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Cargo review: A new dimension to mythology and existentialism in this wonderful sci-fi film

Release Date: 09 Sep 2020 / 01hr 45min

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Shriram Iyengar

Arati Kadav's debut feature manages to delve into ancient Indian myths through the new prism of science fiction, offering them a new relevance.

"What is the point of it all then?" asks a bemused dead soul while Vikrant Massey's demon Prahastha sorts out the processes for the next step. It is a question that crops up twice more in this subtle and wonderfully existential science fiction world created by Arati Kadav. With minimal frills, deep introspection of characters, and some spontaneous humour, Cargo is a surprise package. 

Set many years in the future, a time where rakshasas (demons) and humans have finally acquired peace through sharing duties, Cargo is an upgrade on the ancient Indian/South Asian myths about afterlife. 

"Post Death Transition Services", says the demon boss (played by Hansal Mehta) in a Steve Jobs-style presentation. In this world, Prahastha (Massey) is one of six demons stationed in space to receive cargo (dead people) and help them transition into their next life on earth. Alone, away from any form of personal contact, Prahastha's only constant companion is Nitigya Sir (Nandu Madhav), the demon manager on earth handling his cargo. This is all set to change when the association appoints an assistant to Prahastha, Yuviksha (Shweta Tripathi). Suddenly, things change and when Prahastha realizes the reason for this appointment, he has to come to a decision soon. 

If the film could be summed up in as much, it would have been a disappointment. Thankfully, it is not. Arati Kadav creates a layered world which is fleshed out through incidents and events as the film progresses. The magic lies in the way she and her team have created this world using the components available within their budget. 

From equipment that looks like it could have been put together in a soldering lab to the 1980s-style television that acts as the medium of communication on the spacecraft, the world of Cargo is quaint and retro by our standards. In such a case, it should be difficult to believe. But the story and the performances of the artistes prevent it from going down that line.

Vikrant Massey performs with a restraint and control that is impressive. The actor is in top form as the introverted, disciplined demon charged with this grim task. The restraint is not downing, but one created by his work. Shweta Tripathi buzzes in with optimism and brings out the other side of Prahastha's nature. The actress also performs wonderfully when it comes to portraying the conflict and challenges of her own character. 

But it is Nandu Madhav, who only stays confined within a television screen throughout the movie, who takes the plaudits. The actor's conversations with both astronauts drives the plot of the film. His subtle remarks, questions, and sense of ordinariness make this sci-fi truly worth it. 

The only flaw, perhaps, is that the director enjoyed the concept a little too much. At times, the comic sequences of the cause of people's death which brings them to Pushpak seem forced. But there is much fun to be had in those sequences, even if they affect the narrative a little. Those stories and journeys add to the philosophical depth of the film and make it more relatable. 

From Hansal Mehta to Biswapati Sarkar and Konkona Sensharma, the film is replete with special appearances. There is even a nod to executive producer Vikramaditya Motwane's Bhavesh Joshi (2018). This lengthens the film a bit more than necessary. 

The cinematography by Kaushal Shah is simple and captures the solitude and drab life of these pseudo-government employees. The soundscape by Anish John deserves special mention for adding a dimension to the fllm. 

But it is the writing that truly takes the cake. Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, was known to create stories set in the future where mankind, aliens and science faced the same problems as today. Kadav's film takes the audience towards the same questions of morality, loneliness, character and duty as any mythical tale. In doing that, she makes a wonderful start as a feature film director.

Cargo was screened at the 21st MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 18 October 2019.

Related topics

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival

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