BOTTOM LINE: Inventive Plot That Could Have Done With Some Emotional Depth
Rating: 2.5 /5
Skin N Swear: None
|Platform: Netflix||Genre: Sci-Fi|
What Is the Story About?
Netflix‘s latest release ‘Cargo’ is a movie with a unique narrative that looks at ancient mythological lore through the prism of futuristic sci-fi. The narrative is set in the not-too-distant future. Thousands of years after earth was fraught with terrible wars between Manushya and Rakshasas (humans and demons), the two races have made their peace with each other. They’ve learnt to live in harmony, contributing positively to earthly matters.
The most significant contribution of the demons is to assist humans in transitioning into a new birth after death. The only difference is that these modern demons don’t look like demons at all. Perhaps, co-existing peacefully with humans has made them more human-like than ever.
The demons run a super-advanced system to help humans deal with death and rebirth. They operate a series of spaceships in outer space, each managed by a demon and his assistant. The dead, labelled as ‘cargo‘, are delivered to the spaceships, where they are prepared for rebirth in a singularly unique fashion.
One such demon spaceship is the Pushpak 634A. All the spaceships are called Pushpak (a nod to the flying chariot, aka Pushpak, of Ravana, inarguably the most famous demon of them all), and each is distinguished by serial numbers assigned to them. Pushpak 634A is managed by demon-astronaut Prahastha (again a nod to Ravana, whose top commander was named Prahastha). Prahastha has been living on the spaceship for 75 years, going about his morbid work with dogged single-mindedness and rigidity. Prahastha, who looks more like your everyday white collar worker, manages births and death, in a department called ‘Post Death Transition services’. Prahastha has the most important task at hand – recycling dead people for rebirth.
He gives us a ringside view of how he goes about the process. He first heals the dead people, erases their memories and re-programmes them for a new birth on earth.
One fine day, his demon higher-up Nitigya (Nandu Madhav) sends him an assistant Yuvishka Shekhar (Shweta Tripathi Sharma) to help him cope with the workload.
And Prahastha’s life alters in unimaginable ways….
Vikrant Massey makes a seemingly implausible role appear so believable that you’re compelled to believe that it’s not science fiction you’re watching but the real deal. He brings an earnestness to the character he plays, with nary a hint of hamming in his portrayal of Prahastha. His no-nonsense approach to the fantastical concept makes watching it worthwhile.
Shweta Tripathi Sharma infuses her Yuvishka character with her particular brand of joie de vivre, which is both infectious and stimulating. She is chirpy, cheery and lightens the dreary and morbid environs of the spaceship, and of the movie too. The duo holds the plot together with élan, lending credence to Cargo.
Nandu Madhav is cute and endearing as the earth-based manager of the operations, despite the fact that we only ever see him on an old-fashioned TV screen. Cameos by seasoned performers, Biswapati Sarkar and Konkana Sen Sharma, and ace director Hansal Mehta, are welcome additions to the narrative.
Cargo is a brave venture in a genre Indian filmmakers rarely go into. Science fiction is anathema to our filmmakers — perhaps because our people flatly refuse to get drawn into scientific mumbo-jumbo on screen? Or is it because creating a truly magnificent science fiction flick takes tons of inventiveness, chutzpah and a whole lot of brains, something that is lacking in the Hindi film industry, of late. For that reason alone, Cargo deserves to be lauded to have the courage to be an outlier in a sea of historical dramas, revenge sagas and social dramas that abound in Bollywood. Is it any wonder then that Arati Kadav’s labour of love received the backing of stalwarts like Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane?
The plotline of Cargo is a refreshing and humorous take on the ancient Hindu belief of reincarnation, in the garb of a science fiction drama. The unique thing about Cargo is that it takes up a belief from Hindu mythology, but twists it to give it a futuristic touch.
The idea is reinforced in viewers’ minds when a man who is being prepared for rebirth asks, “So, is this heaven?”; to which Prahastha replies, “There’s no such thing as heaven or hell. Everyone who dies comes here”. The man’s lamenting reply is an eye-opener, when he says, “Then what is the point of doing good on earth if even people who’ve done bad come to the same place after death?”. So much for doing ‘daan-punya’ on earth in order to attain heaven!
The narrative is chock-full with such tiny but profound gems that are quite affecting. The after death scenes are funny and creative. One moment a man closes the elevator gate to go to a higher floor, and the next moment he enters the cargo drop-off area of Pushpak 634A. He’s just died, of course. But even as he reaches Pushpak 634A, he wants to see his unfinished business to its happy conclusion – he calls up from the after-dead to mop up a lucrative deal he’s been pursuing since ten years.
Similarly, a budding inventor switches on his Time Travel invention to be transported into a different time, and the very next second, he enters Pushpak 634A with an awestruck look on his face. He thinks he’s traveled to a different time zone, or a parallel universe, when in fact, his machine electrocuted him and he’s now dead. This man requests Prahastha to give him rebirth exactly where he was earlier, so he can finish off his invention. These sequences make you realize how death leaves every man with unfinished business behind him.
Cargo works best when it depicts these and similar scenes. Writer-director Arati Kadav has woven the incidents into the narrative with a deft and distinctive spin. The magician, the bus full of wedding travelers – including the groom, the husband-wife duo, the mentally disturbed man – all of these give us a message, without ever being preachy or climbing the moral high horse.
The attention to detail in Cargo is dazzling. It is careful and thoughtful storytelling, with not a single prop or plot device out of place, even to our eagle-eyed scrutiny. The humour is intelligent and sparky – not the laugh out loud slapstick variety, but subtle and mild to keep you smiling through the movie.
That said, creator Arati Kadav somewhat squanders away the advantage of all of the above, and a delightfully non-conformist plot, by taking the excruciatingly slow route to tell her story. The movie drags in places, bogging down the narrative as a consequence. Also, Arati Kadav fails to capture the underlying emotions of the story very well. The emotional aspect of the narrative doesn’t quite sink in, leaving you curiously indifferent to it all. Net result – Cargo lacks that certain something that compels you to ponder and ruminate over the movie after it’s over.
Music and Other Departments?
There’s only one song in the movie, which is quite average – nothing to write home about. The background music is not as great as the narrative demands.
The cinematography, by Kaushal Shah, is superb. The outer space scenes have been shot really well, comparable to the best.
The production design, by Mayur Sharma, is fascinating. He has recreated the interiors of the spaceship, and the spaceship itself in a minuscule budget, and that too much better than movies with lavish budgets.
The offbeat, inventive story
The technical aspects
The narrative drags in places
The emotional aspect of the story doesn’t quite sink in
Did I Enjoy It?
Yes, despite the flaws
Will You Recommend It?
Yes, deserves a one-time watch
Cargo Review by Binged Bureau
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