Indian arthouse production Milestone is a trucker’s story of middle-aged loneliness, and how it gets embedded as serial road blocks on the journey of life
Starring: Suvinder Vicky as Ghalib, Lakshvir Saran as Pash, Pavitra Mattoo as Kashmiri neighbour
Directed by Ivan Ayr
Understatement is rare in Indian cinema, given how prone the collective body is work to bombast and hyper drama. Even the more “nuanced” productions border on in-your-face symbolism — not to forget tokenisms. Given the inbuilt settings, Milestone (Meel Patthar in Hindi) is almost revolutionary in its reticence, its contemplation —and its unwillingness to play to any stand in the gallery with its stoic resistance to get entangled in any form of emotions. There’s not much of a plot or story, it’s a ride punctuated with pauses.
Ghalib (a superb Suvinder Vicky) is a middle-aged truck driver who operates out of some place on the fringes of Delhi; a man of few words, he was born in Kuwait and dreamt of a life on petro-dollar-fuelled fast lanes only to have them scuppered when the Gulf War played spoiler. His work is his life. He makes decent enough money by working 24x7, taking on all odd jobs, at all odd hours. His wife is recently deceased, there are hints she could have taken her life, feeling betrayed at the lack of her husband’s interest in her — or at least what she perceived was the case. He’s had to internalise his grief because he cannot afford to let that get in the way of him and the highways… and anyways, he doesn’t seem to be a person who’d go beyond quiet broodiness even though he’s stricken.
It all starts with a back sprain, because Ghalib had to lift “loads” in one delivery and, as everyone around him tells him, he’s getting on in years. He’s worried about losing his way, even as his worry lines are blurred with his grief ones.
Enter, Pash (Lakshvir Saran), a young man, probably around 20, clearly better equipped, physically, to handle long hauls, and Ghalib is asked to take him under his wings. Pash is a nice enough person, quite deferential in fact, but Ghalib sees in him a mirror to insecurities.
Meanwhile, his late wife’s sister and father have demanded compensation, like blood money. Do they really blame him for what happened to his wife? They probably don’t, and are simply being opportunistic to cash in on the situation.
There’s this brilliant interplay where Pash asks Ghalib if he was indeed born in Kuwait. Ghalib says yes. Pash asks why he decided to move back to India.
“Ever heard of Saddam Hussein?” Ghalib shoots back.
“Who?” says Pash.
And then there is silence when Ghalib doesn’t dignify that with a response.
That’s the other thing about Milestone. There’s no background music: the sounds you hear are actual highway blares, at times staccato, at times persistent, the screeches of tyres, conversations over the clinks of cheap glasses of liquor. Aesthetically, it’s hauntingly beautiful, and yet there are no pretty landscapes or lavish city shots, only the internalities that get actualised in a blue-collar cascade.
The standout aspect of Milestone is the absolutely stunning performance by Suvinder Vicky, who doesn’t have a Wikipedia page in his name — just like the director, who seems to have emerged from some little nook straight on to the driver’s seat to deliver a key milestone in Indian cinema. Ivan Ayr has previously directed Soni to great critical acclaim — a movie I’ve not watched, but have now put on My List, to be watched forthwith.