Facing a drought of original ideas, the Hindi film industry is unabashedly mining the Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu film industries (among others). In 2019, Mathukutty Xavier directed Anna Ben in Helen. In 2022, he directs Janhvi Kapoor in Mili, a near-faithful remake of the original survival drama.
Kapoor plays 24-year-old Mili Naudiyal, a devoted, kindly, dutiful, self-motivated young woman who is learning English in order to be eligible for immigration to Canada. She’s a qualified nurse but works an evening shift at a fast-food diner in a Dehradun mall. Her father (Manoj Pahwa) is distraught that his only child will leave him to pursue a nursing career abroad, only because she believes she will earn more. Mili is also willing to leave behind her boyfriend Sameer Kumar (Sunny Kaushal). But her intent is not selfish. Mili is the kind of girl who intends to stay connected to all the people she loves.
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Close to one hour of this approximately two-hour long film is dedicated to establishing the crucial relationships in Mili’s life. Besides her single parent father, who she mothers and dotes on, she adores Sameer. But she worries that her father won’t accept him, not just because Sameer is a bit wayward and doesn’t have a respectable job, but also because of his caste. There are also her colleagues at the diner, a rude and demanding boss (Vikram Kochhar) and her family friends.
All this is a set up to the crux of the drama. What happens when, one night, Mili gets locked into the diner’s cold storage room. A frantic father, a nasty local policeman, a kindly security guard, the boyfriend and some others are part of the search and rescue that is chaotically unfolding outside. Caste and gender discrimination is amplified by the responses and attitude of a local policeman. Mili’s father experiences his own catharsis as the race to save his missing daughter intensifies. Pahwa and Kaushal are both on point as the men representing the two kinds of love Mili needs in her life, and the actors provide the right beats to prop up a Janhvi Kapoor headliner.
Meanwhile, Mili is fighting for her life in minus 17 degree Celsius. Kapoor gives it her all, as she shivers, adapts and waits. The camera repeatedly zooms into her frost-bitten face and fingers as the environment begins to affect her body and mind. As she struggles in that sub-zero icebox, you wonder how this girl will cope with the Canadian winter.
For all the fine performances, and a few cameos, Kutty’s film drops the ball in building a sense of doom. The panic, claustrophobia and hysteria you imagine any human being experiencing in such circumstances is not effectively conveyed. Recall David Fincher’s Panic Room, Lenny Abrahamson’s Rooma, Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours and Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped. But one doesn’t get a true sense of the space, its compactness or the frenzied search for resources Mili needs to keep herself alive.
Mili is a serviceable survival drama that smoothly transitions between the solitary fight inside and the chaos outside, and also from its original setting to a North Indian milieu, chauvinistic cops included. Writers Kutty, Alfred Kurian Joseph and Noble Babu Thomas write in a fair number of imaginative tools for the entrapped to keep the tension simmering and Kapoor, with her deer in the headlights look, pulls out all stops to make Mili her own.
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