Mili Review: An Unimaginative Remake With A Great Performance By Janhvi Kapoor 
‘Mili’ Movie Review: An Unimaginative Remake With A Superlative Performance By Janhvi Kapoor 

‘Mili’ is more of a Janhvi Kapoor movie than it is a Mathukutty Xavier one

Director:  Mathukutty Xavier 
Writers:  Ritesh Shah (Based on Helen by Alfred Kurian Joseph, Noble Babu Thomas, and Mathukutty Xavier) 
Cast: Janhvi Kapoor, Manoj Pahwa, Sunny Kaushal  
Stars: 3/5 

 

Mili Naudiyal (Janhvi Kapoor) is a young and ambitious girl with the tenacity and perseverance of an ant.  She lives in Dehradun with her dad (Manoj Pahwa), and the two share a loving relationship; she is a dutiful daughter and he is a bumbling but loving father. In an attempt to help her father financially and get their house back (in a rather reverse Baghban situation), she is planning to find a job in Canada as a nurse. For this, she is taking IELTS prep classes and in an attempt to earn some extra money to support her dad, she is also working at a fast-food store. Life goes clockwork. But one fine day she gets stuck in the freezer (one is not told why she is not working as a nurse instead…but I guess it is due to the lack of cold storage). The survival thriller follows her as she struggles through the ordeal. 

 

 

What is interesting is that instead of religious differences and the love Jihad angle (in Helen, the protagonist was a Christian woman with a Muslim boyfriend), Xavier introduces cast politics and the stigma still associated with Inter-cast relationships—something we rarely see in Hindi movies. In fact, in Janhvi’s debut film, Dhadak, which was a remake of Sairat, the caste divide was changed into a more muted and less controversial class divide and the stinging commentary on caste politics of the Marathi original had become a regular rich girl-meets-poor-boy story in Bollywood. Also, it is interesting to note that Mili is Janhvi’s third outing in a remake. 

 

She imbues Mili with an innocence and vulnerability that is interspersed with a kind of stoic grit and resilience. In fact, we have seen Jahnvi trying to pull off this fine balance in her previous release of the year, Good Luck Jerry, and also in Gunjan Saxena. But in Mili, she excels. Janhvi Kapoor has a strange earnest drive and ambition to get better as an actor with each performance and her hard work shows. I would not be surprised if she turns out to be the Alia Bhatt of her generation or even the Sridevi–huge shoes to fill, but she definitely has the right genes and she has no qualms about pushing herself toward excellence. 

 

Manoj Pahwa is a shapeshifter of an actor and as Mr. Naudiyal, Mili’s father, is earnest, adorable, and exudes that fatherly warmth. In fact, his interaction with Janhvi is endearing. It seems so spontaneous and real that it almost replicates her real-life interactions with her dad, Boney Kapoor, who is also the producer of this film. 

 

His changing equation with Sunny Kaushal, who plays Mili’s boyfriend, Sameer brings out the best in both the actors and also gives the movie a rare few funny moments. Sunny is a natural in front of the camera. He plays Sameer with a muted charm and robust earnestness. The star cameo by Jackie Shroff looks forced and is like hitting a pretty bumper amid an otherwise smooth ride—it looks good but just spoils the experience. 

 

Anurag Arora as the bad cop does a good job and Sanjay Suri as the good cop is effective. But the good cop-bad cop situation is too simplistic and convenient. Inspector Satish (Anurag Arora) is the classic bad cop and there are hardly any layers to this character. He is just a plain vengeful and corrupt police officer whose sole purpose is to highlight the caste discrimination and misogyny inherent in the society, especially in smaller towns where women working late shifts is still frowned upon and become easy targets for slut-shaming, where the caste divide punctuates even the most mundane of social situations. The good cop (Sanjay Suri) is so randomly plonked into the story at a crucial juncture that it looks like an easy way out for a quicker plot resolution. 

 

Xavier is excellent with his montages and closeups. He uses shots of punching machines, door closing, screeching of a toy car, lights turning off as well as close-ups of doorknobs and etc to heighten the sense of tension. But it is the closeups of Janhvi’s face, ice forming on her lashes, the bruised pores, the frost-bitten toes, and the gooseflesh that make the movie such an immersive experience.  Although there are places where one feels that he is almost on the verge of fetishizing the tortured female body, in the context of the movie, it creates the right impact. 

 

Apurwa Sondhi’s production design coupled with M Bava’s art direction is superlative and effectively transforms the cold storage space into a hell hole—Mili’s battleground for survival. 

 

 Xavier retains Ranjith Ambady who had won a National Award for his makeup for Helen and he again repeats his brilliance, and steps it up a notch. If Janhvi Kapoor lives the part of getting into the skin of the character, Ambady ensures the skin texture is on point, he transforms her almost make-up less fresh face to one that reflects the signs of different stages of hypothermia. It turns pale white then the redness starts to form around her eyes and nose, and those eventually become blue and purple bruises—he aptly captures the shades of her ordeal on her face. 

 

The music composed by A. R. Rahman is a middling affair, as it has been for quite some years now. Javed Akhtar’s lyrics are also okayish. Music definitely is not one of the stronger aspects of this movie.  But the sound design by Leslie Fernandes is quite effective, albeit in parts. 

 

Monisha Baldava’s editing keeps a similar pace as that of the original by Shameer Muhammed. But the last sequence, the interaction between Mili’s father and the security guard, that happens at the hospital as well as an elaborate scene to establish how good a nurse Mili is, etc (in fact the first 30 minutes of the movie is spent in creating her character arc) in the first half could have been chopped, these not only slows down the pace but also goes overboard in presenting Mili as the ideal daughter and a compassionate human being to evoke extra empathy for the character. The ordeal of a human stuck in a freezer for 5 hours is a good enough reason for the audience to feel for the character, she need not be all virginal and goody-two-shoes, girl-next-door for that.  

 

 

The Verdict: 

 

It is difficult to review a film for it is almost a scene-by-scene remake of a brilliant original. Helen had won Xavier a National Award. No doubt it is a taut survival thriller, but everything, apart from the performances of the actors and the change in language and setting, seems like a copy-paste job. Right from the opening sequence to even the smallest of nuances, like the bad cop breaking a pen in anger, is exactly lifted from the original. There is hardly any fresh effort from the director. What is brilliant about Mili is in fact what was brilliant in Helen. Helen was a superb movie that didn’t need such an unimaginative remake. One wonders why would a filmmaker spend so much money and involve zero creativity in making a film. It is surprising that a director of his caliber would even agree to do a project like this. 

 

However, it is Mili’s supposed ‘weakest link’ that makes this remake worth a watch. And that is Janhvi Kapoor.  As Mili, she is a force to reckon with. She lives and breathes the part. With this powerful and nuanced portrayal, she proves her mettle as an actor and solidifies her rightful place in the industry shattering all the prejudices and apprehensions stacked up against her since her debut. Mili is more of a Janhvi Kapoor movie than it is a Mathukutty Xavier one. 

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