As a teenager, I often had this persistent thought walking out of a movie theater, that why can’t we make our own versions of The Lord of the Rings or a Space Odyssey. I always lamented that our filmmakers always stuck to the same tried and tested “formula films” and the production houses too backed only a specific genre of films having a commercial actor on its forefront.
The ’90s ushered an era where we started experiencing a phase where the business overpowered the craft. Though there was a section of filmmakers experimenting and creating original content back then too, but their reach was limited.
I feel a certain sense of joy in saying that “Cargo” could be safely said to be India’s first original sci-fi film. It is written and directed by Aarti Kadav. She had earlier made a forty minutes long film called time machine exploring the same genre.
The film, Cargo begins in the year 2027, when the descendants of the mythical demons have signed a peace treaty with the homo sapiens. The Interplanetary Epace Organization (IPSO) governed by the demons have launched a number of space ships for the reincarnation of the diseased humans. So as soon as a human being dies they are transported to these spaceships where they enter a process of transition and are finally reincarnated.
In the film Cargo, Vikrant Massey plays a demon astronaut called Prahastha. He’s the in charge of a particular spaceship and has been working alone to carry out the transitions until Yuvishka played by Shweta Tripathi arrives to assist him.
This is a world where gender discrimination is severely penalized and an industrialization of the demon world has taken place. The demon clan wants to shed off their earlier brute image. They are known as the creators of job opportunities for the masses by the means of their venture called the Post Death Transitional Services (PDTS). This world created by Aarti Kadav in Cargo, is chuckle-some at times and elucidates the frivolous nature of the material pleasures we have become attached to, a bit too much.
Conceptualization and Production Design
The production design of the film Cargo, is mostly the interior of a space ship, which is not overwhelmed with technology and maybe, the director intended it to be that way. The design was inspired by the bio mechanism of a jellyfish. There are red buttons and creaking levers that give us a sense of heightened reality.
Kadav is of the opinion that more than the western sci-fi films, she draws her inspirations from the eastern concepts as they are more relatable to Indian culture. Kadav has taken a lot of references from Indian mythology and tacked them together to mould a concept. Like the character of Prahastha who as per Indian mythology is supposed to be the commander in chief of the Ravan’s army. Unlike the west, we have barely touched our mythology which is a gold mine of compelling and fascinating characters.
Is the Comparison Justified?
Some might find the film to be inert in nature when compared to the might of the Western gems of the same genre.
Firstly it needs to be understood that making a sci-fi film in India is a herculean task for the filmmakers as they have to cross several hurdles even before engendering the idea of making such a film. Had it not been for the OTT platforms, I don’t think such a film can still be made in India. The reluctance of the distributors and productions houses and even the reluctance of the audience to appreciate such films always quell the creation of every filmmaker.
The flag bearers of the parallel wave in Indian cinema always thought that the seeds of change that they have sown would be mangled beneath the hunger for commercial viability. But I think even in such adverse circumstances the yearning for a change and experimentation did survive and as the film says:-
“Nothing is truly lost forever. There is always something somewhere that survives.”
Cargo (2020) written and directed by Arati Kadav, is a Indian Hindi-language science fiction film produced by Kadav, Shlok Sharma, Navin Shetty and Anurag Kashyap. Cargo is streaming on Netflix since 9 September, 2020.
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