Cargo Movie Review: Go far

Updated: 11 September, 2020 07:51 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Cargo is USS Starship Enterprise - gently throwing you off with a very retro version of our vision of the future.

Vikrant Massey in Cargo
Vikrant Massey in Cargo

Cargo
On: Netflix
Director: Arati Kadav
Cast: Vikrant Massey, Shweta Tripathi
Rating: Rating

Why do you suppose there aren't quite as many Indian sci-fi stories floating around, while it's remained the standard spectacle, made by Hollywood, for a universal audience, all along? For one, Indian movies don't go global, in order to justify a budget for its reach. In terms of stories, there is enough in Indian mythology that instantly qualifies as sci-fi. Although fantasists often believe it to be history!

The space-ship in this low-frill, calmly meditative sci-fi film is named Pushpak — after the mythical vimaan (flying vehicle) from Ramayan. And that's what might draw you towards Cargo, from the get-go.

Basically this is desi USS Starship Enterprise — gently throwing you off with a very retro version of our vision of the future. The film is set in 2027. But you're really looking at it through a screen from the 1980s.

Which also lends itself to some nostalgia-grade fittings, by way of an adorable production design (Mayur Shah). Pushpak seems like a replica of an All India Radio station from back in the day — since I've no clue what they're like now — with a kirana-shop cash-register, boxed TV sets, and ATM machines thrown in equal measure!

And yet so charming to look at, in the sense of Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water (2017)? Okay. Let's not go that far! But you get the drift. And since we're on that trail anyway, the quietness of space as the ship cruises through infinity could well be inspired from the other Mexican master Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity (2013).

The limited point I'm still trying to make is that this isn't an Indian film that you haven't seen before. At the same time, in its minimalism and warm shades and lighting (Kaushal Shah), it isn't aiming to be hardcore Hollywood, because it can't.

Which is already a major up for first-time director, Arati Kadav. And she bases this mix of sci-fi and fantasy on Indian mythology, and the idea of the rakshas tribe that picks up humans after their death. The space-ship Pushpak is where humans lodge, while transitioning to the following phase.

God know this life-death business has intrigued us forever. We've all grown up with our own theories for it. Intuitively, as a li'l kid, I always thought that maybe while we're sleeping, or hit with a life-threatening situation, we actually come face-to-face with arbiters of death. Depending on the negotiation that follows, we either return to Earth, or leave the planet altogether. Except, we have no conscious memories of those meetings and their terms and conditions!

No such thing here. Individuals who show up as "cargo" on Pushpak though, right after they die, do have their memories erased first. This space-station, where time seems to have stopped, is run by a demon-representative of sorts (Vikrant Massey) — all by himself. He's later joined by his assistant (Shweta Tripathi).

Watch the trailer of Cargo here:

Between these two supremely sorted lead actors, united in their loneliness —who seem to have so naturally bought into this off-kilter setting — plays out a drama that takes place more in their heads (and hopefully ours). Rather than anything concretely happening in the ground beneath their feet, which is miles above the Earth. Frankly there's enough to think, not so much to watch.

This is the sort of movie that gets a derided as dheela, or such a stretch — by those who can't get on the ride. It's described as slow-burn, by those who can. I felt myself hanging between both, although mostly going with the flow.

Having taken a couple of breaks over about two hours of this feature, which makes it perfect for Netflix, as against blockbuster, theatrical entertainment. By now, that demarcation is anyway complete. Meaning, a narrative-building world, led by plot. Or a world-building narrative, hinged on concept/experience.

This is decidedly the latter. You can tell the filmmakers are up to something interesting. Just don't always know what. And while it's not necessary to minutely define what — definitely makes it worth checking it out for yourself.

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First Published: 11 September, 2020 07:09 IST

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