Writer-director Arati Kadav takes Indian cinema to a new level with her film, cargo, starring Vikrant Massey and Shweta Tripathi Sharma…
Arati Kadav’s Cargo is an ambitious film. You know that the second you see her head astronaut, Prahastha (Vikrant Massey) floating around in space, fixing his spaceship, like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. One single scene tells you that Kadav’s film will be a film that we will remember in times to come. I certainly will. You also see influences from other space films, but a film like Cargo hasn’t been made in India, and Arati Kadav deserves an applause for just that. I am one of the few fortunate people to have watched this film on the big screen at the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) in 2019, but even on Netflix, it’s a treat.
In Cargo, Kadav doesn’t waste much time setting up a premise. We know instantly what the film is about. We’re way into the future, humans and demons have come to a settlement between them to make post death transition a service, and hence easier for humans. There’s no concept of heaven and hell, but there is afterlife in Kadav’s sci-fi-meets-mythology film. On board Pushpak 634A we have Vikrant Massey’s Prahastha who has been on this spaceship for 75 years. He’s forgotten what it is like to be with people, to be in a space that you would describe as anything but “empty”. His only companion is a retro TV screen, through which he talks to his colleagues on earth, mostly Nitigya Sir (Nandu Madhav).
Time and space play a very important role in Kadav’s film. We don’t know, and aren’t told many things – how Prahastha has been on this spaceship for 75 days, how the entire “cargo” system works, on what basis do these people return to earth? These are not the stories Kadav is interested in telling. She’s not bothered about either logic or logistics, and that is one of the biggest strengths of her writing. Another such strength is her ability to establish setting in simplicity. The film is way into the future so you expect the design of the spaceship to be something out of this world. But, it’s even less than ordinary. And to bring out something extraordinary in this “ordinary”is her genius, as a writer and director. A lot of the setting is, in fact, retro. An old television set, switches, the absence of phones, tablets. A lot of this setting is directly proportional to the mindset of Kadav’s leading man, and I loved how with the introduction of a new, young character, Kadav introduces many new aspects of technology, but they’re never shoved into Prahastha’s face. Even though at one point he’s told that he is of an older thought, but he’s never shown to be marginalised because of it. In fact, he rises despite it.
There are moments of humour in Kadav’s otherwise “serious issue” film, and most of them come with the people who have just died and have come to Pushpak 634A for a post death transition. My favourite has to be the magician who brings along with him the famous never ending cloth in his sleeve trick and a white pigeon that may has escaped his hat. How the legion got here? Again, that’s not something Kadav wants us to even think about. She rather wants us to see Prahastha’s reaction to the same. He’s in shock. Man hasn’t seen another alive human in 75 years, a bird is definitely going to be a matter of serious concern. Through small, passing themes and motifs, Kadav wants us to understand her leading man, his loneliness. And for assistance, she writes the character of Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi Sharma).
Yuvishka is Prahastha’s assisstant, who helps him see the world around them. From space, it may look like a big world, but she makes him realise that what makes our existence is ourselves and the relationships we build. And that’s all we have and must cherish. Materialistic things, no matter how expensive, will always be materialistic things at the end of the day. Beautifully titled, that’s exactly what Cargo wants us to take away from it. Every person who enters this spaceship has to first give up all their belongings which are later discarded as “waste”. The film reminded me of a short story we had in school (the name of which I cannot seem to recall) which said how at the end of our lives, all we need is a six feet long plot of land. This and more such life lessons is what Yuvishka is here for. You hope and expect Prahastha and Yuvishka to fall in love, but that doesn’t happen. She’s not here for that, this is not a YRF film. But she does a lot of the emotional lifting in this story.
Both Vikrant Massey and Shweta Tripathi Sharma are excellent actors and there are no two thoughts about it. Massey’s Prahastha is an introverted, silent character. He speaks only when needed, and even that is precise. Massey plays his part with a very impressive control. Many a times what happens with introverted characters is that you get bored of them, because they don’t match up to your level of excitement, but that doesn’t happen with Prahastha. Vikrant Massey lends a beautiful unemotional aspect to his character and that is worth looking out for. In the silences, Shweta Tripathi Sharma’s Yuvishka is a welcome surprise. You root for her, for her zeal for life and optimism. Tripathi Sharma very excellently captures both, the confidence and conflict in Kadav’s writing of this character. I sincerely hope that our industry realises the true potential in both Massey and Tripathi Sharma (as does Arati Kadav) and we see them in many more films, either together or apart.
Look out for the actors in the small retro TV set. Nandu Madhav, who plays Nitigya Sir (from earth) is a scene stealer even though he is restricted to the television screen. There’s also the wonderful Konkona Sensharma in a cameo, and there’s a fleeting second in which her expression goes from curiosity to shock and you see in that very second the rawness a good actor possess.
At the end, Cargo will make you question many of your life choices. And it’s not subtle in doing that. “When we all have to die, why do we have stories?” asks Yuvishka. The film asks questions on permanence, hope, life, death, and the biggest looming question is: How is your story different, how does your story make you stand out, how does your story make you, well, more than a mere “cargo”?
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