White Guy Watches Bollywood

A random white guy engages with contemporary Indian cinema... one movie at a time

Hindi Movie Review: Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya satirizes the raging A.I. debate with irresistible rom-com hijinks

Shahid Kapoor and Kriti Sanon star in "Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya," here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

The “robot woman” subgenre has certainly had a notable impact on culture worldwide, spanning landmark titles from The Stepford Wives to Ex Machina, but there are actually fewer of these movies than you’d think. The list gets even shorter if you winnow it to just those films that are not strictly about the perils of robot technology, i.e., those that attempt something more than just dystopian science-fiction. I point this out simply to say that the time is ripe for a movie like Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya, which definitely has its fair share of cautionary points to make in the end, but spends much of its runtime thriving as a frothy, off-kilter romantic comedy between a man and a female-appearing robot. Especially with all the media discourse of artificial intelligence’s role in present-day civilization, this subgenre feels like the right well to go back to in our current moment. Leave it to Bollywood to get there first.

But the movie doesn’t just feel like it’s seizing upon the zeitgeist; topicality aside, it chiefly succeeds as pure entertainment. Sometimes it’s aggressively silly, yes, but this is the type of good-natured, mass-appeal amusement that moviegoers used to love before they got overly self-conscious. The setup is simple, but satisfying: protagonist Aryan (Shahid Kapoor) is a brilliant robotics programmer whose personal life lacks the excitement of his coding innovations, marked by a refusal to marry any woman his family presents to him. Fortunes change, however, when Aryan’s U.S.-based boss and aunt, Urmila (Dimple Kapadia), introduces him to her lovely assistant Sifra (Kriti Sanon) on a business trip. He’s immediately struck by her – she’s perfect for him in every way – but the only problem is, Sifra actually stands for “Super Intelligent Female Robot Automation” (brilliant movie scientists just have a way of picking the lamest acronyms ever for their inventions!). Aunt Urmila had to test her technological masterpiece on Aryan without revealing the secret behind “her.”

If you’re game to play along with this outlandish premise, the film’s execution of it will not let you down. And the scenario becomes even more fun when the robotics-obsessed Aryan decides that, humanity be damned, he still wants Sifra to be his wife even after finding out that she’s a machine. This entails some creative convincing on his part: he rationalizes to Aunt Urmila that the only way to truly play-test Sifra in a real-world environment is to bring her back to India and introduce her to his family as his fiancée, without letting them in on the secret. What could possibly go wrong? A lot, of course, as the socially-challenged Sifra navigates her way through the complicated politics of an Indian family planning a wedding. But she also faces more fundamental issues – namely, that Aryan keeps forgetting to charge her battery, and when he does plug her in, a bright status indicator light flashes on her forehead. And you thought remembering to charge your iPad was a nuisance.

As Aryan works to socialize Sifra, seemingly looking forward to his stealth-robot wedding, the script finds its way into a good number of amusing hijinks. But the film’s success rests less with the writing and more with the talents of its two leads, who somehow make this absolutely outlandish scenario feel internally plausible and even relevant to today. Sanon has the tallest task in embodying a humanoid robot whose programming instructs her how to conform to Aryan’s female ideal, but she’s so flawlessly beautiful, she has the benefit of persuading us on an aesthetic level right out of the gate. But there’s obviously a lot more to the performance than looks alone. Sanon is actually quite convincing in the way she straight-faces her way through the human-emotion-packed scenarios that Aryan hoists her into. Shahid Kapoor doesn’t have as heavy a lift, given it’s quite clear why he would be so attracted to Sifra thanks to Sanon. But he’s still quite charismatic as a dweeb whose immense professional intellect is no match for the charms of a machine tailored to appeal perfectly to him with every move. You want to actively dislike Aryan, but it’s hard when you might fall into exactly the same trap yourself.

The bulk of the second half of the movie revolves around family melodrama – both that stemming from the stresses of the wedding planning, and that stemming from the clan’s growing suspicions regarding Sifra’s, well, distinctly inhuman characteristics. While the escalation can get tedious in places, especially late in the movie, because we know exactly where the story is heading, the cast keeps it mostly engaging. In addition to Kapadia as Aunt Urmila, the supporting players include Rakesh Bedi as Aryan’s father, Anubha Fatehpuria as his mother, and Dharmendra as his grandfather (effectively repeating the same performance he gave in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, and getting away with it just as well here). Along with Aryan’s extended family, these actors all serve as great springboards for the two leads’ immense charms, keeping the focus on their (secretly) unorthodox relationship throughout. These are characters you can’t help but want to spend time with.

As one might expect, Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya eventually makes its way to a conclusion that lays the social/political messaging about A.I. on thick, with a tonal pivot from rom-com farce to cautionary science-fiction. This is all a fine way to bring the story to a logical end, but don’t expect the film to win any awards for the intellectual caliber of its thinking on machines in the digital age, much less what they mean to us as humans. The silliness of the story becomes more of an impediment when the movie tries to “get serious” for a moment. Like Aryan, we – the audience – wish that we could simply live in denial forever and relish the chemistry of the stars without consequence. But writer/directors Amit Joshi and Aradhana Sah know they have to give us more of a dramatic payoff than that, which ultimately caps the film on a rather dull note. At least they have the sense to also provide a final carefree musical number, in which Sanon, donning a sequin-adorned dress and a smile that couldn’t possibly be manmade, continues to steal the show through the very final frame.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

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