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Robotic Technology and Neo-Socialisation: An Analysis of the Malayalam Movie Android Kunjappan

 


Robotic Technology and Neo-Socialisation: An Analysis of the Malayalam Movie Android Kunjappan

Devi K T P

Ph. D. Research Scholar

Department of English

Bangalore University

Karnataka, India

Abstract:

The genesis of the genre of science fiction can be traced back to the early 19th century Europe. Science fiction has become a significant genre across the globe ever since. Only towards the end of the 20th century, Malayalam literature saw the emergence of the science fiction genre. Unlike other regional language films, Malayalam cinema was always reluctant to experiment with the genre of science fiction. Only a handful of sci-fi films have been produced in Kerala. The present paper attempts to examine the 2019 Malayalam film titled Android Kunjappan Version 5.25An android is the center of the narrative of the film. The movie's narrative potential is formed by the idea of what happens when an innovative technology like an android arrives at a place like Kerala. The paper examines how Android Kunjappan deconstructs the enlightenment idea of human centrism by placing an android at the center of the movie and thereby giving the audience a preview of a possible posthuman or trans-human future. The present paper also analyses future imaginings of a machine occupied society, a new democracy created by the techno-scientific culture, and the possibility of a new language of integrating different groups of people who are otherwise divided by class, caste, gender, and race. 

Keywords: science fiction; posthumanism; techno scientific culture; novum; futurology

The genesis of the genre of science fiction can be traced back to early 19th century Europe. The methods of enlightenment of 18th century Europe gave way to the rise in scientific thinking. The idea of how to codify scientific knowledge and relate it to human characteristics came through as part of the industrial revolution. Although many science fiction novels were published in Europe and England, those novels did not receive adequate recognition and popularity. Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus (1818), written by Mary Shelly, is generally considered the first significant novel in the science fiction genre. Genetic technology forms the basis for the text of the novel. Many science fiction novels were produced in Europe after Frankenstein. 

The sci-fi genre is mainly used in short stories, novels, poetry, graphics, cinema, music, and television serials. The earliest movie in the sci-fi genre is A Trip to Moon (1902), directed by George Melies. History shows that Hollywood sci-fi movies have changed the very definitions of mainstream Hollywood cinema.  William Berke's The Jungle (1952) is the first Indian film in the sci-fi genre. The first film that mentions Aliens in India is Satyajit Ray's The Alien. The 1987 film Mr. India directed by Shekhar Kapoor, put Indian sci-fi cinema on the world map. Tamil and Hindi film industries produced most of the sci-fi films in India. Enthiran (2010), a Tamil sci-fi film directed by Shankar, was a huge box office success in India.

 At the beginning of the 20th century, Malayalam literature saw the emergence of the science fiction genre. Even though the 1927 Samastha Kerala Sahitya Parishad held in Trissur discussed the necessity of popularising the sci-fi genre, it did not become fruitful. The genre became extremely popular in Bangla and Marathi but remained a not so popular genre in Kerala. Unlike other regional language films, Malayalam cinema was always reluctant to experiment with the genre of science fiction. Only a handful of sci-fi films have been produced in Kerala. After the first film in the sci-fi genre KaruthaRathrikal, released in 1967, only a few films are made in this genre, and most of them were flops at the box office. Sci-fi films like Athishayan (2007), Bharathan Effect (2007), and Red Rain (2013) were failures or moderate success in the box office. However, even these flop films have contributed to the new narrative techniques, the expansion of new visual technology, and the formation of spectators in Kerala (Basu 2011:558).  In the last two decades the number of sci-fi films and sci-fi literature produced has been increased profoundly. The relevance and popularity of the genre can be attributed to the increasing influence of techno scientific culture in our social life.

Android Kunjappan: Version 5.25 is a 2019 Malayalam film. As the title suggests, an android is the central character of the movie. The movie's narrative potential is formed by what happens when an innovative technology like an android arrives at a place like Kerala. Unlike previous sci-fi movies produced in Kerala, Android Kunjappan was a success at the box office. The movie's main plotline is about a conservative man named Bhaskara Poduval and his son Subrahmanian who has to move away to Russia from home due to his profession. An Android comes to the life of Poduval as his caretaker. Even though he was initially reluctant to accept the android, he later forms an attachment towards it and even names it Kunjappan. 

