The beauty of the sci-fi genre lies in its diversity. It is not just limited to superhuman powers, invisibility or aliens. The number of possibilities are vast and the area is a lot deeper than it gets credit for. While we may wonder at how far Bollywood has explored these possibilities, South Indian cinema has plenty to offer.
The major film industries of the south- Tollywood (Telugu films), Kollywood (Tamil films) and Sandalwood (Kannada films) have played around with as many sci-fi concepts as Bollywood has. And here is a concise list of the best:
(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
1. Mental Experiments- Srivalli (Telugu, 2017)
Starring model-actress Neha Hinge in the lead role, Srivalli is a thriller that explores the concept of mind control and its consequences. The plot revolves around a renowned scientist and his daughter Srivalli. After the death of her father, Srivalli signs up for a dangerous brain-mapping experiment.
The experiment is successful, enabling her to tap into her mind’s “mother wave”- the area of the brain responsible for all emotions and memories. Initially, it appears to be a gift as she is able to communicate with a coma patient and save his life. However, things take a darker turn when traumatic memories begin haunting her, blurring the line between reality and dreams!
2. Human Experiments- Ambuli (Tamil, 2012)
Ambuli is the first 3D film in Tamil cinema. The narrative focuses on an unknown beastly creature haunting the jungles and corn fields in a South Indian village. A series of investigations and research throws light on the mystery, revealing the true identity of the beast.
The story gets super exciting after flashbacks that show a scientist performing experiments on a fetus. Though the experiment progresses steadily, an accidental exposure to radiation mutates the fetus into a monstrous, cannibalistic humanoid who has an extended life span of 150 years!
3. Time Travel & Dystopia
The theme of time travel is one of the most popular sub-genres of science- fiction. Several noteworthy movies are made and planned on this concept. Two of them are listed here.
24 (Tamil, 2016)
24 revolves around a scientist/watchmaker named Sethuraman who is successful in inventing a watch that allows back and forth time travel for a span of 24 hours. What begins as a cheerful journey turns grim when the watchmaker’s twin kills him in order to steal the invention.
In an alternate decade, another series of events lead to a dangerous race against time as three mysterious men struggle to set things right. Their only hope of doing so is by obtaining the watch and changing destiny!
Saaho is a highly anticipated Telugu film featuring Shraddha Kapoor and Prabhas in lead roles. Though most of the plot details are under covers, it is clear that the film focuses on the ideas of time travel and an uncomfortably advanced future. The film is yet to release.
4. Mind-Altering/ Performance Enhancing Drugs
Lucia (Kannada, 2013)
Lucia is one of those thrillers that reveal their true beginning in the end! Delving into the struggles of insomnia, the film progresses with two parallel narratives. These narratives are the stories of the same comatose man. However, one of them is always in color while the other in black and white.
The plot raises multiple questions which are answered very tactfully. The second half of the film reveals that the protagonist was prescribed a strange drug called “Lucia” in order to battle his sleeping disorder. Though he had begun getting enough sleep, it all came at a price. His ability to distinguish reality from his dreams was severely affected and after a point, he couldn’t tell if he was awake or asleep!
Iru Mugan (Tamil, 2016)
The film begins with an elderly Malaysian man committing mass murder at the Indian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur for no explainable reason. Other crimes follow. As RAW officials begin an investigation, they notice a recurring symbol at the crime scenes. This suggests the involvement of a criminal scientist named Love. The latter soon appears to be making use of a strange drug called Speed in order to fulfill a greater agenda.
5. Robotics & AI- Enthiran & 2.0 (Tamil)
The 2010 blockbuster Enthiran was the first Indian film about an Artificially Intelligent robot who turned out to be a threat to its own creator. Starring Rajnikanth and Aishwarya Rai in the lead roles, the film explores the possibility of AI robots susceptible to misuse as well as the possibility of machines “starting to think!”
Enthiran is all set for its sequel 2.0 in 2018. While Rajnikanth will reprise his roles from the earlier film, Akshay Kumar would appear as the primary antagonist. The film is also the Tamil debut of the Bollywood star.
6. Biological Warfare
7aum Arivu (Tamil, 2011)
7aum Arivu translates into “7th Sense.” The film begins in a Chinese village forgotten by history. A strange disease plagues the villagers and they turn to sacrificial rituals and traditional remedies to save themselves.
The scenes then shift to showcase a modern-day China planning to revive the ancient virus that was the cause of the pandemic shown earlier. As scientists begin working on the plan, the true intention of this project is revealed- a biological warfare against India! The real excitement lies in watching how the Indian genetics department plans on destroying the Chinese project.
Dasavathaaram (Tamil, 2008)
This is a sci-fi disaster film featuring Kamal Haasan, Asin, Mallika Sherawat and Jayaprada among other stars. Kamal Haasan’s ten distinct roles is one of the major highlights of this thriller. Though it begins with the explanation of the “butterfly effect,” the story has a nano-biotech lab and a dangerous virus as its central elements. As a group of terrorists plan on using the virus as a bio-weapon, the scientist in charge must try every possible way to prevent the disaster.
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