Somewhere in the future, Homo Rakshasas and Homo Sapiens have made peace and signed the Rakshas Manushya Peace Treaty. With that, the demons are in charge of the Post Death Transition Services — to transport souls called ‘Cargo’, after death to their reincarnations. Space-dwelling Rakshasas agent Prahastha, played by a stoic Vikrant Massey, helms a Pushpak with only earth-bound Nitigya Sir (a flawless Nandu Madhav) for online company. After 75 years of rendering solitary service, a young social media-driven assistant Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi) is foisted on him. His lonely existence has just begun to accommodate the newbie, when she begins to lose her joie de vivre as she entertains doubts about her dream job.
Debutante director Arati Kadav’s belief of how Eastern sci-fi is more aligned to Indian culture leaves an important clue about the plot. Her vision is vast, like our epics from where she selects some cues, such as the name Prahastha, a valiant commander-in-chief of Ravana’s army or Pushpak, another bow to Ravan’s viman.
Kadav’s Prahastha is a man on a mission to seamlessly onboard his cargoes, heal them, erase their memories and send them back to be reborn. His monotonous existence which he equates to being more dead than the ‘dead’ cargo he processes reeks of a crisis. Massey’s vulnerability and inability to console a cargo in the face of a query as to “What’s the point of it all?” melts your heart, as he invests his role with his trademark integrity. He inhabits the skin of the disciplined taskmaster who is more humane than he lets on while Tripathi’s dynamic demeanour is a gem to behold. Her descent from the bubbly novice to a world-weary demon losing her prized ability weights your heart down.
Nandu Madhav aka Nitigya Sir adds the gentle chutzpah. However, the loneliness detective and the comic build-ups to the death scenes seem alien to the gentle storytelling. That may have been intentional – the writer may be hinting at a philosophical riddle that’s lost on me.
The plot juxtaposes the philosophy of death and rebirth check-to-jowl with consumerist corporatisation, and yet I have to ask — what’s the point in that? How does being demons contribute to the lead pairs’ personalities? Gifted demons wasting away in dead-end bureaucratic jobs when they could easily enslave and rule humanity as in our epics — doesn’t cut the ice. May be ideas got lost in implementation. It feels as if the story missed the beat between holding back its ideas and surrendering to their flow.
While the movie skips the usual tropes of the genre and instead holds up the (in)humanity of the society for a deeper study, it asks heartfelt questions, then leaves us without answers. A feeble attempt in “something always survives when everything is over” just does not suffice.
The production design and cinematography show a deliberate attempt at borrowing the quaint analog look of the 80s Doordarshan serials like the Milind Soman-starrer sci-fi ‘Captain Vyom’, while the sound is intended to not serenade but soothe. Cargo’s festival circuit run may have been unceremoniously cut short — but it will find its experimental place in the sun, if only for the performance of the lead pair.
In the end, it’s Kadav story that stays with you. I pray that she writes unfailingly and honestly — hers is a voice that shows potential. We may stand to gain from it.
Movie: Cargo (Hindi)
Director and Writer: Arati Kadav
Cast: Vikrant Massey, Shweta Tripathi, Nandu Madhav, and cameos by Konkona Sen Sharma and Hansal Mehta
Runtime: 1 hr 59 minutes