'Meel Patthar' review: On the road of life

Though very different in their narrative trajectories, there is a lot that is similar in 'Milestone' and 'Nomadland'. They are like profound companion pieces on lives on the move

'Meel Patthar' review: On the road of life
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Namrata Joshi

“I don’t know where I dwell anymore,” says Ghalib, the protagonist of Ivan Ayr’s Meel Patthar (Milestone), a truck-driver, constantly ferrying goods, living on the roads than hunkering down at home. His life is seemingly on the move yet on an interminable pause. On one hand, there is the confidence and self-assurance that comes with years of experience, of driving one truck over five lakh kilometres. There is the immense passion and dedication to the job; on the other hand is a weariness, the drooping shoulders and the bad back, the intimations of eventual redundancy and the signs of the new order taking over the old.

In his characteristic minimalistic yet resounding style, Ayr captures a world rarely seen in Indian films—of warehouses, godowns, highways and checkpoints—and also lays bare its inner dynamics a la the working class dramas of Ken Loach—exploitative bosses, striking labourers (led by Pradhan, played aptly by the poet of anti CAA-NRC protests, Aamir Aziz), inhuman working conditions, discontent over wages, corrupt cops referred to as checkpoint robbers and also a heartening doffing of the hat to a competent woman mechanic in an overtly male world. However, it’s in zooming in on Ghalib that he makes us square up to the larger truths of life.

Here’s a man facing professional upheavals alongside personal losses. There’s the death of the wife he hasn’t been able to mourn enough. The repercussions of his job on the family, the crumbling relationship with his wife that would have hastened her end and the inability to have had a conversation that may have, perhaps, helped them confront their differences. It’s a tragic life lacking in resolutions and closures of any kind. A life haunted by ghosts from the past but not lacking in essential dignity and grace. The craggy face and the rugged yet impaired body of Suvinder Vicky is where the film converges to a devastating effect. As Ghalib, Vicky’s is a phenomenal performance; quiet, unobstrusive yet a forceful and emphatic portrayal of a man in decline.

Ghalib is also a man uncomfortably poised between two ends of the changing economic order. He might be a respected mentor, quasi-father figure and confidant to a callow, rookie driver Paash (Lakshvir Saran) yet it is from the inexperienced youth that he has to seek and buy his own future even as he hands him over an odd legacy that goes beyond just the passing on of the wrench and the keys to the truck.

Then there is Dilbag, the recently fired colleague of Ghalib who visits him in the night, drunk and desperately searching for comfort. A guy with failing night vision who otherwise regards himself “as young as an Arabian horse”, questions his perceived worthlessness in the eyes of his bosses and why very few people have the patience to listen to him anymore. “We have become deaf... In the brave new world, there is no one left to listen”. The spiritual and thematic core of Milestone, that of expendability, rests in this one scene.

Though very different in their narrative trajectories, there is a lot in retrospect that is similar in Meel Patthar and Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland. They are like profound companion pieces on lives on the move, of personal, professional and material losses, of prosaic lives narrated poetically (beyond just naming the protagonists Ghalib and Paash) but most so on the cruel and haunting superfluity of human lives.

The film is playing on Netfilx.

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