At first glance Milestone or Meel Patthar seems like a profoundly layered story of a man’s journey from functional relevance to redundancy. Just the kind of ambivalent exploration of mortality and nullity that has the collective critics’ community cooing in orgasmic delight.
Some have even compared Ivan Iyr’s journey to Nomad Chloe Zhao’s NomadlandPray, what is the similarity besides an outstanding performance by the itinerant lead? That the protagonists are travelers? If that’s the resemblance then we can compare Meryl Streep’s Julie & Julia with Rajesh Khanna’s Bawarchi since both the protagonists are cooks.
No, the film that Milestone most resembles is Ognjen Glavonic’s haunting Bosnian drama The Load where the great Leon Lucev played a truck driver carrying cargo through dangerous territory.
Not only does Milestone follow a similar trajectory it even has the trucker bonding with a young man who is eager to learn. Come to think of it, the leading man in The Load Leon Lucev and the principal actor in Milestone Suvinder Vicky bear a striking resemblance to one another.And they are both brilliant.
I don’t know if director Ivan Iyr has anywhere acknowledged his debt to the Bosnian film or even acknowledged seeing it(great minds think alike, etc). But the protagonist Ghalib’s bleak brackish brutal existence echoes the Bosnian film all the way to its rather unexpected and thoroughly unconvincing ending.
But before that Milestone contains many rewarding interludes which show the hand of a master creator who doesn’t fear silences and has the guts to face up to his hero’s feelings and failings .When we first meet Ghalib he seems broken but not damaged irreparably. We are given to understand that he has recently lost his wife who, we gather, stopped loving Ghalib after some kind of a betrayal which is too raw to talk about.
In one of the narrative’s many truck-like swerves into unknown roads, Ghalib is suddenly in conversation with his Kashmiri neighbour (played with valorous dignity by Pavitra Mattoo) whom Ghalib admits he has never interacted with before. Suddenly he is discussing intimate details of his fractured marriage with his stranger neighbour.
This is not the only lunar eclipse that I encountered in the fractured dim-shaded plot. Elsewhere Ghalib’s dead wife’s father and sister want “compensation” from him while the panchayat gives them both a patient hearing. There is no hint of any foul play in Ghalib’s dead wife’s death. What is Ghalib compensating his in-laws for? Why is he giving in to their demands? Do his in-laws know something that we don’t?Or are they just trying to exploit the tragedy to their advantage?
More outrageous is the way Ghalib’s bonding with his new assistant the young and confused Pash(Lakshvir Saran well-played) pans out, with Ghalib offering Pash a large amount of cash in exchange for Pash's job. “Because if you don’t go I lose my job. This is all I have.”
Wouldn’t it have been much easier for Ghalib to buy his own truck with his money instead of trying to buy his young job-usurper out of the market? The worst blow is yet to come when Ghalib’s backache is miraculously passed on to someone else. I am yet to figure out what that divine intervention is meant to tell us about Ghalib’s troubles? Have they dissolved? Or are we looking at a narrative as flawed and fractured as its protagonist?
Not all is lost in Milestone, though. There is scattered brilliance everywhere. A drunken duologue between Ghalib and a newly retrenched driver Dilbaug(Gurinder Makhne) is exemplary in its control over the emotions of the characters . The complete rejection of a background score is also commendable.
I am not saying Milestone is a bad film. But coming from the director of that gritty hardhitting cops drama Soni this one appears a bit of a cop-out, albeit one that is infused with excellence.
Incidentally, the cops are called ‘dakaits’ in this film. I leave you with that thought.
Image source: IMDb