‘1800 Life’ Review: A chilling take on surveillance, loss of privacy, and the perils of capitalism

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan 

In Amazon miniTV’s sci-fi/tech thriller ‘1800 Life,’ a depressed comedian on the brink of committing suicide receives a random call which develops into a meaningful conversation that helps change his outlook in life. Vishal, the comedian, who though has seen better days, has now run into a phase where his career is struggling. While the part of Vishal is essayed by Divyenndu, the voice on the other side of the call is Shruthy Menon’s. Produced by Guneet Monga and Achin Jain under the banner of Sikhya Entertainment, the short film is written and directed by Maanavi Bedi.

‘1800 Life’ is a reminder that in the present day and age we are never really alone or off the grid and technology has invaded itself into almost all the aspects of our life—for better or worse. As Vishal takes the decision to end his life by jumping off from the roof of a building in the wee hours, the random call that he receives on his cellphone serves as a timely deterrent. After declining the call on several occasions, he finally decides to take it and to his surprise it turns out to be a girl with a cheerful, empathetic, and rather playful voice on the other side of the line. As the story unfolds, it becomes more and more certain that the feminine voice seems to possess an uncanny omniscience, especially when it comes to things and events about Vishal’s past.

‘1800 Life’ is all about the camouflaged aspects of technology. What’s the probability of a random call catching a man off guard just as he is about to jump from a rooftop? Is it sheer chance or part of some design? Who is the female voice on the other side of the call? Is some AI technology at play? That’s precisely where the Turing Test comes into play. The Turing Test basically a method of inquiry in artificial intelligence (AI) for determining whether or not a computer can pass for a human being. As far as Vishal is concerned, the voice on the other side is human enough and there is no doubt whatsoever in his mind. But little does he know that it’s actually an AI program at work. In other words, the Turing Test is said to have been passed.

Now, the biggest challenge for any filmmaker trying to tell a story with an AI character is to endow that character with basic human traits, whether good or evil. This is important to essentially make the character relatable to a human audience. Just think of the best known AI characters in movies and the human traits pretty much speak out: be it the robot Futura invented by Rotwang in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) or the Tin Man in Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz(1939) or the supercomputer HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968) or C-3PO in George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) or the replicant Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) or T-800 in James Cameron’s Terminator 2 (1991) or the NDR android servant Andrew in Chris Columbus’ Bicentennial Man (1999) or the Mecha child David  in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Chitti in S. Shankar’s Enthiran (2010) or the androids, Mother and Father, in the HBO Max series Raised by Wolves (2020).

The Steven Spielberg 2002 blockbuster ‘Minority Report,’ based on the short story by the noted Sci-Fi author Philip K. Dick, talks about a futuristic world wherein PreCrime, a specialized police department, stops murderers ever before they commit the heinous act. Does the world of ‘1800 Life’ is equipped to stop people from committing suicides? In ‘1800 Life,’ the female AI voice that prevents Vishal from taking his own life has all the right traits—it’s empathic, playful, humorous, cheerful, funny yet wise. The voice is able to tell Vishal things from his past. It is able to give him hope. It also gives him a feeling of being watched. Who is trying to watching him? And why? ‘1800 Life’ is not just about the camouflaged aspects of technology. More specifically, it is also about surveillance, loss of privacy, and the perils of capitalism.

Like a lot of other Indian films dealing with AI, ‘1800 Life’ also seems to suffer from budgetary constraints. Sci-fi/tech thrillers require a decent budget for VFX and CGI. But not many Indian sci-fi films can claim to have special effects that can be called truly world class. But, as part as writing and acting are concerned, they deserve full marks. The linear narrative works well for a thriller of this kind. Divyenndu once again shows his range and versatility as an actor. And there is no denying that Shruthy Menon’s brilliant voice work elevates the film.

Amazon miniTV is an interesting video streaming service available on Amazon’s shopping app for free and ‘1800 Life’ is certainly a valuable addition to short film segment on the platform.

A version of this review was first published at The Daily Guardian.

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