenging to imagine the scenarios in OK Computer?

Not really. It is not too far off from where we live. It was challenging because of the character and the kind of comedy; not because it is AI-related. Even if you forget this is about robots and AI, the way the characters move and how they are — that style and approach is original anyway.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 2:24:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/radhika-apte-ok-computer-interview/article34168897.ece

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