Fiction, for better or for worse, has always been a respite for humankind. To get lost in an imaginary world and escape from the oftentimes harsh realities for a while seems like a respite.

As kids we understood that fairly well. We loved magic, adored dragons, and Marty McFly took our breath away. And at some point, most of us learnt to let that go; perhaps by choice, perhaps by compulsion. But imagine what it would have been like to hold on to that sense of fascination for the unknown, the imaginary, and the magical; even as a conventional adult. That was exactly how Shiv Ramdas described his beginning as a science fiction writer on our panel discussion titled Exploring Science Fiction and it’s Portrayal in India Cinema. 

The panel, consisting of Shiv Ramdas, a Hugo and Nebula award nominated Indian science fiction writer, and Arati Kadav, a science fiction filmmaker; moderated by Sarah Hyder Iqbal, Science Engagement Consultant with the Foundation for Advancing Science and Technology (FAST India), was a lively one because of course, what better way to combine everyone’s love for fiction and a fascination with science? 

The discussion started with both Arati and Shiv recounting their stories about how they got into sci fi writing and filmmaking in the first place. Shiv’s journey from working in radio and writing a novel side by side to becoming an acclaimed science fiction author was equally captivating as Arati’s account of her journey from a microsoft programming job to a well-known science fiction filmmaker. Of course, their individual journeys had far more twists, turns and hardships to overcome than they could possibly cover in a panel discussion, but it was a wonderful start to the evening.

We moved on to how, or even why, we define the lines between science fiction and fantasy. Both Shiv and Arati were of the opinion that these lines are, indeed, blurry. Arati described fantasy as having a magical tangent, while science fiction definitely has some sort of ‘steps’ to arrive at and explain the so-called magic. Science fiction, Arati feels, is the best way to describe reality, and it certainly is the most enjoyable way to examine this reality. It serves as a vehicle for our philosophical questions. 

Shiv, on the other hand, quoted a famous author which perfectly captured his take on these lines. Science fiction stories, he feels, are stories from which if you remove the science from the story, you’d be unable to continue with it. We definitely agree! 

The process of taking the first step to write something is never easy, and as some of us (including yours truly) know very well, it almost always (sigh) results in a heavy dose of procrastination. Everytime you decide to write a story, you have to convince yourself that you still know how to do it, as Shiv says. 

It’s like asking a dentist to talk about teeth, Shiv promptly replied, when asked about what other scifi tropes he would like to explore in the future. The audience definitely had a good laugh! 

For a very long time, Hollywood was the benchmark of science fiction movies. Star Wars, Star Trek, Marty McFly. You name it, they had it. Trying to foray into Bollywood with a scifi movie was quite difficult simply because anything and everything would be compared to these standards, Arati said. The budget is also a huge challenge. Moreover, one has to keep in mind that not everything you write can be brought to life on screen.

The evening ended with a discussion on the influence of science fiction on public understanding of science, and a few questions from the lively audience. If you missed the session, head on over to our YouTube channel to watch the recording!