Vikrant and Shweta’s ‘Cargo’ is a Milestone for Hindi Cinema
‘Cargo’ is a simple yet complex story of characters that help us explore our own story.
Space has been colonised. That’s right ladies and gentleman, if pop culture legends like Star Wars, Star Trek and even Black Mirror are to be believed, then space, technology and beyond is by the Americans, for the Americans. The rest of us can pack our bags and go home. Cargo, one of the few films in recent memory, is here to question that where Hindu Mythology, anthropology and technology come together in this dark comedy. A parallel futuristic universe exists with beauty and ease through the holy matrimony of tech from the past, the present and maybe the future. Old transistors, TV’s, polaroid cameras meet high end spaceships, teleportation, and transitions. It is space unlike anything you and I ever imagined. There is no saving mankind from evil, no intergalactic wars. Things are, in fact, quite mundane. Just another day at work. Matter of factly. Less exciting. Much like life itself.
Recently like Asur, Pataal Lok, and Sacred Games, unlike the more direct adaptations or folk and myth retellings like Bahubali, Padmaavat or Bajirao Mastani, this is also a story where mythology becomes a symbol. But unlike these shows, full of grit, grim hopeless despair, Cargo is compassionate and humane in its depiction. Cargo is real life. There are no bad guys, no good guys. No heroes and no villains. Just people.
Science fiction remains mostly uncharted Hindi film territory (surprising for a country otherwise obsessed with engineers and doctors) but Cargo might change things. It is also one of the few sci films, Indian or otherwise, written and directed by a woman. Running the show in a mans world, Arati Kadav, an IIT-ian and ex Microsoft employee turned filmmaker, knows her world well. The set design is glorious, the special effects good (Ra.One and Drive could definitely take a few notes).
This film is uniquely Indian - it marries the two things we love most - the sciences and mythology. In this alternate or futuristic reality, we have geo- politics, cultural movements. We have NGO’s for people to see rakshas’s in a different, more positive light, as productive and contributing members of society. It is wildly funny and sweet. Icha daari naagins are yesteryear actresses, Yamraj works an office job, Godmen and sales gurus trying to make a buck, fake news, annoying but necessary sales calls, bad network, worried parents - we have it all. This maybe a story set in the future, on a spaceship, in a world where people have superpowers and the Gods and demons themselves grace us with their presence, yet it feels like it is a story about right here, right now. It is the contemporary relevance mixed with the unique imagination of another world that makes this film so brilliant.
Vikrant Massey plays Prahastha, a rakshas and the captain of Pushpak 634A, an ageing, restrained, perpetually hurting, an introvert stickler for rules, with past loves lost. Just your average hardworking demon, helping people get through the boring legalities and formalities of death. But this rakshas, is in a hell of his own. It is often observed that the walls we build to keep the world out, to keep people, passions and attachments at bay, to keep us safe, ultimately imprison us.
Shweta Tripathi is Yuvishka, his new female assistant, the valedictorian of her class on earth, a young dreamy eyed astronaut, the paragon of middle class eagerness and dedication mixed with the energy, idealism and hot headedness of youth. Shweta does justice to this sensitive character who embodies the human need to be remembered. To leave behind a legacy. To become eternal. A lot of life is waiting on the sidelines, waiting to be in the thick of things. Waiting to make a mark so that there never comes a day when your name is spoken for the last time, even when you’re dead and gone, you’re ashes to dust.
The story is internal. The scenes are meditative and contemplative. Sadness seems to pervade through the comedy and the atmosphere. The screenplay is thematically rich, full of sub plots and wonderful secondary characters (special shoutout to Nandu Madhav). Cargo tells us that we’re not perfect, far from it, but we deserve love, we deserve to be happy, to be remembered, to be seen, to be valued. The direction, like the writing, is evolved and easy to watch. Most of the film's conflicts though, exist within the characters and not much actually happens outside of them, and while I enjoyed this, I did feel that the “problems” they face are introduced and resolved with much ease. The conflicts don’t hold up as very memorable or strong. Tension is not built to explode, it inflates easily.
Cargo is simple yet complex. It is but a glimpse in the lives of its characters and through that, our own. Cargo is a milestone for Hindi cinema. Imagine if all jugadu, sleepy-eyed, well-intentioned, overworked, humorous and sturdy Indian government office employees packed their steel tiffins, nostalgic attache cases and caught the last local to space and sitting around working while stray pigeons fly in, faulty and outdated machines make noise and everyone is overworked. It is a warm, endearing and familiar world. The afterlife is demystified and broken down by the very same mythological characters who usually uphold the myth and mystery surrounding death. It is a genius. It is comedic and heartbreaking at the same time. The fickle nature of life and the randomness of death. Were you just crossing the street? Going down a faulty elevator? In the wrong bus at the wrong time? Did you choose suicide or perhaps, bent a little too close to a cracker that was about to burst? We are all delicate, barely hanging from a thread. The film reminds us what we take for granted: that we are here, right now, in this moment and for all we know, this is all we might have.
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