Hollywood movies have made countless films on robots, androids, and anything that runs on artificial intelligence to cover a variety of topics that concern humanity. 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Terminator films showed what could happen if humans depended way too much on technology. The Blade Runner franchise questioned the concepts of free will, basic rights, and emotions through the eyes of androids. Films like Her or Ex Machina highlighted how easily humans can be manipulated as technology makes us more and more lonely. And while there are countless other examples from the West, Bollywood is a little weak when it comes to this subgenre of sci-fi. They tried with Ra. One, and it failed. They tried again with Attack, and that failed. They have tried one more time with Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya; how did it fare? Let’s find out.
Amit Joshi and Aradhana Sah’s Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya (yes, that’s a very long title) tells the story of Aryan, a robotics engineer who is constantly being forced to get married by his grandfather, mother, father, and the rest of his extended family. But his picky nature and his love for his job are preventing him from falling in love or settling for an arranged marriage. The only family member he truly loves is his aunt, Urmila, because she is an expert in the field of robotics, and she never pesters him regarding marriage. One day, when Urmila asks Aryan to come to the USA and collaborate with her on her new project, he doesn’t waste a single second and jets off. When Urmila goes away for an “urgent meeting,” she asks her assistant, Sifra, to take care of Aryan. Unsurprisingly, Aryan and Sifra hit it off almost instantly. However, their whirlwind romance hits a massive speed bump when Urmila reveals that Sifra is an android and that she is the aforementioned project that Urmila and her team have been working on. This confuses Aryan very much because he doesn’t know if he is supposed to romance a robot or not.
The Maddock Films house of storytelling has established its unique (?) vocabulary with Stree, Roohi, and Bhediya. The men in the films are misogynistic as hell. They project their regressive practices on women who they think are dumb. The tone is comedic in order to draw out the inherent sexism of the viewers. And just when the characters and the audience are too comfortable with their outdated thoughts, the films hit everyone with a healthy dose of feminism, thereby subverting their expectations and sending the message that “We are in the 21st century, and we should stop underestimating women.” Joshi and Sah’s writing in Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya doesn’t stray too far away from this template. It jokingly shows how men like Aryan want women to serve men instead of thinking for themselves and how people like the Agnihotri family think that the “ideal daughter-in-law” has to know how to cook (all the time), be educated, have blind respect for their elders, and look like what Kriti Sanon looks like. So, even though the screenplay is full of cliche romantic and comedic moments, the writers keep pointing out that, as a species and as a society, we are deteriorating and becoming more and more close-minded instead of using the technology around us to broaden our horizons.
Given how the VFX and CGI budget is a big issue when it comes to Bollywood sci-fi movies, this rather grounded take on the genre definitely keeps things manageable in that department while allowing the focus to be on the relevancy and relatability of the narrative. You get to see robots, androids, holographic video calls, transparent displays, and whatnot, but the people interacting with all those things are either like you or like people you know. And that level of believability allows you to take in the movie’s commentary on male fantasies, internalized oppression, sexual harassment, and patriarchal norms. However, the issue arises when Sah and Joshi do not take off their gloves during the home stretch and choose to go for an awkward narration to wrap things up. They seem to be explicit about their display of the horrors that women compartmentalize on a daily basis, thereby making them susceptible to emotional outbursts. But their refusal to analyze the aftermath of it all and explore whether or not Aryan and his family have learned anything from the experience is what irks me. Maybe spending less time on comedic hijinks and investing more time in character-driven drama would’ve been great.
The overall filmmaking in Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya is serviceable. Apart from the opening sequence and the fiery finale, it never seems like Joshi and Sah use cinematographer Laxman Utekar and editor Manish Pradhan’s skills to the fullest. The costumes are derivative. The production design and the set design are too fake. Surprisingly, despite my initial hatred for the remake of “Laal Peeli Akhiyaan,” it’s the only song that stands out. With all that said, the performances from the cast make the viewing experience really enjoyable. Shahid Kapoor seems to be having so much fun. Every scene with his family is great. The rest of the actors never miss a beat. Kriti Sanon is fine. I wish she got to show more of Sifra’s dark side. Her chemistry with Shahid is really good, and that’s what serves as the fuel for the movie. Dimple Kapadia is cool as usual, and that’s why she should’ve had more screen time. Ashish Verma is effortlessly hilarious. The police station scene is a highlight, and Rajan Kavatra and Manish Kumar deserve a round of applause for their comic timing.
Barring the transphobic joke (which is probably there to show the transphobia amongst cis-het men), Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya is a decent sci-fi rom-com film. It’s certainly the best Bollywood film involving robots, androids, or any kind of human-robot hybrid. It’s a breath of fresh air in an environment that has seemingly become polluted with uber-macho, uber-nationalistic, or uber-bigoted films. The sight of pretty people singing, dancing, and emoting in the fakest sets ever feels like a throwback to the brand of escapism that Bollywood was synonymous with. Given how the industry is reaching new lows in the name of realism, I hope we get more movies like this that have a progressive and relevant message and are not a sensory overload, thereby making the trip to the theater feel worthwhile. So, yes, give Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya a watch and then do a “Maddock Monster Marathon” with Stree, Roohi, and Bhediya because of their thematic and plot-based connections. I am sure you won’t regret it.