Director: Ivan Air
Writers: Ivan Ayr, Neil Manny Kant
Cinematography: Angelo Facini
Edited by: Ivan Air
Starring: Suvinder Vicky, Lakshvir Saran
Streaming on: Netflix
Everything about Galib suggests that he is a poet. He is a loner. He is always on the road. He takes endless journeys to distant destinations. On the way dinner with strangers. He knows neither night nor day. He wears an untidy beard. It comes from a broken heart. It occupies a transitional – and therefore philosophically fertile – period in history, with the old removed by the young. He tends to highlight the most mundane moments with deep observations. When his former rural neighbors call him a city slider, he replies that he is no longer sure where he belongs. When his employers are worried about falling finances, he preaches that “if the good times pass, the bad times will pass.” When a drunken friend is annoyed by the cries of the marginalized who fall on deaf ears, he thinks that maybe no one will shout if there is no one left to listen. When a future Punjabi breeder (with the natural name Pash) praised Galib’s fabulous dedication to work, he disagreed, debunking the myth of his selflessness with “Door se dekhne se parchhaai bhi paani dikhti hai (Even a shadow is mixed with water from a distance) ”. Everything about Galib suggests that of Ivan Ayr Mill Patar (An important stage) is a portrait of a sick poet. But Galib is the next best thing: a long-distance driver.
Mill Patar is a film with a narrative ballad. Telling the story of a grieving driver, he rhymes with motionlessness. Galib (Swinder Vicky) travels everywhere, but his face is a verse out of nowhere. He drives for a transport company in Delhi, but works two shifts to reveal the trauma of his wife’s death. The road forces him not to sleep and more importantly to avoid the nightmares of sleep. What he does for a living becomes what he does to live. He is one of countless strikes on the North Indian highways – a man whose peripheral existence is limited to Punjabi pop tapes, wooden barns, local alcohol and the sound of musical air horns. The film opens with his truck hitting the sacred five-kilometer mark, a “cornerstone” that makes him a restrained legend in his field. But a hard back appears; the pain is persistent, almost crippling. The company’s only other veteran driver has been fired for breastfeeding on the onset of night blindness. When Galib’s employers put a young challenger, Pash (Lakshvir Saran), under his leadership, the old war horse is caught with the prospect of being taken out to graze. The pastures promise peace and its pieces cannot afford the space.
Read also: Mill Patar, Strong, lyrical character
When I watch a compelling film, I ask myself: is the film about a person or a place? The good ones hire one at the service of the other. You see the personal position on the political or the state, which is carefully considered through the individual. But the greats add a third dimension: time. Air’s first film, Sony, gained access to India on the periphery through the tangled eyes of two police women from Delhi – and vice versa. But the officers, junior Sony and senior Kalpana, are also inseparable consequences of time. Both are in power not because of some false sense of patriotism or social service, but because of who they are as people in a culture whose prejudice is the accumulation of order. Both exist at opposite ends of the marital spectrum: compliance with the country’s law becomes a coping mechanism to transcend their reduced household status. Similarly, c Mill PatarGalib betrays his grief over a job that requires just that. Numbness is his consolation. That it includes the pulse of the earth is almost accidental.
Those like Galib and Sonny work in the shadows, on invisible streets and highways connecting the more visible pillars of civilization. They are the teeth that keep the wheel running – the backbone of any capitalist system. Ghalib transfers not only goods but also fuel functionality between cities. It may not seem significant, but society is on the verge of collapse if it gives up even one shift. The film offers constant reminders of his irony in the working class. When the tired Galib returns home after a trip, his entire housing community is lifted into his arms due to an elevator malfunction. On the ground floor, middle-class residents shout at a low-rise repairman, insisting they know how the elderly will get to the upper floors. On the first floor, a lady yells at a gas agency worker who refuses to take the heavy LPG cylinder to her apartment. The chaos is palpable. The very first scene establishes that the problem with Galib’s back is a direct result of a labor strike. As drivers have to help with the load, the young gradually eliminate the old. When Galib approaches the leader of the union, the man mocks him for remembering their value only when his body bends under the weight. The screws shout, but the machine does not listen. The duality is irreconcilable: the penny falls for no money.
