Express News Service
Milestone begins with a blank screen for precisely half a minute. It’s as though he were emulating Andrei Tarkovsky, who famously explained his ‘dull’ opening shots by saying, “Viewers who walked into the wrong theatre will have time to leave before the main action starts.”
There’s a calming stillness in the frame, one that allows for the film’s moments to really affect you. The film shows that it takes a certain stillness in order to get you moved.
Director Ayr paints the life of a truck driver named Ghalib (Suvinder Vicky), an old-timer with decades of experience in the field. Grieving from the death of his wife, Ghalib has hit the road in an attempt to escape reality.
He calls it passion, but in truth, the job is all he seems to know and care about. In a later scene, he says, “I do this job because this is who I am. My misery is that this is all I am.”
The road becomes his companion, his only purpose. Trouble arrives when his friend and colleague Dilbaug (Gurinder Makna) gets sacked for poor eyesight at night. In the eyes of their boss, Dilbaug’s poor eyesight isn’t too far away from Ghalib’s backache.
It’s at this juncture that Ghalib is assigned a new intern to tutor: A young man named Pash (Lakshvir Saran). Milestone’s handling of its theme and subtext reminds you a lot of Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. The film’s charm lies in its subtle treatment of its heavy text, with many scenes serving to unravel more and more layers in the film’s narrative.
Both Ghalib and Dilbaug are facing the wrath of nature’s oldest rule—survival of the fittest—and neither is ready to face the brutality of the inevitable in a fast-moving world. Ghalib is pursued not just by his age, but by his past as well. Somewhere in his grief, there is some guilt as well.
The irony of the situation is how this is the case for their boss as well. The son of the company’s head is taking over and is administering changes.
Even for Pash, it’s not an easy world with his very tutor beginning to see him as a threat. This was a place where only Ghalib could speak English, but now Pash can too. It is a threat and causes the gap between them to widen, and it’s never felt more than when there arises confusion over Saddam Hussain and whether they know about him.
There’s an inevitability about the fight between Ghalib and Pash, about the struggle between such characters in life. Nature favours only one, but the truth is, they are both pawns in a ruthless system, a ruthlessness that is best exemplified in one instruction from Ghalib’s boss, concerning cops demanding bribes. “Tackle him yourself!” he says. “Why make me pay? I’m not asking for much here.”
Another Coen Brothers’ film, Inside Llewyn Davis, comes to mind too, when acknowledging the miserable existence of Ghalib. The lack of warmth in the frames seems to be an influence as well. From shots of the tires of a truck to multiple long shots, Ayr and cinematographer Angello Faccini show great attention to the intricate details.
There is a refusal to really milk the aggression that is present in this universe. That’s why even when there’s cacophony in the film, the camera is content to focus on the peaceful, glazed faces of some of the film’s characters.
There is all-round excellence in this film. Be it the sound design evident when you pay attention to the flutter of a paper while someone’s writing on it, or the set design which focusses on intimate details like the dust on a table, this is a film that shows mastery over many of its facets. The stories of Ghalib and Pash are universal and for that reason, it’s not hard to invest in them.
These are stories that happen around us, to us. When it’s as sensitively, as beautifully handled as it has been in Milestone, cinema becomes poetry.
Film: Meel Patthar (Milestone)
Director: Ivan Ayr
Cast: Suvinder Vicky, Lakshvir Saran
Streaming on: Netflix