Ivan Ayr’s film, through its indie tinge and deliberate pacing, tells a story that is human and honest, and demands empathy
In a country ravaged by the pandemic, feelings of isolation have become a common occurrence. Along these lines, Ivan Ayr’s second directorial feature Milestone (Meel Patthar) is a solemn film tracing the struggles of loneliness and desolation that truck driver Ghalib (a fantastic Suvinder Vicky) endures, in his attempt to remain relevant in the face of a mutating world of capitalism and identity politics.
The pandemic has also revealed a glaring hierarchy in the disposability of certain lives over others, and Milestone devastatingly captures the conflict, fear and paranoia of the labour class as it is even today.
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Ghalib is a desolate local, worn down by the loneliness of his profession and his quickly-ageing body that threatens to put him out of work. With the transportation companies on strike, Ghalib takes on all the strenuous labour. He has his flask, his music and the open road for company as he takes on the unforgiving vicissitudes of his personal and professional life.
Director Ayr is deliberate with the real estate of screen time in his film, most of which is occupied by Ghalib. The camera follows him through his every movement and emotion, and Suvinder Vicky’s performance is delicate and internalised. Be it during the character’s solitary drives at night or his scuffs with the village ‘sarpanch’, there is intent behind his detachment. He is a man of few words with a certain emptiness in his eyes, echoed by the emptiness of the road, of his apartment and of the long nights he spends driving.
Milestone/ Meel Patthar
- Director: Ivan Ayr
- Cast: Suvinder Vicky, Lakshvir Saran, Pavitra Mattoo, Mohinder Gujral
- Storyline: A middle-aged trucker frets at the threat of losing his job to a young intern
- Duration: 98 minutes
At the source of Ghalib’s paranoia is the fear of expendability. He meets a young recruit, Pash (Lakshvir Saran) who as his intern, is expected to replace him. Saran portrays the eager zeal of a young man desperate to carve a place for himself in the world. However, Pash’s character is not doe-eyed or naive; there is a desperation in him, to mould into the unswerving impediment of duty. The great irony lies in the fact that the cargo in Ghalib’s truck is more valuable than him, and despite this knowledge, the Sisyphean Ghalib must go on.
What is known to us about Ghalib’s marriage with Etali, is in ragged bits of information from various supporting characters. The relationships that exist in the lives of those in the transport sector are often embittered and drowning in discord. The impossibility of a functional family life for those always on the road is reflected in what we learn about Ghalib’s personal life and his wife’s unfortunate suicide.
The film’s cinematography by Angello Faccini is detailed in its economy, and captures the essence of Ghalib’s circumstances through little moments, like the energy at the check-post or the trucker’s bay. The shots are long and uninterrupted; we get to know the characters by eavesdropping upon their interactions.
For Ghalib, his only enduring relationship is with his truck. He says, “I don’t even know where I dwell,” and the theme of homelessness is rampant throughout Milestone. Ghalib left Kuwait due to Iraq’s invasion. He has an apartment in Delhi, but not a home. Pash’s home is temporary and the cause for his commercial desperation. For people like them, there is no destination, only one milestone after another.
Ultimately, Ayr’s film is a stark commentary on the commodification of labour in capitalist structures. Ghalib is without people, and one day the world will be without him, but no one will notice. The pervasive argument Milestone makes is that the battle is not between the rich and the poor, but between the poor and the poorer. The loss of self, hope and dignity in the face of such a predicament, melds into the film’s narrative with a quiet yet chilling and unforgettable force.
Milestone is currently streaming on Netflix