Cargo : Low budget Indian Sci Fi impresses with originality

Enjoying any movie requires some amount of suspension of belief. This is especially critical for sci-fi and horror genres. The viewer must augment what they see on screen with their own imagination to often enjoy the story to the fullest. Science fiction is about putting people into situations that are extremely uncommon. Unlike fantasy where you can have elves and dwarfs and dragons, Sci fi relies on
“human-ness” of the characters and their conflict with problems creates by science or non-humans. If you fail to understand this important factor, you end up having disasters like Ra.One or Love Story 2050.

I was thrilled to know that Netflix would bring us “Cargo”, a pure desi sci-fi movie featuring two brilliant actors. Shweta Tripathi and Vikant Massey.

The Good

What really works well with Cargo is its originality. The story is refreshingly original. It is nothing like star trek or star wars. It is not about a space adventure but pretty much like a yogic meditation, that inward looking story which just happens to be in space. It is very similar to David Lynch styled stories.

Of course Vikrant and Shweta both are just brilliant in their acting as well.

Second great thing about Cargo is the clever use “retro” look. This not only hides the fact that the movie is low budget but it gives it a very unique visual feel. The technology in the space ship is somewhere between “steampunk” and “star wars”. The ground station staff looks like SBI clerks.

The Bad

While I think it is really awesome that the story writers relied on Hindu mythology for inspiration, it is indeed weird that they would show “Asuras” as some kind of X men in charge of reincarnation of humans through a space craft named Pushpak.

I suspect the writers of the story might belong to the ‘Ravana was a good guy’ camp and decided to use the ‘Asura’ motif. This was a big off putting. Asuras are not supposed to be X-Men of humanity.

Also the fact that our protagonist is an Asura has no impact on the story. Nowhere you feel that Prahasta is a demon and hence bring some non human values to the table. In fact he seems like a celebrity on earth.

The Ugly

The story is meditative in nature. In such stories you expect moments that truly touch you in a David Lynch style. But Cargo is entirely devoid of such moments. You see our main protagonist Prahasta going through the motion of dead people coming to his spaceship whom he sends back to earth as reincarnation after wiping their memories.

This is not at all scientific but perfectly normal when you suspend you beliefs. I watched the move hoping that something interesting will happen. Yuvishka, makes an entry as an young assistant to Prahasta, making us think that this is an important point in the story. But then you realize it isnt. Yuvishka is youthful and easy going where as Prahasta is more of a stoic sarkari naukar.

As the movie approaches its end you realize that the story is not about Prahasta or Yuvishka but about the “Cargo” that is coming in. The dead people who come to the spaceship for reincarnation.

The movie hits you like a trainwreck. We were supposed to focus on the stories of these dead people and should have felt their pain. Instead we just ignored them because they were fundamentally uninteresting. When you die and you suddenly appear on a spaceship you should feel dis-oriented. You should feel angry or in denial. But that virtually does not happen with anyone. Most people take their death with the same disappointment as India losing a cricket match.

We are told that Asura and human treaty is a such a big deal on earth and Prahasta is a kind of celebrity on earth. But when dead people come to the spaceship not one of them recognizes him. Of course, if you are dead you are probably not in a mood to take autographs.

Everyone has a smartphones but Prahasta uses a CRT monitor to call ground station. He has a machine that can fix any problem with a body but somehow his communication devices don’t work as well.

Almost every single dead person who arrives on the spaceship goes through the motion of reincarnation very calmly.

At the end of the movie you realize that Prahasta has spent so much time on the spaceship that he is getting repeats, which means people who he reincarnated live another life die and come back to the spaceship. He is then forcefully retired.

It is not clear what the end is supposed to signify. Is it the irony that immortal Asuras too have to “transition” just like humans ? The movie probably chose to understand its central point but it leave a bad taste in your mouth.

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Wonderful review. Saved me some time.