Director: AB Chakravorty
Cast: Kafeel Jafri, Anushka Nair
Perhaps an offshoot of the absurd age we live in is its effect on narrative fiction. Genres like sci-fi and fantasy have been humanized, given that high-concept missions and dystopian worlds are more or less figments of our current reality. We have started to “relate” to farfetched plots – it’s no more as futuristic as we imagine. It’s not so much about the magic of space-age escapism, but the crippling and very plausible control of technology over our existence. Nothing seems that strange anymore. Matchmaking algorithms and data monopoly, ‘devices’ that might have headlined old-school sci-fi movies, are merely aspects of everyday life now.
For example, AB Chakravorty’s Naukri, a modest 10-minute short that presents the modern data-theft debate through the heated discussion of a married couple, briefly touches upon this conflict. The man, while justifying his decision to enroll under the privacy-destroying, Soviet-sounding ‘National Job Bank’ (NJB), explains to his idealistic wife why the government hasn’t felt the need to create robots yet. “You see, they are turning us humans into robots,” he concludes, subserviently, as she slowly begins to understand her own double standards (cellphone apps, social media) in enabling this surreal environment. In a way he is also arguing against the “physicality” of science fiction and debunking the flying-jetpacks, villainous robots and artificial-intelligence templates – what is the need to accessorize an idea if it already exists?
I’m not sure this was an intended metaphor – it’s likely the result of obvious budget constraints – but it is certainly worth pondering about. Maybe it’s why Chakravorty hasn’t been particularly ambitious or gimmicky with his concept; the psychology cuts too close to home for it to be cinematically dramatized.
This also raises the question: does Naukri even qualify as a genre movie? Either way, it’s too…simple. It’s ironic, then, that Naukri doesn’t quite hit home because it relies too hard on its verbal form; it tells and doesn’t show. It comes across as an introspective conversation in the director’s head – two sides of a topical debate – simply pasted onto the screen without translating it. There has to be more to a chamber drama than an exchange of opinions.
The voice-of-reason device, usually off-screen beats driving a longer narrative, are literally voices of reason here. What might have otherwise been the invisible lines between the words of a feature-length script become a bunch of expository dialogues here – as if the maker isn’t yet at ease with a medium that is not purely academic. It’s not just the lack of visual energy. A raw line of thinking isn’t always enough; it might have helped if he had reimagined the medium as one that injects storytelling with information instead of the other way around.
Nevertheless, this dryness doesn’t completely dilute his idea. It inadvertently questions the foundation, and our perception, of science fiction in 2018. In a vague Black Mirror episode sort of manner, it raises visions of the world outside this room – one that, as mentioned, requires knowledge of “five Pink Floyd songs” and table-tennis skills as primary job requirements. The mere suggestion of a socially designed workspace is intriguing, especially in a country notoriously weak at regulating its professional culture. Given the right resources, maybe Naukri might depend on more than just a piece of paper in the not-so-dystopian future.