Writer, Director, Producer: Jonathan Augustin
Cast: Moin Khan, Nyla Masood, Saagar, Kale, Neha Bam, Aneesha Shah
Streaming Platform: Netflix
The Lift Boy, a 2019 film that just dropped on Netflix has an odd charm to it. (For a film with no sex and no highlighted drama, it quickly rose up the ranks in the Trending section, nestled between Too Hot To Handle and Money Heist) It feels like Zero, the lift man from The Grand Budapest Hotel, with his gait and vulnerability of a child about to blossom, nestled among The Gully Boy poor-but-aesthetic sprawl. There is class commentary, there is the aspirational upward mobility, and there is that feel-good hand of an angel blessing this climb up the ladder. (For we now know, in our capitalist entrapments, that just hard work is rarely a guarantee to make it)
The story has aspirations for quirk, but it just cannot muster the craft to pull it off
This is a story about the son of a lift man, Raju (Moin Khan), a student of engineering who repeatedly fails his Drawing examination. He is forced to take his father’s place when he gets a heart attack. Amidst the Parsi martial arts loon, the snooty Hindu mother’s ambitious Bollywood plans for her daughter, and the Christian artist, also the owner of the building, he comes into himself. The boredom of the job gives him time to meditate on his future. The artist, Mrs D’Souza, (Myla Masood) also a widow, takes him under her wing, and imparts to him the lesson of freedom in flight. She has her unfinished masterpiece.
The story has aspirations for quirk, but it just cannot muster the craft to pull it off. At many points, it gives off the feeling of an earnest student film reel- the dialogues are stale, the colour correction is distracting, (in scenes the yellow of his bike is exaggerated against the grainy indigo evenings), the lighting is overdone, the use of monochrome for flashbacks is simplistic, and even the device of flashbacks being used to conveniently underline a point being made in the present is too generic.
It isn’t that these shortcomings take you entirely out of the universe of the film, they merely jolt you to its craft, right before you dip back in. The end moves you, despite the unconvincing nature of it. The relationship between Raju and Mrs D’Souza is not the most subtle, but has elements of beauty and quiet. This film is propped up by these small victories.
Sample this one. After his first day as a lift boy, Raju pronounces to his mother that he won’t go to work the next day. The next shot is of the building entrance facing the road in the morning, with the guard dozed off. For a second there’s no movement, and you wonder if he isn’t going to show up after all. But then, he does. It’s a small moment of suspense.
There’s also a sense of unfinished business in the movie. Raju tells Mrs D’Souza that he doesn’t want to be an engineer but a writer. He spends his idle hours inside the lift reading The Great Gatsby. But as soon as Mrs D’Souza starts teaching him engineering, and he begins to understand, and thus love it, this writing track is discarded. Is merely understanding love then? If so, it is a rather shoddily articulated arc.
What got me most interested, however, is the commentary track on the hierarchy of labour. How jhadoo-pocha-bartan is considered subservient to being a lift-boy, which is subservient to any of the white collar positions. Raju speaks to his mom, who washes dishes for a living, about how her job is lower on the social ladder than his. The mother remains silent, almost agreeing. This is the social order, evolved and cemented over centuries of conditioning. Indeed, even Gandhi tried and failed to upend it. (It perhaps took a population altering pandemic for us to realize how, in reality, labour is labour, and the value we have attached to it is arbitrary.) If even Gandhi couldn’t convince a nation of this, then it perhaps needs more than a muted attempt at rousing cinema.