With years of experience in watching mysteries unfold on our screens, we know by now that the biggest revelations are hidden within the smallest details. Janhvi Kapoor’s Mili, the Hindi remake of Malayalam film Helen, also follows this template. We see how in a self-centered world, even the tiniest gesture of kindness can go a long way. The film also reminds us how adults are self-absorbed in their lives, and opening up our minds for even the briefest of moments can be life-changing. Mili briefly, but pivotally plays with these moments, to give us a peek into the bigger picture.
Mili (Jahnvi Kapoor) is a 24-year-old nursing graduate and a part-time restaurant worker, who aspires to migrate from Dehradun to Canada for better living standards. Soon after this, we get to see a brief summary of what is going to happen. The camera angle follows an ant’s trail as it ends up falling inside an ice tray. But before this happens to Mili, we are introduced to the world she is living in. We see her attend IELTS classes, taking care of her widowed father Naudiyal (Manoj Pahwa), and her unemployed boyfriend Sameer (Sunny Kaushal).
The first half has several moments that give away something that the audience can latch on to. For example, there is a scene involving Mili, her father, and Sameer, inside a theatre, where the father murmurs that he is better off watching dubbed Telugu films than watching a presumably Hindi film. Is it a nonchalant sarcastic commentary from director Mathukutty Xavier (who also helmed Helen) on the current industry trends where South Indian films are faring better in the Northern belt? On a serious note, we also see some passing references to Sameer coming from the oppressed caste in this caste-ridden society, which Naudiyal is very much part of.
The latter even asks his daughter to make friends from their “own” groups. While such commentaries are just passing references to suggest Mili’s world, one thing is made sure in the first half. The men around Mili are against her decision to migrate. Mili also lives in a society where men are in charge of protection, and we see the ingrained misogyny in police officer Satish Rawat, who is supposed to be the protector of justice. Rawat terms Mili’s relationship as an “affair” and deems her unfit to be on her own, and wants to “give” her back to the father.
Mathukutty barely scratches all these issues before stepping into the real quest where Mili accidentally gets locked within the cold storage unit of the restaurant. Before enduring the cold temperatures of the storage unit, Mili faces the chilling realities of daily life. The second half goes into survival drama mode. Filled with tight shots of her frost bites, bruised body, Mili sometimes dangerously steps into the zone of torture porn.
Yes, the close-up shots work to show the claustrophobic nature of Mili’s situation, but after a point, the constant shots of her tattered skin and scrapped arm feel a bit too much. While Janhvi single-handedly steals the show with her earnest performance, Mili does suffer from inconsistency in trying to balance the already-troubled world of the girl and her near-death experience.
It tries to unpack several things at once. Does it speak up against the perceived notions we have while othering people? Is it a commentary on a woman having her own wishes and choices in a man’s world? Is it about the growing corporate structure that exploits its labours? Or is it about Mili’s resilience to withstand the harshest temperatures, but unable to do so in the real world of complex human emotions? The film doesn’t stick to a stand but offers multiple possibilities for every question without really zeroing in on a solution. And given this is Mathukutty’s second outing with the same story, we expect some gaps to be filled and take it a notch up higher than the original.
Nevertheless, Mili is backed by a powerful plot and fairly decent execution. Janhvi makes Mili come to life with her mature acting, and Sunny plays his part well. There is also an adorable rodent that wins all our hearts. While the irony of Mili, who has aspirations of moving to the harsh winds of cold Canada, getting locked in a cold storage unit, is not lost upon us, the film offers a warm reminder of her resilience to the coldest of temperatures inside the storage, and coldest of behaviours encountered in the society. Did she come out of the unit? Did she go to Canada? The answers are best found in the air-conditioned halls of a theatre.
Starring: Janhvi Kapoor, Sunny Kaushal, Manoj Pawha
Director: Mathukutty Xavier