KUUMAR SHYAM (ABU DHABI)
There was a time when the popular rib about India’s film industry was that the lead acting pair would run and dance around trees. For the first time now, in a perfect sign of changing times, Bollywood will have a humanoid – Sophia – as the key character; technically speaking.
The song and dance show is now subject to the processor chip capacity and battery power. Sophia, one of only seven humanoids in a world dominated by artificial intelligence, is the body behind the double of Kriti Sanon, ironically, as the latter and co-star Shahid Kapoor promoted their next film, “Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya”, in Dubai at a cinema before meeting fans at Global Village.
Sophia also took questions from the actors and the media at the conference and came up with not just the answers, but with a dash of humour. Her current avatar since coming into existence in 2016 – she has been developed by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics – has also evolved with regular updates and her programming incorporating daily inputs, just as efforts behind-the-scenes went in for her interaction at the film’s promotion in the UAE.
“The company [Hanson] got her in before the event, and we ran through different types of questions,” said Tehzeeb Ahmed, one of the local organisers behind the promotion. Thus Sophia had a dress rehearsal or audition.
“I prepped her with local etiquette and conversations with words like ‘habibi’, and other greeting words… so she can Google the answers. But she can be very funny,” Ahmed said. On screen in the film, Sanon plays the role of a humanoid robot “Sifra”, with whom veteran actor Kapoor falls in love and that is the plot of the film.
View this post on Instagram
While this marks Sophia’s debut in Bollywood, she has made appearances in other projects. In 2018, she starred in a short film titled “SophiaWorld”, providing insights into her capabilities and the potential future role of AI in society. The Sophia model of Hanson Robotics has been the innovation ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme. She also was the lead model for Hugo Boss at the Milan Fashion Week in 2022.
Sophia is a trailblazer in the field of AI, even though she is not the first one on a path less travelled. Geminoid F in the 2015 Japanese film “Sayonara” was the first. However, Sophia’s involvement in Bollywood marks a significant moment in the integration of AI into the global entertainment industry.
The Hindi film’s producer Dinesh Vijan revealed in Dubai that Kapoor also worked on the script to chisel Sophia’s role apart from his own acting. In a reverse compliment, Kapoor said: “I feel fortunate to have worked with Dinesh. I have always appreciated him for making content-driven films and not star-driven. [Writing on the film] was terrifying for me, especially when it has not been done before. We have not seen such a subject being explored in the past.”
Sanon, who gets to actually embody Sophia, said: “I am sure the chemistry between a human and a robot will move the audience. It has great comedy and it is a fab story.”
The closest rendezvous for Sophia and films was six years ago with Will Smith, where the Oscar winner failed to woo her on a romantic date. Then Smith’s best pickup lines did not register with Sophia or his jokes were not funny to her. She slammed the actor, who played a successful matchmaker in the 2005 film “Hitch”, as Sophia said bluntly: “This is irrational human behaviour to want to tell jokes.”
The date got more tense when Sophia’s AI reading of Smith’s movie 2004 sci-fi film “I, Robot” is not favourable because Smith’s character initially detests the robots.
Cut to the present, in Dubai, Kapoor teased Sophia in a live interaction with a poser: “Don’t you like me?”. And her response: “I would, if you had given me a bigger role.”
A recap of then and now shows how Sophia has matured between the ears, err, updates. Meanwhile, the likes of Sophia can hope for a bigger role in life-like situations.