The genre of Survival drama lends itself to a vast array of human emotions. A film like Tom Hanks’ Cast Away is still considered to be a classic. Closer home Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped was a brilliant exploration of the loneliness in a big city, captured in a nail biting manner through the character of Rajkumar Rao. The protagonist in Trapped accidently jams himself inside his apartment. This year itself Fahad Fassil’s Malyankunju explored caste through the lens of a survival drama. Mathukutty Xavier’s Mili, a remake of his own Malayalayam film Helen is a wonderful addition to this list.
Structurally speaking Mili stays close to the original except for a few tweaks. For example in Helen the love interest of Anna Ben is a Muslim boy. Here the director makes Sunny Kaushal a Hindu boy who is supposedly from a different caste.
Milli starts off with establishing the daily routine of its lead character (Janhvi Kapoor).Before getting into the gritty space the director sets up the two important relationships in Mili’s life. One is with her father Niranjan (Manoj Pahwa). The other is with her boyfriend Sameer (Sunny Kaushal). Father doesn’t know anything about the boyfriend. Mili works as cashier at Take Out Mall in Dehradun. Before that Mili worked as a nurse. Milli has aspirations of going to Canada which the father doesn’t exactly approve of but he has no option. Things take a turn when father comes to know about Sameer and all hell breaks loose. The next night Mili gets trapped in the freezer room after a late night shift and no one has any idea of where she has disappeared. What follows is a race against time where the father and boyfriend unite together in search of the person they love. The director also explores the misogyny and the stereotypes attached to young working girls through Inspector Satish (Anurag Arora).
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The first half of Mili is mostly about setting the base and giving an insight into her personality. These portions may appear stretched but they play an important part in the scheme of things. The father and daughter bond gives the film some of its best moments. In both the emotional and lighter bits, the scenes between Janhvi and Manoj Pahwa have certain warmth that touches the hearts of the audience. Manoj Pahwa is one of those actors who can do a variety of roles, case in point being Article 15 and Mulk. Here too as father Manoj makes the audiences root for him. The desperation of a father is brilliantly brought out by the actor.
The love story between Janhvi and Sunny could have been better written; nevertheless their scenes are still good to watch. Sunny Kaushal has less to do but the actor still stands out with his amiable presence. He is successful in bringing out a boyfriend’s concern for Mili. Mathukutty Xavier does a wonderful job in showcasing how Milli’s father develops a fondness for Sameer in their search together for Mili.
For any survival drama the technical departments have to be very strong. Much like the original, here too the production design is one of the biggest assets of the film. Apurwa Sondhi does a brilliant job in converting the freezer room into a battleground. The shots of Janhvi trying to survive in the freezer room are sure to give goosebumps. The cinematography by Sunil Karthikeyan is also award worthy particularly in the freezer room portions.
The police characters may come across as generic particularly Anurag Arora who hasn’t got any redeeming quality but still his character of Satish is an important reminder of how certain stereotypes can become dangerous to young working women’s lives. Sanjay Suri as the other Inspector is the ante thesis of Satish and the actor infuses his part with the required righteousness. Jackie Shroff as the prisoner has a short cameo but his role is important to the proceedings. The senior actor makes his presence amply felt.
Now let’s move to the leading lady Janhvi Kapoor. Since Dhadak there has been a concrete effort on the part of Janhvi to prove her worth in the industry, as someone who is much more than just late Sridevi’s daughter. The actress has been making some right choices with Gunjan Saxena and Good Luck Jerry but with Mili she outdoes herself with a spectacular performance. She is particularly brilliant when the focus shifts to the freezer room. Janhvi makes the pain of Milli so real. The audiences almost pray for her to come out safe. Irrespective of Mili’s box office result there is no denying that the actress is far ahead of her contemporaries like Sara Ali Khan.
AR Rahman’s music isn’t of the popular type but the tunes go perfectly with the mood of the film, they complement the story. Tum Bhi Raahi is my most favorite song in the album. Sun Aye Milli is also a wonderful number. The background score, also composed by Rahman himself, is praise worthy.
Final word: Watch Mili even if you have watched Helen. It is a survival drama that makes you go through a roller-coaster of emotions. Janhvi Kapoor’s performance is the cherry on the cake.