An important novum in the science fiction genre is robots. There are many Indian sci-fi novels and films that depict robots with superhuman powers. Bollywood film Ra.One, Tamil film Enthiran, and the Kannada film Hollywood are examples of this genre. Android Kunjappan comes under this subcategory. The term Robot was first used in a play titled R.U.R Rossum's Universal Robots. The play became a huge success in the 1920s and even translated to 30 languages. The plot of the play is about a factory that manufactures artificial humans from synthetic inorganic substances. At the beginning of the play, these artificial humans (Roboti) are shown as helpers of humans. Over time they gain more intelligence and start working against humanity. Meinecke and Voss point out that early representations of robots were often primitive and evil imitations of humans who rise against their creators and create havoc among humans (203). But as the technology advanced, robots' representations also changed from crude imitations of humans to more sophisticated technologically advanced robots and androids. But the “conflict between humans and the more powerful technicized other” remains the same and became a trope in the science fiction genre (206).

 

Android Kunjappan deconstructs the enlightenment idea of human centrism by placing an android at the center of the movie, thereby giving the audience a preview of a possible posthuman or trans-human future. The future appears as the present times in the film. That means the time showing in the movie is a continuation of the present day. The android is coming to the present day. Nevertheless, this time does not exist as of now, but it can be seen as a near-future possibility. Unlike Hindi and Tamil sci-fi movies, Android Kunjappan does not provide a big spectacle. The android in the film is not a significant sight for the other characters or the spectators. The character is simple and the android is shown as a familiar and regular character. When Kunjappan is introduced in the movie, a villager immediately recognizes it as an android. Very soon, Kunjappan was accepted as a fellow native by the villagers. Especially women and older people become friends with Kunjappan.

 

The movie also talks about how technology creates a democratic and open space where even Bhaskara Poduval, at his old age, can have a love affair which is amoral in the societal standards. Kunjappan opens up a new emotional possibility for Poduval. Even the woman whom Poduval loves uses this possibility provided by technologies like phone and internet to open up about her love for Poduval. Technology helps them transcend barriers of conventions and norms. When the movie progresses, Poduval and his son's relationship becomes more automatic, while the relation between the android and Poduval becomes more organic. The film ends with a rather unusual idea that the son cannot replace Poduval’s attachment with the android. The movie uses the android to problematize the present-day family system and points to a better, possible social life.

Another interesting thing to note in the movie is the social conflict created by the confusion and ambiguity regarding the gender, caste, and religion of Kunjappan. Poduval attempts to embed Kunjappan to the social system by declaring Kunjappan as a Hindu, and when Poduval realizes that Kunjappan is naked, he clothes Kunjappan; Poduval even writes the horoscope of Kunjappan, However, Kunjappan shakes the savarna caste consciousness of Poduval towards the end of the movie. Otherwise conventional and traditional Poduval starts rethinking about everything that he believes in. Kunjappan challenges the hegemonic masculinity of Malayali men in the movie. At the beginning of the movie, the misogynistic nature of Poduval is very much visible. Nevertheless, towards the end of the movie, he becomes aware of his misogyny and savarna attitude. 

The movie Android Kunjappan is a mirror held against the decay of Kerala's social relations. The movie also imagines the possibility of a posthuman future. Beyond mere propagation of science, science fiction movies like Android Kunjappan make us understand that science fiction novels or movies are cultural texts with political meanings.

Works Cited

Android Kunjappan: Version 5.25. Directed by Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval, Performances by Soubin Shahir and Suraj Venjaramood, Distributed by Maxlab Cinemas and Entertainments, 2019. Film.

Basu, Anustup. (2011). “The Eternal Return and Overcoming ‘Cape Far’: Science, Sensation, Superman and Hindu Nationalism in Recent Hindi Cinema”, South Asian History and Culture 2(4): 557-571.

 

Bould, Mark. “Film and Television”. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Eds. Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

 

Capek, Karel. RUR-Rossum’s Universal Robots. Prague:Aventinum, 1920. Print.

 

Meinecke, Lisa & Voss, Laura. ”I Robot, You Unemployed: Science-Fiction and Robotics in the Media.” Research Gate, Published. June 2018. Accessed. October 2020. Web.

 

Sridharan, C.P. SastrasahithyamMalayalathil. Thuravur: Sri Narasimhavilasam Book Depo, 1974. Print.

 

Varkey, Pattimattom. RobotukaludeLokam. Kottayam: DC Books, 2015. Print.