Ghalib (Suvinder Vicky), an aging trucker struggling with chronic back-pain, leads a lonely life divided between driving long hours and resting at his small Delhi apartment. His wife of two years has recently died by suicide and he still struggles to come up with a valid reason. They had disagreements and had stopped talking at the time she died, but he had never expected her to take the drastic step.
A dedicated workman who is looked up to by his colleagues and adored by his employers, Ghalib’s struggle with mental peace and his aching back make him slightly slack off work, something he had not done before. Living a life between milestones in the highways, Ghalib also finds that he has done 500,000 km on the road, the first person in the transport company to do so.
At the same time, Ghalib realizes his precarious position. On the one hand, his village panchayat back in his hometown in Punjab has decided that he will pay a lump sum in compensation to his wife’s family, which could mean giving up his life’s savings. On the other hand, he is intimidated by the presence of a young intern Pash (Lakshvir Saran), who he fears might replace him. Ghalib has traveled for thousands of miles in his line of work, but when it comes to his own life, he does not know where to go.
The uncertainties and fears in Ghalib’s life make the story of the Hindi-Punjabi language film “Milestone” (originally, “Meel Patthar”). Co-written and directed by Ivan Ayr, this arthouse cinema first premiered at the 77th Venice International Film Festival in September 2020 and was screened in various other film festivals around the world before being released on Netflix in May 2021.
Milestone is a multi-layered film that not only explores the human psyche but also exposes the inequalities in the society and the dynamics between employers and employees, the haves and the haves-not. To an employer, a worker is only good till they can give their best. One sign of weakness and the employer does not hesitate to think of firing even the best employee. The employee for his part is ready to be fired, ready to be replaced by someone younger. This is Ghalib’s situation even as he battles doom and despair in his life. The company that he gave his youth to and sacrificed many sleepless nights for might replace him with someone younger.
The film uses multiple long shots and a bluish color scheme to make the audience internalize the poignancy in the lives of Ghalib and other minor characters attached to him. Every character in every situation in the film feels like a metaphor, something open for the audience to interpret. And the actors, almost all unknown faces with little information about them on the internet, add authenticity to the realistic storytelling.
Ghalib is riddled with conflicts and so are other characters. But the film does not take it upon itself to resolve them. Milestone makes the audience travel into people’s lives and then leaves them to find their own way. The film progresses at a slow, sluggish pace, giving the audience enough time for self-realization. Like Ghalib’s life, the film goes nowhere. It’s a journey into a world full of metaphors and self-realization.
Who should watch it?
Ghalib is a close representation of art-films. So naturally the film might not entertain all those used to watching the more conventional kind. The pace is slow and the runtime of 1hr 38mins might feel excruciatingly long if you fail to connect with its theme. But if you do, Milestone is a journey worth taking.