Director – Arati Kadav
Cast – Vikrant Massey, Shweta Tripathi
Debutante director Arati Kadav’s homegrown science-fiction movie Cargo, picked up by Netflix after playing at MAMI and nearly playing at SXSW, is an innovative but inert mashup of Eastern ideas and Western storytelling. Like Masaan by the use of Moon, Cargo is a movie that explores themes such as reincarnation — or, more as it should be, the corporatisation of reincarnation — and caste, all coated in a layer of slick contemporary sci-fi.
But while it might seem refreshingly original here, in an industry that has mostly stayed absent from the genre, Cargo could feel massively derivative to sure audiences. Moon, for example, is a movie whose influence can also be felt in practically each scene. Vikrant Massey’s character, a ‘rakshasa’ named Prahastha, is having the same sort of existential crisis that was once slowly consuming Sam Rockwell’s miner in Duncan Jones’ movie.
Watch the Cargo trailer here
For decades, Prahastha has been stationed in a space ship, where he readies recently dead people for rebirth. He goes approximately his job with inflexible precision as he attends to his ‘cargo’ — women and men who are in most cases reeling under the shock of having just died — nearly like an Apple store technician working on a used MacBook, or an unemotional physician tending to his patients.
But Prahastha is neither an IT guy nor a doctor. Whether anything, he a sad juice stuck in a ‘sarkari naukri’. For company, he has another ‘rakshasa’ — a middle-aged uncle called Nitigya — whom he talks to via a CRT monitor. But things take an unforeseen turn when Nitigya tells Prahastha that he’ll soon be joined by an assistant. Prahastha protests. He’s, as he has been projecting for over seven decades, a lone wolf.
The arrival of the youthful Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi) brings a new energy not only to Prahastha’s life, but also to the movie, which in its attempts to painting monotony had transform relatively monotonous itself. Tripathi is an effortlessly endearing actor, and her character is a nice foil to Massey’s more stoic veteran.
Shweta Tripathi and Vikrant Massey in a still from Cargo.
Solitude in outer space, as an idea, is just so ripe for drama that filmmakers can’t help but return to it each couple of years, it kind of feels. And even supposing few will ever be capable of come inside sniffing distance of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Solaris, the recent Ad Astra and even Prometheus made some intelligent observations approximately loneliness.
But while Michael Fassbender’s android in Ridley Scott’s film had the time and curiosity to contemplate his place in the universe, the truth that Prahastha is a demon in reality adds nothing to him as a person in Cargo. It’s the equivalent of changing a character’s ethnicity, but without their ethnicity having any affect on the plot. Whether the final goal is to propose that even mythological creatures are capable of feeling human emotion, then Prahastha, frankly, will have to have been more fantastical initially. Here, he basically looks like Vikrant Massey. No pointy ears or nothing.
Kadav also seems to have taken inspiration from comedian books. There is an attempt at world-building that, while clunky in its execution, reminded me of Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ brilliant comics series Saga. The lore, on the other hand, only weighs the movie down. Did Cargo in reality need steady exposition dumps approximately human-demon diplomacy? Possibly, whether the information could’ve added something to the plot. An excuse to discuss capitalism or class, perhaps? But as it stands, it only adds to the confusion. Whether the demons have X-Men-like superpowers, why are some of them still doing menial jobs? Why have they not yet overpowered human beings and taken over the world; they’re demons, correct? How can Prahastha be a legend on Soil, and yet go unrecognised by each unmarried dead person when they come face-to-face?
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The trouble with Cargo is that it gets too bogged down by a self-imposed responsibility to break its audience in. There’s a sense that Kadav is pulling her punches so to not alienate viewers, whereas she will have to’ve just thrown them in the deep end and relied on them to swim up to the surface. But that being said, not many filmmakers (or actors) would have the courage to attempt something like this at all. Possibly now that the heavy cargo has been delivered, she can approach her next movie with more confidence. I look forward to it.
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The writer tweets @RohanNaahar