Meel Patthar Hindi Movie Review
Suvinder Vicky plays truck driver Ghalib in Ivan Ayr's Netflix film Meel Patthar/Milestone. Most of Ghalib's life is spent behind the wheels. In trucking terms, that means 500,000 kilometers on the roads. A coworker tells Ghalib that it is the first time someone has ever clocked the 500,000-mark in the firm. Still, Ghalib does not celebrate the occasion. He does not even show any emotion on hearing the news.
Milestone follows the life of this lonely truck driver, showing how the events in his life come to define him both as a trucker and a person. Ghalib loses his wife after she takes her own life. The authorities in his village call him there to know why it happened. There, his in-laws blame him for his wife's death and claim compensation from him as she used to provide for that family. The sister character is terrific; all we see from her is an accusatory stare at Ghalib. But Ghalib is a pacifist, a good man who even wishes well for the union worker who beats his only truck helper.
Meanwhile, things are not particularly sunny back at Ghalib's workplace as his employers terminate many of his fellow truckers for trivial reasons. A little later in the film, Ghalib tells a new intern, Lakshvir Saran's Pash, that he is sad as the employers' constantly force his fellow truckers away. The employers are only bothered about the business and money that come and go. On the other hand, it is an insight into Ghalib himself; the departure of his coworkers seems to mean more to him than his wife's passing.
Ayr's film comes at a time when many in India are deprived of jobs as well as when downsizing is the name of the game here. Ghalib's plight is not too dissimilar from that of India's migrant workers, or guest workers as many of us would like to call them. Only, Ghalib is not wearing a face mask and fighting for survival in a pandemic world. He is being distanced from a neglectful society rather than a self-isolating one. And, what he does in response to all the social neglect he faces is an empathetic masterstroke that leaves a lump in our throat.
Milestone is not for everyone, though. Many of you who have seen Ayr's debut, Soni, and do not like it, may find the non-eventful narrative and the slow pace of this film to be rather off-putting too. This film is not a high-stakes drama or a plot-driven drama typical of Hindi cinema. All we see here is one man's life unfolding itself gradually on the roads and beyond. It is an uncompromising look at old age.
The film works mainly thanks to Ayr's slowly yet beautifully realized story, and Suvinder Vicky's exquisite performance. Vicky does not have many lines to speak here, but we know exactly what his character is feeling at each phase in the film. It is a perceptive, nuanced, and composed performance that holds the film together. Also noteworthy is the camera work that makes Milestone a beautiful film. At one point, Ayr's camera captures a banyan tree with a setting sun behind the foliage. It is a beautiful slice of rural India. The shots from inside the truck even work as a dive into the characters' headspace.