Director Mathukutty Xavier has remade his own Malayalam hit Helen (2019) as Mili. The action has shifted from Kerala to Dehradun. But the essence of the film remains the same.
Mili is a Nursing graduate who wants to seek a job in Canada as the pay is better there. She attends coaching classes to crack the entrance test and works in a plush fast-food joint in a posh mall to make ends meet. She’s extremely close to her father Niranjan Naudiyal (Manoj Pahwa), who is addicted to cigarettes and has a stash of them hidden throughout the house as he wants him to give up the habit. She has a boyfriend, Sameer Kumar (Sunny Kaushal), whose existence she has hidden from him. Sameer is also searching for a good job and is a bit of a slacker, and this aspect is frowned upon by her. She wants him to be more responsible and that’s her condition for marrying him.
One day, while they’re returning together on his bike, Sameer is stopped by the police for not wearing the helmet and later is brought to the police station on suspicion of drunk driving. This alienates him to Mili’s father and causes a rift among them. He finds a job in Delhi and is all set to leave. Mili is inadvertently locked in the cold storage of her restaurant by her manager the same night she’s leaving. Her phone is kept outside and she has no way of reaching out to anyone. Her concerned father contacts friends and neighbours and later the police but she’s nowhere to be found. When Sameer finds out about it, he returns back and joins the hunt. How she survives minus 16 degrees temperatures for close to five hours, before being found, forms the crux of the film.
Mili is a father and daughter story before anything else. The scenes between Mili and her father have been sensitively written and pack an emotional punch. They look and feel like any normal father-daughter interactions in a middle class household. She’s been brought up single-handedly by him after the death of her mother and now, having grown up, she’s become the parent, taking care of him lovingly and even scolding him when necessary when he fails to take his medicines on time or when he indulges in a smoke. His hurt when she’s caught with someone whom he considers beneath her status is real and so is her embarrassment about the whole situation. It’s memories of having a good upbringing which sustained her during her ordeal and for him, they serve as a painful reminder that he might have judged her too harshly. She’s shown to be caring and friendly towards all, as well as focussed towards her goals, something that’s seen with pride by her father, despite his reluctance to her imminent migration to Canada.
The emotional scenes provide a fine balance to the thriller sequences. The director has reportedly based his film on real life survival stories of workers trapped in cold storage and the portions where Mili does her utmost to stay alive. From eating raw food, to attempting to make a fire, to trying to turn the cooling fans off, she tries everything she can and even befriends a mouse for company when she feels lonely. The callous nature of the authorities is commented on as well, though they are also shown to be helpful.
The film rests squarely on Janhvi Kapoor’s able shoulders. She’s been progressing from strength to strength since her debut in Dhadak (2018) and is turning better with every film. Her choice of films have been excellent and each has been designed to showcase her versatility. She’s clearly no flash in the pan and has been gearing herself for the long haul. Manoj Pahwa and Sunny Kaushal have given her able company.
All in all, Mili is an edge-of-the-seat entertainer having an emotional undertone. What else you want to ask for?
Trailer : Mili
Renuka Vyavahare, November 4, 2022, 2:30 PM IST
Story: Mili Naudiyal (Janhvi Kapoor), a 24-year-old nursing graduate from Dehradun, hopes to move to Canada for better prospects, until she lands herself in the soup. She gets locked inside the walk-in freezer of a fast food joint and must do whatever it takes to survive this unusual death-trap.
The remake floats between a single dad-daughter saga and a survival drama and works better as the former. The story takes a long-winded road before getting to business and tries a bit too hard to incorporate moral policing in small towns, pesky cops, roadside Romeos and more. It all feels tedious and stagnant with unexciting characters indulging in uninteresting conversation. The loopholes in the investigation for Mili’s whereabouts also stick out like a sore thumb.
Through her spirited performances in Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, Zoya Akhtar’s segment in Ghost Stories and Good Luck Jerry, Janhvi Kapoor pleasantly surprised us with her drive to dive into unknown territory as a newcomer. Mili is yet another interesting career choice. However, the payoff is not quite the same.
Set in an enclosed freezing cold habitat, the film is Janhvi’s agni pariksha as an actor and it exposes the chink in her armour. More than her struggle to survive and escape the freezer (-17 degrees), you are distracted by her visible efforts to embody the simplicity and fighting spirit of her character, something that felt organic for Anna Ben in Helen (original film). Dressed in modest kurtis, as a ‘aap-hum’ Hindi speaking ordinary girl from Dehradun, she struggles to adapt and inhabit her surroundings. Manoj Pahwa is excellent as Mili’s loving and lonely dad and Sunny Kaushal is likeable as Mili’s boyfriend Sameer.
Given the space Mili falls in, you miss the character complexities here, something that Danny Boyle encapsulated in his gut-churning slow-burn ‘127 Hours’ or Rajkummar Rao portrayed in ‘Trapped’. Mili lacks the nerve-wracking, gripping intensity that is most essential to this genre.