‘Cargo’ review: an inventive premise with a stumbling plot

The spaceship breathes much like a living being, a ventilator-like diaphragm that contracts and expands, its breathing action driving its forward journey around the earth. In a science fiction movie set in the future and that looks at the inevitability of death and the eventual dispatch, this animistic design is just one of the facets to relish in debutante director Arati Kadav‘s stumbling but inventive Cargo.

Kadav, who also wrote the script, melds Indian mythology and philosophy with the drudgery of everyday living and loneliness in a newfangled concept piece. The rakshasa (demon) species have entered a peace détente with the human race, and rule the social media digi-packs: there’s a pop star called Surpanakha who comes up with foot-tapping numbers (composer Shezan Shaikh‘s score a Kraftwerk-meets-Rahul Dev Burman pulser, including a catchy ditty that goes You’re My Forget Me Not); plus there are the dispatchers hovering in spaceships working for the (Interplanetary Space Organization, whose acronym IPSO is a clever philosophical twist for the Latin word which means ‘itself’, the phrase ipso facto here the action of our karmas) who receive dead people — pragmatically called cargo — heal them, cleanse their memories, and then zap them into whatever gets them back to reincarnate and repeat their doomed life cycle — and who also have a huge online fan following. This is the Post-Death Transitional Services (PDTS) that director Hansal Mehta chips in to explain with a cameo.

Vikrant Massey gets in a sincere act.

One amongst such dispatchers is demon Prahastha — ironically saddled with a piece of faulty healing equipment — who’s the sole inhabitant of Pushpak 634A spaceship (an effective minimalistic design by Mayur Sharma), who prefers not to have assistant, even as he’s incessantly prodded by his supervisor-on-earth, Nitigya (Nandu Madhav, superbly adding a dimension to his small-screen act), to have one. Prahastha, played with a steady, unflinching sincerity by actor Vikrant Massey, propels the movie forward, even as the only other interaction he has is with the perennially sleepless Chaitanya (Surender Thakur, also on an anachronistic solid-state TV screen). This is also where the movie’s strength lies: in shining light on the loneliness that today’s futuristic world has brought about. There are those who seek refuge in a professional company-giver (played with a poker-faced intensity by Biswapati Sarkar). Then there those like Prahastha who slip into a process-oriented disciplined life that gives a humdrum meaning to their existence. And however dreary this eternal demonic life sounds, the arrival of assistant Yuvik (Shweta Tripathi) upends Prahastha’s clockwork engineered routine. And when there’s a huge generational gap (don’t ask how much) between the firmly docked senior and the new arriviste, there’s some delightful organizational behavior laced with a gentle humor that’s at play that director Kadav captures via tensile forces between the two in processes, approaches, and even ethics.

Shweta Tripathi is all sauciness and fresh energy.

The problem with Cargo is its orbital plot that, while drawing from all the philosophy and metaphors that work for a while, and then seem to go nowhere. The dull routine of PDTS is repeated to drive in all that’s already been said, and cargo cameos by Ritwik Bhowmick and Umesh Jagtap don’t do much to change its course. What stumped me was Konkona Sen Sharma‘s appearance that brings in a subplot with no consequence except to add ten minutes to the movie. Much like co-producer Anurag Kashyap‘s Choked earlier this year, the innovative premise is too much for the story arc to keep up with, leaving with you a dull after-feeling.

Actor Shweta Tripathi, in yet another winning performance, is pitch-perfect in her act. And pretty much early on after her appearance, her character captures the essence of existentialism: what is our purpose if it all comes to end this? The movie floats the same question about itself in a promissory orbit but hops on to a middling trajectory instead.

Cargo (2019) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Cargo is streaming on Netflix and is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for some intense scenes.
Director Arati Kadav Time 1h 59min
Writer Arati Kadav
Stars Vikrant Massey, Shweta Tripathi, Nandu Madhav
Genres Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Sc-Fi

Watch the trailer of Cargo here.