Cargo Movie Review: A sedate but uplifting sojourn in novel territory
There is a fable-like approach to Cargo, which gives us the necessary familiarity to throw our weight behind a genre not often explored in Indian cinema
What is it about death that rattles even the strongest among us? Is it the suddenness of it all? Is it the fear of what’s next in line for us? It is, after all, the only thing that is inevitable in all our lives. Unlike science, religions have multiple answers. We are promised a lot of things after death for our activities while we live. But what if all of these are eyewash? What if after death, there is just… nothing. Filmmaker Arati Kadav tells us as much in her Netflix film, Cargo, but leaves us with the most important emotion of all — Hope.
When we first meet Post Death Transition agent Prahastha (Vikrant Massey), a rakshas, who ensures the dead get a smooth transition back to the world, it is this hope that he seems completely bereft of. For him, it is just a job, a job that he has been consistently good at for decades now, and more importantly, a job that has kept him in a spaceship all alone for all this time. Cargo is also a mentor-student film that sees the Prahastha cross paths with young and savvy Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi), who is sent as his assistant. There are so many layers to this story that it is almost easy to overlook the fact that Cargo is a well-thought-out sci-fi film at its core. This is because Arati builds this world beautifully and eases us into it almost immediately. Such is the conviction of her writing and the performances of the actors that we are eager to suspend our disbelief.
Although Prahastha and Yuvishka understand each other’s dreams and misgivings, these portions do feel a bit too rushed compared with the otherwise unhurriedness of the film. Similarly, there are some glaring missteps that seem pronounced only because the rest of the film is quite understated. For any sci-fi film to work, it is paramount that the film respects the rules of the world that has been created. Some more clarity is needed in certain rules of Cargo. The world of Cargo suggests muggles and wizards… I mean, humans and rakshas have signed a peace treaty of sorts and are co-existing happily. If Prahastha is indeed a superstar rakshas, is he known only in the rakshas community or is he famous among humans too? If they are indeed co-existing, do the humans know that the rakshas possess superpowers? Do the humans know that the rakshas go to a Xavier Institute of sorts? Why aren’t living humans made aware of the nothingness of the afterlife? Why is the human government that has signed treaties with the rakshas community not transparent enough with the workings of the treaty?
Such questions crop up in our heads because Arati, who has written, directed and co-produced Cargo, doesn’t exactly mount the film as a typical sci-fi film. There is a fable-like approach to the film, which gives us the necessary familiarity to throw our weight behind a genre not often explored in Indian cinema. The world of Cargo might not have all the answers to our questions, but it is a world we understand, so it doesn't alienate us. It also looks and feels familiar because Cargo is essentially a chamber drama of sorts, which is incidentally set in outer space. Each shot of outer space is technically brilliant, especially the jellyfish-inspired spaceships that add the necessary understated visual spectacle to Cargo.
But more than the visuals, it is the nonchalant exchanges between Prahastha and Yuvishka about hope, loss, longing, and death, that act as reminders that even in 2070, things will always boil down to emotions. And the restrained performances by Vikrant and Shweta bring these emotions out with a degree of consummate elegance.
In a way, for Indian sci-fi fans, Cargo, just like the central premise of the film, is all about transition. The majority of the Indian audience are like Prahastha, the old guard. They aren’t quite ready to accept anything new till there is a wee bit of familiarity to the proceedings. On the other hand, there is a section of the audience, who are go-getters like Yuvishka, and are raring to do and find new things. Cargo falls somewhere in between these two ends trying to capture the attention and interest of both worlds. Basically, with Cargo, Arati, a self-confessed sci-fi fan, has come up with a film that might seem like a small step for the Yuvishkas of the world, but is definitely a giant leap for the Prahasthas.