'possibly the most unique aspect of My Virtual Girlfriend is how decidedly ‘un-Indian’ it feels'
A.I.SHA My Virtual Girlfriend, the latest series from Indian web-programming company Arre, is a darkly comic fable about romance and technology in modern India.
The online show is a flagship series for the company, and part of a rising trend in web-based programming coming from South Asia,
DESIblitz looks at the first episode, and explores India’s breadth of web-only programming.
Obsession and Technology
A.I.SHA My Virtual Girlfriend is the story of Sam, played by Harman Singha, a bright young Indian coder with high aspirations, but under appreciated at work and unlucky in love.
Sam is a loner, however. Siddhu, his only friend, is a self proclaimed ‘entrepreneur’ who sells him weed, and Sam has fallen hopelessly in love with a colleague he can’t bring himself to even talk to.
With both his work and social life at rock bottom, Sam puts all his effort into the creation of a true artificial intelligence programme, an autonomous virtual assistant whom he calls ‘Aisha’.
The first episode of this web series launched on the April 9, 2016, and offered a short but concise introduction to the world of A.I.SHA My Virtual Girlfriend.
At 15 minutes, the episode had little time to set the scene, and adopted a creative show-don’t-tell approach to storytelling.
Told through short conversations between characters, video diaries and visual storytelling, the show does a great job of keeping the audience engaged while avoiding lazy tropes.
Watch the trailer for A.I.SHA My Virtual Girlfriend here:
A Technological India
Indeed, possibly the most unique aspect of My Virtual Girlfriend is how decidedly ‘un-Indian’ it feels.
Drawing from western cinematic styles, including some tonal similarities to Neill Blomkamp’s 2015 film Chappie, it feels like a new form of Indian storytelling.
It focuses on the new wave, tech savvy generation, empowered and independent young men and women.
Sam is every bit the modern Indian: He dresses casually, is even more casual with his language, he smokes marijuana and spends time with a man who calls his handgun ‘Rosy’.
In a behind the scenes video, Harman Singha hinted at Sam’s development as a young man, suggesting that he will become ‘ballsier’ as the series progresses.
Fans of horrible boss archetypes will delight at series creator Raghu Ram Ambadapudi’s portrayal of Siddharth the owner of the app company Sam works for.
Performed with a wonderfully sociopathic zeal, Siddarth is every bit the quintessential ‘nightmare’ boss, bolstering his unfair cruelty with a warped form of logic.
He is well dressed, well groomed and wants his employees to know that the fruits of their labour belong to him.
My Virtual Girlfriend is a far cry from India’s colourful Bollywood scenes, its understated performances and low key presentation hint at what will likely be a dark techno fable in the episodes to come.
The Future of Indian Broadcasting
Web-based programming has been around since the early 2000s, but has recently resurged thanks to the increased speed and stability of the online world.
Websites like Vimeo and Youtube have allowed creative types to launch atypical formats of storytelling, shorter films and much more experimental content.
India is adopting this trend with gusto, as seen with My Virtual Girlfriend.
It’s not just Arre at the forefront of this new wave of programming. Numerous Hindi TV shows are launching online-only, covering everything from romantic dramas to reality shows.
Tanlines is a series about six friends who go on one last holiday to Goa before they go their own ways. The show is directed by Turn of Phrase director Prosit Roy and published by Sony LIV.
Comedy troupe All India Bakchod are getting involved too, teaming up with Hotstar to produce On Air with AIB, an Indian news satire show.
British director Richard Curtis is on board with web-based programming too. Working with Yash Raj Films, the mind behind Love, Actually produced Man’s World, a four part comedy exploring gender inequality.
The range of options is staggering, and the format’s popularity is far from waning.
The Death of Traditional TV?
What is clear from the first episode of A.I.SHA My Virtual Girlfriend, is that high quality programming is no longer solely the realm of big budget network broadcasting.
Creating a finely tuned narrative within the budgetary and time constraints of the format has led to My Virtual Girlfriend adopting a unique style that works in its favour.
Future episode dates haven’t been announced yet, but with the premier amassing over 1 million views, it is clear that many people are keen to discover where it all goes wrong for Sam and his virtual girlfriend.
You can watch the first episode of A.I.SHA My Virtual Girlfriend here