Read also: Mill Patar is contemplative and beautifully disturbing
As a result, the characters in the film run the risk of facing the moral vacuum of consumerism: the profession may be necessary, but it is not. Galib’s old colleague aside, even the union leader was fired until the end. The system does not hire hands, but hires the capacity it needs – the need to maintain, survive, thrive or thrive. Employers simply make transactions in the currency of the needy; they necessarily replace one language with another. The reason Galib makes a compelling film is that his needs are different. He can survive without his job. The truth is that he cannot survive with himself. Unfortunately for him, his escape is also his reliance.
The metaphors of Mill Patar are inherent in the premise of the film. The physical origin of Galib’s back pain reflects the mental burden of guilt resulting from his wife’s untimely death. The weight of conscience also weighs on his fragile shoulders. The film’s only cover includes Galib, who is trying to confront his demons. The punch from his ancestral village holds Galib responsible for his wife’s death, instructing him to pay her family for their loss. The resolution on this topic criticizes the numerical nature of grief. This suggests that compensation may involve buying the past just as acknowledging the future: money cannot cure the forgiveness of death, but opportunities can respect the ambiguity of life. Galib’s wife from Sikimese dreamed of thriving in a big city, so it was appropriate for him to choose to repay her sister in terms of progress, not memory. The close-ups of the young innocent sister’s sister seem awkward in the context of the film, but they exist for a good reason. Galib sees in it the clarity of the windshield – the view of a distant horizon in front – and not the caution of the rearview mirror.
The craft of Mill Patar recalls the visual composition of Sony. Most scenes are long and continuous shots. Cutting and therefore time distortion is minimal. Most filmmakers use one-off moments to direct the thrill of filming to the narrative itself – the viewer’s emotional urgency is then complemented by the film’s technical bravado. But the immediacy of Ivan Ayr’s single is flowing in now, instead of distracting him. The shots carry the lightness of resilience, the artistic ambition almost as inconspicuous as Galib’s smears on our roads. From a perspective, the camera reproduces the drivers’ view, revealing a state surrounded by the silhouettes of passing doors and windows. In one of the most striking scenes of the film, we are placed behind the chat of Galib and Pash in his stationary car. A truck parked in front blocks the view of the night highway. As the conversation progressed, the truck headed forward to uncover a van full of civilians stopping to rest. City sliders get out of the car and stretch their limbs before probably looking for the nearest toilet. What they’re probably seeing is an exotic roadside oak surrounded by sleepy trucks, but not the people inside. This is a disturbing moment in which we – the average urban consumer – see ourselves in the background and where the characters of the film feel how imperceptible they are to the people whose lives are increasing.
Strange as it may sound, the cast of Mill Patar reminiscent of an Oscar winner Nomadland. Most of the “actors” look like real people playing themselves in the nomadic journey of a fictional character. Everyone – from Pash to the father-son duo to Khalmiri’s neighbor Galib (a crucial scene involving her cuts too early) to loaders and fellow drivers – are melting into the remote setting. Like Galib himself, Swinder Vicky is as inhabited as he is haunted. His dead face and sparse voice convey volumes of history – a love story against all odds, an adored wife, a broken marriage, a tragedy – without so many musical crutches. Or language, for that matter. Mill Patar is mostly in Punjabi, but such films are not so much about the words as about the pauses that separate them.
Suvinder’s performance – inert and eloquent at the same time – ensures that the central allegory of Mill Patar it’s not a trick. At some level, human life is no different from long-distance truck travel. Our thorns creak under the pressure of society as we shift the weight of being from one phase to another. Somewhere between loading and unloading, between the stages we go through and the destinations we reach, life is lived. But when the time comes, we pass on our knowledge – including baggage and backs – to generations who are ready to inherit us. They inherit everything but our identity. Some of them become poets and others portraits of pain.