For the Malayalam language film ‘Helen’ (2019), debutante director Mathukutty Xavier won the National Award for Best Debut Film of a Director. The film also won Ranjith Ambady the National Award for Best Make-Up Artist. When a film gets so much appreciation, one does feel the urge to watch it. Watching ‘Helen’ has been quite difficult for people residing outside of Kerala owing to the fact that the film released on a streaming platform. Now, audiences all across the country have a chance to witness the narrative of the film, albeit in a new form. ‘Mili’, the official remake of the film which has been helmed by the same director, has just been released in the theatres.
Mili Naudiyal (Jahnvi Kapoor) lives in Dehradun, a city in Uttarakhand, with her father (Manoj Pahwa; not referred to by his character name even a single time in the film). She does two part-time jobs to support herself as a nurse. While she carries out her duties as a nurse in the morning, she works as a staff member in Doon’s Kitchen, a KFC-style restaurant in the city. She is also going for IELTS classes and making preparations to move to Canada and work as a nurse there. Mili has a boyfriend named Sameer (Sunny Kaushal), an educated young man who is not very serious about his life. While Mili wishes to get married to Sameer, she has not been able to muster up enough courage to introduce him to her father because of two reasons. One, he is from a different caste and her father is very particular about these things. Two, he does not have a job at the moment. Mili is going through the beats of her life when a chain of events leads her towards being stuck inside the freezer of the restaurant she works in.
Mili has been designed as a survival thriller. However, a good part of the first half of the film is spent establishing her outside world. The idea was to, perhaps, helped the audience get familiarized with the protagonist and empathize with her when she finds herself battling for her life inside a freezer. Just before she gets stuck inside a freezer, she has a tense moment with her boyfriend. A while before that, her father gets upset with her because of an incident where she was not really at fault. So, by the time Mili gets inside the freezer, she is already in a state of emotional turmoil and disturbed because of the way her life is turning out to be. These incidents, however, are not life-changing and the kind that, you know, would get resolved sooner than later. If she had a purpose, that was bigger than patching up with her father or boyfriend, the audience would have connected on a deeper level with her.
That being said, many of the moments shared between Mili and her father in the first half tug at your heartstrings. The romantic track doesn’t have the requisite punch. The film picks up after the interval when Mili struggles to get out of the freezer. You can feel her pain when she tries to come up with different ways to protect herself from the freezing cold. Even though a disinterested police officer is at the helm of affairs, you do wish that the investigation procedure was a little more interesting.
‘Mili’ is based on the original screenplay written by Alfred Kurian Joseph, Noble Babu Thomas and Mathukutty Xavier for ‘Helen’. Since I have not seen the original, I am not sure about the modifications or changes (if any) done by Ritesh Shah who has been credited for the adapted screenplay. Despite the issues with the first half, the film manages to keep you consistently engaged. There is a certain authenticity with which the world, which is inhabited by the characters, has been designed and that helps tremendously. A special mention must be made of the opening title credits where an ant stuck inside a freezer serves as a metaphor for what you are going to see in the latter half of the film.
As stated earlier, Mathukutty Xavier has done a good job of representing the milieu of the film well. It is quite a challenge to make a survival thriller look realistic and he has managed to do that. The cinematography (Sunil Karthikeyan), production design (Apurwa Sondhi) and costumes (Gayatri Thadani) are also responsible for the realistic look and feel of the film. The editing (Monisha R. Baldava) is fine but certain potions in the first half could have been trimmed for a better impact. The songs (A. R Rahman) are pleasant but do not stand out. The songs have been used sporadically and help in taking the narrative forward. The background score, also by Rahman, is impactful.
Janhvi Kapoor delivers one of her better performances in this film. Her dedication to the character shows, especially in the second half. In the first half, she struggles to emote in a few scenes. In the film, Mili is shown to be somebody who studied in a Hindi medium school and is learning to speak English so that she doesn’t face any hindrances while moving to Canada. Jahnvi’s makes one feel that it is the other way around. Manoj Pahwa delivers an effortlessly natural performance, as always. Sunny Kaushal acts confidently and stands out in all the scenes she is in. Sanjay Suri delivers a memorable performance as senior inspector Ravi Prasad. Anuraag Arora leaves a mark with his menacing act. Jackie Shroff’s cameo is interesting but appears to be forced in the narrative.
Survival thriller is a genre that has been seldom explored by the Hindi film industry. While ‘Mili’ is not at par with some of the best films made in the West in this particular genre, the film does register an impact.