“But if we look past the setup and into the characters, Cargo becomes so much more than bonkers science fiction.”

‘Cargo’ is this week’s new addition to Netflix. If I had to venture a guess on the Netflix genre tags, they probably are quirky, off-beat, drama. Because ‘Cargo’ is not a typical movie to watch on the weekend with family. It deals with larger than life concepts and metaphysical themes that probably need solitude and thinking to understand and appreciate. Indian films largely shy away from science fiction, but when we do venture into these unchartered waters, we find ways to make it our own – with rakshasas, re-incarnation and other mythological tropes. On the face of it, the movie deals with an alternate reality where some sort of truce has been made between humans and demons. The demons unlike Ravan or Surpanakha, look very human. They have established an organization, Post Death Transition services (PDTS) which trains demons to manage deceased humans (Cargo) and pilot spaceships to receive the cargo. Oh, by the way, the demons have special powers!

Every morning the spaceships dock on earth and receive the incoming cargo i.e people who have just died. They are then healed, cleansed of their memories, possessions and sent back to earth for their re-incarnated life. Prahastha (Vikrant) is one such demon who manages a ship all by himself and has been for a while. He is provided with an assistant demon, Yuvishka, whom he grudgingly agrees to take in. Both of them are quite opposite personalities. He is a rigid by-the-book officer who speaks when spoken to and she is a bubbly jumpy, vlogger demon with more empathy towards the cargo. Although at loggerheads at first, they gradually bond, and their journey forms the rest of the story. 

Reading the premise might make anyone find it silly and ludicrous, but the movie is smart in that it reveals the details of the world it inhabits in bits and pieces. So, we never really understand completely what is happening. This can also be quite frustrating because for all the exposition given, it still is confusing. We just roll with the flow. But if we look past the setup and into the characters, ‘Cargo’ becomes so much more than bonkers science fiction.

The movie is an ode to death; a phenomenon that we have always been intrigued with, one that we romanticize and poetize, one that we fear, perhaps because we understand so little of it. The process of preparing cargo for re-incarnation essentially tells us about death. At death, our memories don’t matter they are erased, our belongings don’t matter, we don’t get to keep any of them, our bodily scars are healed. But most importantly, everyone is the same at death, whether you are a superstar or a beggar, a thief or a priest. Death is the ultimate equalizer. As Yuvishka rightly asks, do our lives and stories, our deeds and karma matter at all? But having said this, the movie is quite optimistic. It tells us that after the cleansing of our old lives, we are sent back down for a fresh start. There is no heaven or hell or karma to be worried about. We are all just given another chance to do the best we can. So, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves either. 

Despite being fairly dark in theme, the movie is quite bright and pleasant to watch, with phenomenal production design, great layered characters and subtle humour. Vikrant Massey is really coming into his own, be it minor roles like Rana Khanna in ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’ (2015) or major ones like in ‘Chapaak’ (2020), he manages to leave an impact. Swetha Tripathy too is very sincere as the doey-wide-eyed enthusiastic apprentice. Though most of the humour comes from the variety of ways in which we are prone to die, it does amuse, Over the course of the movie, the cargo covers a wide range of the dead, from a wedding barat/procession to lonely bachelors all of whom have had quite, forgive me, funny deaths. But what the film lacks is a clean narrative. Towards the latter half, I wasn’t sure what the focus was anymore. Was it Prahastha’s long lost love, his changing outlook or Yuvishka learning to take on the new responsibilities that pull her out of her comfort zone? I could not tell. 

All in all, cargo is a refreshing take on a difficult topic and a fresh mark in the long line of dull thrillers and cheesy comedies that seem to dominate the OTT content. It is a rare venture into the space science fiction genre and a noteworthy one at that and for this the director Arati Kadav must take a bow. 

The Cinemawala Rating – 3/5 

 

About The Author-

Anushree Periasami is an electrical engineer from IIT Madras, currently working as a financial analyst. But her pet project has always been writing. An avid reader right from school, her favourite exercise was essay writing on novels and stories and the critical analyses of plots, characters, themes, etc. That interest continued right through college and to work as well. She was the Regional Editor for the internal quarterly magazine of her company – a compilation of interviews, technology articles and fun puzzles. The only things she loves as much as writing is watching movies and shows, especially masterpieces that aren’t advertised much and largely ignored. As Bojack Horseman put it, “But isn’t art, less what people put into it, but more what people get out of it ?” 

Also elle peut parler francais !

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