By Rachit Raj
There are multiple ways to look at Cargo. The most obvious, and creatively noteworthy is its ambitious step in science-fiction, which has been tragically ignored as a genre in India. The fact that Cargo tries to explore uncharted territory is in itself what makes it special. But once the initial excitement of its exploration into a new territory wears off, there are evident cracks that start appearing in the film. It is here that Cargo achieves the more lasting, impactful dimension. Away from the marriage of science and mythology that writer-director Arati Kadav achieves here, what makes Cargo worth a watch, despite a bumpy start is its emotional core and the ability to keep the narrative rooted to human-esque themes of companionship, bonding, and the idea of existentialism presented from a unique point-of-view.
The story, unlike a lot of sci-fi movies, is quite simple, and one of the strengths of this film. Set in an after-life spaceship Pushpak 634A, where Prahastha (Vikrant Massey) a rakshas who looks identical to any human being. Prahastha works alone, his job involves him healing the wounds of dead people, erasing their memory, and transporting them into after-life. It is an exciting, albeit imperfect, blend of science and mythology.
Cargo finds its best moments between Prahastha and Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi), his new assistant, youthful and more insecure with the idea of loneliness than Prahastha, who has attuned himself to an existence of solitude. Their relationship holds the emotional core of the film, and with an easy presence of actors like Massey and Tripathi, watching Prahastha and Yuvishka slowly develop a platonic relationship of fondness is an easy, comforting watch.
Kadav’s writing and Massey and Tripathi’s performance remain rooted to simplistic, often philosophical terrain, that helps in keeping the film afloat even when certain things do not add up, and a few creative choices feel dodgy at best and incomprehensible at worst. Somehow, despite glitches that threaten to crash the journey of Cargo, something keeps working. Something simple, soft. It is almost like a relationship drama (something that the Chris Pratt-Jennifer Lawrence-starrer Passengers was growing to be, before the obsession of making it larger-than-life cost that film its emotional core). Luckily, Cargo settles into a soothing pace in its latter half, never trying to match those Hollywood sci-fi movies, that come with a specific sensibility, and a desire to be louder, and more apocalyptic in its latter half.
Cargo comes with a limited budget and an intelligent understanding of the fact that apocalypse is not in the grand chaos of a burning spaceship or an approaching meteoroid, but in losing that one a person who matters, and in experiencing the exhaustion of a job that involves a constant process of making people aware of the unthinkable.
In one of its most poignant scenes in the movie, Yuvishka confronts the inherent conflict of death and existentialism, burdened by the nonchalance of her professional requirements of informing humans of their death, and seeing their response with a growing sense of unease. It is a fascinating moment of a rakshasa contemplating its universe-defined job. It gives Yuvishka a minute where she is more humane than certain human characters in the narrative. It is a moment that takes Cargo beyond its sci-fi surroundings and almost turns it into a personal account of someone tormented by the consequences of their job, an eerily human experience, in a world where all walks of life inadvertently push the cause of capitalism, irrespective of their take on it.
There are some obvious narrative inconsistencies in Cargo. The creative decision to start the film with an advertisement does little to become a part of the larger narrative, and a prologue before the movie is so poorly written that it almost makes you feel like this is the beginning of a video-game made for teenagers with an obsession with anything that has the word “intergalactic” in it. But once its amateur fonts and façade passes, Cargo becomes a better, more cathartic cinematic experience, that is both an achievement in Hindi cinema as well as a likeable, harmless movie about death, companionship, and everything in between.
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Cargo is now streaming on Netflix.