Unlike great ideas that get easy acceptance, if their time comes, bad ones need not worry about timing. Stupid as it may be, the thought of living our present differently only because the future didn’t entirely turn out as our worst fears had predicted, is an idea that might get shoved down our throats. It’s telling to see how an entire generation that promised a different kind of future than the one we seem to have inherited is scrambling to making up for failure. One could indeed experience a sense of letdown if they believed in the future that popular films, books, and video games had promised. The young out there are not as indulgent as their elders, and for them, non-delivery can be a big problem. So, the best thing to do is to tell them how what they feared is perhaps already here, only that they cannot see it yet. This notion explains why, of late, television shows and online streaming platforms such as Netflix have become fixated on reading material of the past that suggested a dystopian future and pitch it as the unseen present-day reality.
Nam June Paik, the Korean artist widely acknowledged as the inventor of video art, once said, “Future is now.” This basic fact makes it difficult for people to accept any hypothetical reality. At least, beyond a point. While popular genres such as horror and science fiction urged a certain suspension of disbelief from the viewer, the same cannot be expected from people in real life. Somewhere in the last decade, the future as depicted in popular culture switched from being a promise to being a threat. A significant factor that led to this change was the manner how popular culture was used as a delivery tool to interpret things around us. Terms such as alternative history and parallel future et al became genres unto themselves for studio executives and, as a result, the dystopian future became a go-to theme for just about anything. Case in point is some of the recent television shows in the west such as The Man in the High Castle or The Handmaid’s Tale, both based on material that was written decades ago but pitched as a reflection of post-Trump United States.
In India, this argument appears to present itself with shows such as Leila and Sacred Games that take certain real-life events to present a reality that might not entirely exist. Pitched as India’s first dystopian story, Leila, set in the 2040s where India exists as ‘Aryavarta’, liberally uses iconography to conclude that the country in the future becomes a ‘Hindu Rashtra.’ On the other hand, Sacred Games is based on a book that was written in 2006 but much of the visual referencing in the show is inspired by press reportage of the 2010s, and this adorns it a ‘very now’ feel. It’s hard to miss the political bent of the statements such shows seem to depict. In a country like India, the only thing that stands between things is political reality. The alignment of a billion people was traditionally decided by a handful of people, which probably makes it easier for a narrative to put into place. Watching The Man in the High Castle or Leila could leave anyone not familiar with the history of the countries they were based in with a different sense of belief that is not true. Would you really be surprised then if the younger generation started believing in a present that doesn’t exist only to deliver a future that might not have happened because it saw a past that wasn’t entirely true?
Gautam Chintamani - Film historian and bestselling author