Milestone (Meel Patthar) movie review: Ivan Ayr's Netflix film captures the mood of a nation
The colourless cargo that Ghalib transports in his truck is more valuable than him. That is the great irony of Meel Patthar (Milestone), director Ivan Ayr’s second feature film, acquired, like his first, by Netflix.
Released on the streaming service amid a pandemic that has made many feel expendable, Meel Patthar is about a man’s struggle to remain relevant in an ecosystem that would much rather have him erased. Suvinder Vicky plays the recently widowed truck driver Ghalib, a Sisyphean character who seems to be on a direct path towards painful obsolescence. Meel Patthar is not only the second Venice title to have debuted on Netflix in as many weeks, but like the first — Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple — it is also a story about loneliness.
Watch the Milestone trailer here
Vicky’s face conveys more than his mouth. He speaks rarely and walks with a slouch through most of the film, because of an early injury that aggravates his anxieties. Visibly grieving the death of his wife, Ghalib arrives at work one morning to learn of an altercation between his old friend and their bosses. Ghalib’s friend, a veteran driver named Dilbaug, was fired after word of his deteriorating eyesight reached the father-son owners of the company.
It’s the inciting incident of the film, and combined with Ghalib’s injury, sends him spiralling into self-doubt. He appears to be in his 50s, although Vicky’s face suggests that he’s seen enough for seven lifetimes. Ghalib hails from a Punjab village, and had married a woman from the North East. In a parallel plot, her father and sister confront him, demanding a payoff.
In his solitary nighttime travels and his dealings with the village ‘sarpanch’, we never leave his side — two major scuffles take place off-screen, and we arrive on the scene with Ghalib, minutes later. It’s a fabulously internalised performance by the actor, of whom I’d seen absolutely nothing before this.
Notice the scene in which he goes to the bank to have his late wife’s account closed. Ayr holds on Vicky’s face, not dignifying the rude bank teller with even an inch of real estate in the frame. His pacing is deliberate, and his style noticeably detached. Like the cop heroine of Ayr’s first film, Soni, Ghalib lives alone in a plain apartment. They’re the ‘essential workers’ that the people of this country would bang ‘thalis’ for, but not bat an eyelid before relegating them to the sidelines of society.
Meel Patthar, confined as it is inside the insular world of the North Indian trucking community, is a grand parable about India — a country with an overwhelmingly young population that finds itself in direct conflict with the older generation. The film was shot before the first lockdown last year, but in the light of recent events, it has taken on greater meaning. As the elderly of the country perish, Meel Patthar rambles in, asking questions that few are willing to confront: What is a life worth in the world’s largest democracy?
There is also a Kashmiri family that lives on the floor above Ghalib, that in a scene of great symbolic relevance, protests an unexpected intrusion into its personal space. Meel Patthar, at just 97 minutes long, captures the mood of an entire nation — all the conflict, the fear, and the paranoia.
It was Ghalib’s more illustrious namesake, after all, who once wrote about his country, “Do you see that virtue has vanished from this sorry land? There is no trace of love, empathy and affection…”
Director - Ivan Ayr
Cast - Suvinder Vicky, Lakshvir Saran
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar