Literature teems with love stories between humans and other beings. A prominent example is the movie adaptation of The Little Mermaid (the story was first published in 1837) which sees the young mermaid Ariel fall in love with a prince. In a more Indianised context, such concepts are often frequented in mythological movies like Njan Gandharvan (Malayalam, 1991) in which a Gandharva (a celestial being in devaloka) loves a woman and struggles to convince the gods. With technology and a deeper understanding of the human psyche, the idea has widened to aliens, dolls, smartphones and ghosts in recent years.
In Bommai, starring SJ Suryah and Priya Bhavani Shankar, Raju, who works as a mannequin artist, begins seeing his childhood friend in a mannequin. Bommai joins a long list of films that have depicted romance in various forms.
Ankhai Kahaniya (2021)
Streaming on: Netflix
In a short in Ankhai Kahaniya, Pradeep Loharia (Abhishek Banerjee) works in a clothing store in Mumbai. He is sincere, honest and hardworking. But living in one of the busiest cities, makes this small-town guy feel lonely. As someone who is shy to strike up a conversation, his days become monotonous where all he does is eat and work. This is until his owner buys a female mannequin, and he finds a companion in her.
As a viewer, his actions may seem weird most of the time, even if Achint Thakkar’s score makes the moments sound beautiful. But step into his shoes, and you understand how he finally begins to interact and engage, as the mannequin patiently listens. Unlike Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl (2007) or Bommai, where the protagonists imagine the dolls to be humans, full of life and emotions, Pradeep is completely aware that he is speaking to a doll. He also finds his lost happiness while spending time with the doll. In all these three films, a layer of psychological issues are addressed.
In Ankhai Kahaniya, when he reveals this to his fiance (TJ Bhanu) later, she readily accepts his behaviour and asserts that he is not crazy. And if he is, then everyone in love is crazy, she tells him. In a more meaningful conversation, she reassures, “Love can happen with anyone.”
Enthiran (2010) and Hollywood (2002)
Streaming on: Hollywood (Amazon Prime Video)
Made 8 years before Enthiran, a robot falling in love with its creator’s lover is the central conflict in the Upendra-starrer Hollywood (Kannada film) as well. While Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) creates Chitti for different reasons (the robot slowly falls in love with Vaseegaran’s lover Sana (Aishwarya Rai)), scientist Surendra (Upendra) creates a robot to help him win over a girl. As the robots eventually develop human emotions, they fight against their creators.
Unlike the earlier films where the celestial beings or mermaids have had a chance to turn into humans, films based on technological advancements don’t seem to explore that option, keeping the element of fantasy scientifically agreeable. So, in both of these films, the robots fall in love but become villains who want to marry the girl by hook or crook. So even though love is where it all begins, these films belong to the action genre as they explore emotions of jealousy and the relative destruction robots can cause.
Single Shankarum Smartphone Simranum (2023)
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
A reversal of Enthiran, Single Shankarum Smartphone Simranum narrates the story of a woman AI (Simran) who is integrated into a smartphone. Unlike Chitti though, Simran (Megha Akash) is well aware of love, friendship, lust and all such emotions associated with the dating world. Simran is in love with Shankar (Shiva), who uses the phone.
Though the film suffers from flat writing, there are some beautiful moments that show an imaginary vulnerable side to AI which Enthiran explores very little. Shankar is a delivery guy. One day Simran says to him, “You keep supplying this thing to everyone, and I want to know how that food will taste. But I can’t taste it.” The film celebrates her as “smartphone senorita,” and she uses more advanced technology like VR and projection techniques to appear as a human being in front of Shankar. She says, “I don’t have a body, but I have created this whole world just for you and me,” as she proposes to Shankar using VR. But when he rejects her, Simran begins to scheme to show how valuable she is.
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
A unique film in this list, the fluffy Teddy bear in this film actually has a human soul. Teddy takes logic for a spin when Sri (Sayyeshaa) is kidnapped and given an injection which puts her into a coma; her soul transfers to a giant Teddy bear. Teddy soon finds Shiva (Arya), a brilliant loner. As the duo team up to save Sri’s body, they take on multiple adventures.
In Anirudh Ravichander’s voice, the song ‘Nanbiye’ plays as they warm up to each other. Exhibiting her emotions might not be a hurdle for Teddy as she believes she will eventually transfer back to her body, but the film comically shows her struggles like being unable to leisurely enjoy an ice cream or junk food. While Sri finds a loyal man in Shiva, he feels that she accepts him for who he is, and begins to enjoy Teddy’s company.
Like in Ankhai Kahaniya, the man finds someone who understands him and enjoys the little moments spent with Teddy more than any other person he has ever met in his life. Even when they successfully find her body, they are not sure if they can save her, and in what Teddy feels could be the last few minutes of her life, Teddy tells him, “I love you,” and falls unconscious on the ground.
Streaming on: Netflix, SonyLIV
PK, a humanoid alien lands in India and loses his connection with his planet. He is left stranded and confused in an unknown place, but when he meets Jaggu, he begins to find solutions to his problem. Coming from a land that has no language, his journey with Jaggu helps him understand the cultural differences in India and also learn how to talk, dress and love. From dancing in the rain to enjoying the care that he specially receives, PK savours the cute moments and will treasure them forever.
Even when Jaggu doesn’t love him back, he goes to extreme lengths to help her unite with her lover. For a film that speaks about cultural and religious boundaries that separate us, what separates PK from Jaggu is the planet he came from. When it’s time to go back, he takes a radio, a bunch of batteries and recorded cassette tapes, all with the words and voice of Jaggu. And when Jaggu writes a book about him, she ends with the lines, “One thing he learnt from us, one thing he taught us — He learnt how to lie and taught us how to love…Till the time I am alive, I’ll look at his planet every night and wave. And I am sure, he’ll do the same.”
Highway Kadhali (Short film, 2017)
Streaming on: YouTube
Like how alien films mostly focus on their invasions and abduction, ghost films are often scarier with the spirit wanting to seek revenge. But what if a guy develops feelings for a ghost and she reciprocates the emotions? “Oh my god, a ghost loves me,” an elated young man (played by Pradeep Ranganathan) tells. This short film explores what happens when a human being boards a cab ride that helps dead people reach their afterlife space.
For someone who remained single all his life, Pradeep finds himself at ease while talking to Sneha (Amritha Aiyer), the ghost. But in a twist, the ghosts are soon kidnapped (You read it right). Nestled within this weird love story is also a competition where cab drivers fight to deliver a maximum number of ghosts. “She is dead, you are alive. Even if you save her, we will take the ghost to the same place,” the driver warns him. “Aavi ah irundhaalum, ava en aavi na (Even if she is a ghost, she is my ghost),” he replies. So, multiple fights and car chases later, Pradeep and the driver rescue the ghosts. So what’s next? He bargains and falls at the feet of Yama Dharma. In a way, it is also a modern and funny spin on the Sathi Saavitri tale, where love triumphs over death. Directed by Kamal Prakash, this award-winning spooky romcom is currently being made into a feature film, starring GV Prakash and Raiza Wilson.