Life and afterlife…
Reincarnation is one of the tenets of Hindu mythology. We’ve all grown-up with stories of one getting reincarnated according to one’s karma and that human birth is the pinnacle of all births. Lord Yama is supposed to be the divine entity which takes hold of the souls after death. He has a record of all your good and bad deeds and accordingly you’re granted moksha if you’re lucky and reincarnation if you have been bad and have to learn more lessons. Life is a cycle, in short, and your present body gets to ride it for a short while before the next rider takes over.
Debutante director Arati Yadav has married the Hindu belief of reincarnation with Star Trek. Sometimes in the future, the demons and humans have signed a peace accord and thanks to that treaty, have taken the mundane task of cleaning up the human soul before it gets reincarnated. You can say that the paperwork concerning the afterlife has been outsourced to them. For some strange reason, they work in real spaceships — modelled on USS Enterprise — floating in space, manned by good-natured demons. Prahastha (Vikrant Massey) is one such demon. He has been at it for the past 75 years. Processing souls has become second nature to him now. He’s almost bored of his existence. Yuvishka Shekhar (Shweta Tripathi) is a new ‘caretaker’ who has been a class topper and selected to be his assistant. She’s also got healing powers of her own. At first, she’s quite enthusiastic about her new job but slowly, the mundanity of it gets to her. She’s affected by the sadness she sees around her. Prahastha figures out that she’s been groomed to take over from him and helps her find her lost confidence…
Imagining demons to be bored back-office executives going through their staid, ordinary lives is a unique idea indeed. The film teems with an interesting mix of possibilities but unfortunately, they aren’t explored in depth. Making the dead people aware that they don’t have a body anymore, that what they held dear is gone forever — so many things could have been done with it. But here, we’re shown that the departed somehow get transported to spacecrafts and are even allowed last-minute phone calls. It’s too convoluted for its own good.
But if you leave aside the badly-written plot, and are willing to probe further, the film does offer some nice bits. It’s a critique on loneliness, first of all. Prahastha is caught in a never-ending-loop. Nothing interesting has happened to him for all these years. Each day is a continuity of the next. Unlike the souls he serves, being a demon he can’t even hope towards reincarnation. He’s resigned to his fate. It’s his hell and he knows it. It’s also a love story. He writes letters to the love of his life, Mandakini (Konkona Sen Sharma) but never posts them. In fact, the film’s most brilliant moment occurs when they both briefly connect over a video call. The words can’t convey the depth of their feelings. We’ve grown up with the perception that demons are evil but here, it’s shown that they are just like us. Yuviksha is severely affected by the sadness that the cargo carries and she loses her powers. Prahastha, who has been living all alone all this while, starts finding comfort in companionship after Yuviksha comes along.
Vikrant Massey has a way of underplaying his characters and he does the same here as well. He’s the model demon, sticking to the protocol at all times and making sure no mistakes get made. He’s a gem of an actor and should be getting more offers. Shweta Tripathi too is a natural and her millennial-like behaviour at the beginning where she broadcasts everything she does to her social media fans is so relatable. She shares an easy camaraderie with Vikrant on screen. Konkona Sen Sharma sparkles in her two-minute role. Supporting player Nandu Madhav as their on-ground controller Nitigya and Biswapati Sarkar as a popular show host Ramchandra Negi too have faithfully done their jobs.
The film’s pace could have been faster. And the plot could’ve been imagined better. The histrionics of the lead couple holds it together. It would have fallen apart in the hands of lesser actors…
Trailer : Cargo
Pallabi Dey Purkayastha, September 9, 2020, 3:19 PM IST
STORY: After Homo Rakshasas (à la homo sapiens) and the Prime Minister sign the Rakshas Manushya Peace Treaty, demons take over the space territory and are now in charge of transitioning dead humans into their new lives. No, they do not don hellish costumes with sloppily-made horns sticking out of their scalps. Instead, they are prim-and-proper astronauts carrying out their duties with military-like precision in multiple spaceships aka Pushpaks. Agent Prahastha (Vikrant Massey) runs the show at Pushpak 634A.
REVIEW: After having served the Pushpak 634A spaceship for over 75 years, lone wolf Prahastha is, understandably, reluctant to have a college valedictorian as his assistant. But his base camp colleague Nitigya (Nandu Madhav) wouldn’t take no for an answer. And, in comes the bubble-of-happiness Agent Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi) in a crimson yellow space suit (a deliberately bold first-day choice of costume for a decaying office that’d existed even before the social media frenzy took over). In Yuvishka, the much older and experienced Prahastha sees three ironies of life – of time, place and action. If he honours the belongings of the dead, she steals them. If he loathes being famous, she starts vlogging on day one. And if he wraps his emotions in his sketchbook and tucks them away, she screams them out aloud. Pushpak 634A is the government-introduced, demon-run corporate giant for deconstructing recently dead humans (labelled as cargos, hence the name) and these two agents are entrusted with the life-altering (or is it death?) task of turning them into clean slates. But as the stoic Prahastha rightly observes: some of these dead people are more alive than he is.
For someone who’s just starting out, debutante Arati Kadav (also, the writer) has indeed chosen an undaunted and underexplored genre to launch her Bollywood career in direction. And this sci-fi/fantasy film has an endearing unearthly ring to it. However, ‘Cargo’ in parts feels like the sum total of all of its videsi counterparts. Top picks: Duncan Jones’s ‘Moon’ and Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Solaris’ come to mind, followed by the ‘Star Wars’ saga.
The story focuses on the monotonous life of Massey – and how loneliness, if embraced long term, can become an integral part of one’s habitual behaviour – which is interestingly, but also predictably, juxtaposed against the livewire Tripathi. Massey essays the role of a man on a mission – that of healing the daily shipment of cargos, erasing their memories from the past life and sending them away to be reborn – with utmost sincerity. And while the plotline doesn’t leave the talented actor with much to play with, he does his effortless best in drawing the viewers in to his fascinating life and eventually boring them to death with it (that was the intent, just to be clear). Tripathi, on the other hand, is a testament to how one can defy age both on and off the silver screen. If we remember correctly, the actress, then 30, had played the role of a school girl in ‘Haramkhor’ with equal (if not more) child-like glee, naivety and zest. Here, Tripathi is obsessed with life and is drunk on the idea of being alive and not living. Through Yuvishka, the writer-director plants the seed of humanisation of the dead, and Tripathi does not disappoint in bringing that aspect to the forefront.
From the looks of it, Kadav has taken it upon herself to entertain the audience at periodic intervals and perhaps that is the reason why whacky characters like international loneliness detective Ramchandra Negi (Biswapati Sarkar) are inculcated. Appears to be fun, but adds no gravitas to the narrative.
Although Mayur Sharma’s apt production design projects the interiors of a spaceship in a way that Bollywood wouldn’t have – believable – the story has many discrepancies that are hard to swallow. For one, almost all the dead people seem to be oblivious to the existence of both the fame-crazed Tripathi and the reclusive Massey, even though they are considered legends in the real world. And, how are these two central characters even talking on the phone and live streaming their fancy life on social media platforms? Even by sci-fi standards… that’s a stretch!
‘Cargo’ was up for the festival circuit run-around this year and we sort of get why. The film may not appease the taste buds of sci-fi fanatics and masala movie lovers alike, but on so many levels, it’s a big step towards experimental cinema.
In conclusion, we would like to add that yes, the diegesis might have lacked the depth and breadth of the genre in question but Bollywood is anyway notorious for producing laughable sci-fi/fantasy content. And for that, do all of us a favour: let this cargo reach its destination.