Though the cast includes some fine actors, their performances end up seeming farcical because of shoddy writing.

Sushanth staring at Simran Choudhury's arm disintegrating after an injury in Bombhaat
Flix Review Thursday, December 03, 2020 - 15:38

Bombhaat, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, begins with a disclaimer that “where drama starts, logic ends.” But our suspension of disbelief needs to be rewarded with something fun and fascinating, and hopefully even make us feel a thing or two — which is where this film fails us. Bombhaat is a sci-fi film that tells a familiar story of an artificially intelligent humanoid robot, the relationship between humans and AI, and the ethical concerns around AI. While there’s nothing wrong with predictability, which can even be comforting at times, Bombhaat suffers from clichéd, occasionally cringeworthy writing, that also trickles into the performances. 

Wiki (Sai Sushanth Reddy) has a reputation for his bad luck, and everyone around him believes it's contagious. He is a student at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems, and is friends with Professor (Shishir Sharma), who is the only person who doesn’t believe Wiki is a bad omen in human form, and encourages him to develop a scientific temper since childhood. When Professor is killed by the bad guys, his ‘daughter’ Maya (Simran Choudhary) becomes Wiki’s responsibility. Wiki learns that she is a humanoid robot, and he uses her for petty things at first, like making his ex-girlfriend Chaitra (Chandini Chowdary) jealous, before realising that there are bigger problems that need him to be heroic and save the day.  

While this is not exactly an unexplored theme, it hasn’t exactly been done to death either, and is still fresh in Telugu cinema. As a small-budget film with minimal visual effects and CGI, and a female, life-like humanoid, Bombhaat had a chance to explore the endless amusing possibilities of mundane conversations between humans and AI, the reasons and ramifications of feminising AI etc. And it might have set out to do that too, but unfortunately, it doesn’t do a very good job of it. 

Although the film was inspired by the artificially intelligent robot Sophia, the interactions with Maya don’t have the charm and insight that we see in Sophia’s conversations. It feels like things are constantly being spelt out in the film, to tell us how a character is thinking and feeling, but the writing and acting fail to organically evoke these emotions in the viewer. 

For instance, Wiki’s friend Karun (Priyadarshi) goes to great lengths to get his friend back because he feels left out. But until he explicitly says that he missed their friendship, we don’t really sense any warmth or camaraderie between them. The background music and dialogue seem to indicate that we are meant to see Karun as a silly, clownish friend, but all he does to earn this reputation from us is to constantly mention PUBG and TikTok. 

There’s a ‘Mad Scientist’ (Makarand Deshpande) who says his lack of compassion is a result of being bullied for being ‘eccentric’ and different. But even these clichéd yet potentially interesting elements of drama get lost in performances that were perhaps meant to be fun caricatures but end up being awkward, and the writing that spoon feeds doesn’t help. Neither do we find this evil, eccentric villain menacing in spite of all the frills, nor do we have time to empathise with his feeling of alienation. In spite of the cast including a few fine actors, their performances end up seeming over the top and farcical. 

While every film cannot and doesn’t have to be revolutionarily feminist, even as it speaks of futuristic AI, Bombhaat doesn’t even try to position its women in present times. Wiki, who keeps tinkering with electronic devices and such, is somehow implied to be a genius, while Chaitra, his classmate at the same robotics institute, is one of three things — an Instagram and selfie-crazy young woman, a sweet girlfriend who wants to help Wiki believe in himself, and a jealous crazy ex-girlfriend. 

Maya the robot is programmed with superhuman powers to beat up bad guys alongside Wiki. Modelled after the Professor’s human daughter, she is also designed to know how to cook and dance. She falls in love with Wiki, comes to terms with her limitations of being human by watching videos of mothers with their newborn children, and makes it her purpose to help Wiki reunite with Chaitra. The film feels like a lost opportunity to explore the gendering of AI and their obliging behaviour, even through conventional comedy and drama, and it would be interesting to hear Sophia reviewing Maya’s role. 

The idea of good versus evil also ends up being confusing, as the film seems to suggest that deadly weapons are ‘good’ in the hands of India’s military forces but ‘evil’ only in the hands of Russian agents and vaguely Islamic groups.  

Priyadarshi’s character’s habit of listing popular Telugu internet phenomena in random contexts, and the repetitive TikTok references are probably the only parts that indicate the contemporariness of the film. But apart from listing memes, the film makes no attempt to bring a fresh perspective to a familiar idea, within the audiences’ cultural context. 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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