Milestone is the second feature-length film from indie director Ivan Ayr. Much like Netflix’s last week’s release, Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple, Milestone is a carefully crafted sombre character study that swept prestigious film festivals around the globe.
Milestone follows Ghalib (Survinder Vicky), a middle-aged truck driver in Delhi, who recently lost his wife, and subsequently cut himself off from everyone. He drives so much that he is the only one around him whose truck crosses five lakh kilometers. Everyone thinks that he is passionate about driving but, in fact, he is escaping from reality and not dealing with the grief of his wife’s passing.
When a young recruit, Pash (Lakshvir Saran), is hired by the trucking company, Ghalib is told to mentor him and teach him the ways of the road. Meanwhile, the union of workers in the warehouse go on a strike for a higher wage and Ghalib’s colleague, friend and a long time employee of the company, Dilbaug (Gurinder Makna), loses his job because he cannot see very well at night.
In Dilbaug’s case, it was his eyesight. Ghalib suffers from back pain. The film follows Ghalib as his livelihood is threatened by the young Pash.
Milestone is a realistic character study. All the characters in the film are people we might find around us. Their struggles and state of mind is absolutely real. Such a film requires great performances from every single character, major or minor.
Survinder Vicky is Ghalib. Vicky completely gets in the skin of the poised, quietly suffering protagonist. Ghalib is a wise and prudent individual who can already see his fate. Vicky’s performance is understated and calm. He uses his eyes and his body language, more than his words, to convey Ghalib’s state of mind.
Gurinder Makna plays Dilbaug, another long time truck driver. His character parallels Ghalib’s and acts as an excellent foil to show how Ghalib’s life might turn out. Makna is only in a few scenes but his presence is strong and leaves an impact on the audience.
Gaurika Bhatt plays Ghalib’s sister-in-law. She is a strong woman who wants justice and compensation for her sister’s death. She holds Ghalib and his uncaring indifferent attitude responsible for her sister’s untimely demise. Bhatt has a very limited screen time but her piercing gaze is impactful and one of the most effective performances in the film.
Lakshvir Saran essays the role of Pash, the naive young truck driver. He is inquisitive and hungry for work, but he also respects Ghalib. He knows that he might end up replacing Ghalib, but he also does not have any other options. Saran gives an adequate performance as Pash.
Like Chaitanya Tamhane in The Disciple, Milestone, too, has been written and edited by the director himself, here, Ivan Ayr. Once again, since the film is completely in control of Ayr, the film is exact and measured. The dialogues of the film are excellent despite being realistic.
The characters are grey well defined real people. The film presents the point of view of all the people involved as they struggle to survive. The casting makes all the difference in such a film. Fortunately, the casting is excellent in Milestone and everyone seems to be tailor-made for their roles.
The themes tackled by the film, the use of silence and long takes makes Milestone reminiscent of Cohen brothers’ No Country for Old Men (2007). Ghalib and Dilbaug are trying to adjust to the new world order. The older generation cannot catch up or make sense of this new world. The people from the old world order must face the uncertainty that this new order brings with it and come to peace with it.
Unlike the 2007 western, Milestone is not wide, expansive and bright, instead it is cold, dark and dull.The cinematography by Angello Faccini consists of long wide takes and with rare use of close ups. The camera lets the actors play it out without intercutting, this absorbs the audience into the scene and puts them at ease, to contemplate along with the film about the issues plaguing its characters.
The predominant usage of the colour blue in Milestone’s production design and colour grading, further establishes the claustrophobic and depressing circumstances that Ghalib finds himself trapped in.
The absence of any soundtrack or musical score is also conspicuous. Instead, the usage of loud clear foley sounds in the film further highlights Ghalib’s loneliness and cements his solitude. In fact, the lack of music makes the usage of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in the end credits far more impactful.
Milestone is Ghalib’s character study. His wife’s demise is the primary factor for his current state but the film spends little time on it. Some of it is explored through the interaction between Ghalib and his young Kashmiri neighbour, who was his wife’s friend. But those interactions seem half-baked, both, because of the lack of setup and due to the performance of the neighbour.
Milestone is a solemn, brooding film full of rich characters and a poetic feeling to both the visuals and the dialogues. It is a well crafted film that is a must watch for people who enjoy slow burning contemplative dramas.