Synopsis – Janhvi Kapoor as a woman stuck in a freezer fighting to stay alive. ‘Mili’ is the official Hindi remake of the Malayalam thriller ‘Helen’
My Take – With yet another week comes yet another South Indian to Hindi remake in cinemas. In similar vein to Vikram Vedha which released about a month ago, this one too has the original film’s director Mathukutty Xavier revisit his earlier set up with a few changes here and there.
Though survival dramas are a sub-genre rarely touched by the Hindi cinema belt, especially given their dicey ground, with the last one to find much deserved acclaim being filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane‘s Trapped (2016) starring Rajkummar Rao, this remake of the 2019 Malayalam-language film Helen, manages to immediately stand apart at least with its setting. A setting which sees a young girl fight for her life while being stuck inside a restaurant’s freezer room for over five hours. And while the action has shifted from Kerala to Dehradun, thankfully the essence of the film remains the same.
Resulting in a highly watchable thriller with enough emotional undertones to deserve appreciation. Sure, the film could have done with a tighter edit, yet executed with sustained control, here, director Xavier, working with a script adapted for Hindi film audiences by Ritesh Shah (Batla House, Airlift), imparts sustained intensity and urgency to the girl’s fight for survival and the despairing efforts of her father and friends to locate her.
Yes, it neither pulsates with crackling energy nor overflows with plot twists, but it does not waver in terms of its focus on the girl in distress and on how her disappearance impacts her loved ones. Most importantly, the film rests squarely on Janhvi Kapoor’s ability to make to carry the film, who while flashing her million-dollar smile manages to single-handedly juggles a lot of tasks effortlessly. Looking at her recent filmography, Janhvi seems to be choosing only scripts that give her ample space to prove her acting chops, and with this film she does exactly that.
The story follows Mili Naudiyal (Janhvi Kapoor), a 24-year-old a B.Sc Nursing graduate who lives a regular life with her widower father (Manoj Pahwa) in Dehradun. For some time now Mili has been working hard to pass her IELTS exam so she can fly off to Canada for better employment opportunities in order to lift her family’s present strained financial circumstances, which even sees her working part-time at a restaurant named Doon’s Kitchen, inside a plush mall. A decision which her father nor her boyfriend, Sameer (Sunny Kaushal) support happily.
While an unfortunate incident puts a strain on her relation with both Sameer and her father, things take a turn for worse when she accidentally gets locked in the freezer room at her workplace. Though a search led by her father promptly begins outside, with every minute passing Mili is forced to use every iota of her intelligence and instincts to stay alive inside the room at -17°C temperature.
The screenplay is reasonably fast-paced and, acts as a display of courage, presence of mind, and a celebration of the indomitable spirit of staying alive, where fear transcends into the urge to fight against all odds. Director Xavier has reportedly based his film on real life survival stories of workers trapped in cold storage and the portions where Mili does her utmost to stay alive. From eating raw food, to attempting to make a fire, to trying to turn the cooling fans off, she tries everything she can and even befriends a mouse for company and warmth.
Although more than half the drama sees Mili trapped inside the cold storage room, the writer Ritesh Shah, adapting from a screenplay by Alfred Kurian Joseph, Noble Babu Thomas and Mathukutty Xavier, intelligently interspersed her suffering with scenes of the outside world.
Besides the scenes of Mili’s predicament, the scenes of the father’s anxiety, the boyfriend’s worry, the uncooperative police officer’s behavior, the friends’ concern, the security guard’s revelation are all exciting, thrilling and even heartwarming. The emotional scenes too provide a fine balance to the thriller sequences. Mili is a father and daughter story before anything else. The scenes between Mili and her father have been sensitively written and pack an emotional punch.
With crispy direction and a tight script, director Xavier manages to shed light on the sub-characters to bring out the political and social issues which often go unnoticed. The manager of the restaurant uses his employees as a punching bag to take out the frustrations going on in his personal life.
The egoistic, strict to his beliefs policeman becomes a stand-in for many things wrong with our system. But most importantly, the film gives ample room to address themes such as chauvinism, and the male gaze. The film also wonderfully highlights how, often, women have to suffer to alter the prejudices of the men around them.
And none of that would have mattered if Janhvi Kapoor couldn’t perform. Even when she’s battling for life, Janhvi makes sure that her superhuman resilience never feels over the top. This is, by far, her best performance to date. Sunny Kaushal continues to carve a space for himself. Despite a low scope character, Sunny makes his character endearing and delivers a mature performance.
Veteran actor Manoj Pahwa is solid as ever and is ably supported by Hasleen Kaur, Rajesh Jais, Sanjay Suri, Anurag Arora, and Vikram Kochhar. On the whole, ‘Mili’ is an engaging survival thriller anchored by an excellent Janhvi Kapoor performance.
Directed – Mathukutty Xavier
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 127 minutes