Written and directed by Ivan Ayr, Milestone is a slow-burning drama that, among other things, deals with death, loneliness, and the challenges of living in a society that prioritises business over people. The film is a character study of a truck driver named Ghalib who goes through internal and external conflicts as he copes with the unfortunate demise of his wife, Etali.
Milestone is a movie with multiple themes. Although death and loneliness seem to be the obvious ones, issues such as capitalism, consumerism, the migrant life and the oppression of the poor are subtly addressed yet efficiently add to the overall relevance of the film. While we could debate each of these points separately, what interests me about the film is how well it depicts the horrors of a society where material wealth is valued far more than human life. In layman’s terms, a system governed by the philosophy of capitalism and consumerism is fundamentally based on profit and is dominated by the free market and private players. Similarly, Ghalib’s environment revolves around the ideas of profit and monetary gains far more than human bonds and relationships.
Ghalib, effortlessly played by the Punjabi actor Suvinder Vicky, is traumatised after his wife’s sudden death. In an attempt to come to terms with his loss, he immerses himself in his work to avoid confronting the emotional baggage that his wife’s death has left him with. In one of the scenes in the film, Ghalib even explains to his owner how his job has become his identity, and he cannot seem to separate himself from his profession as a truck driver. Driving appears to be the only source of catharsis in Ghalib’s life. When he has already failed to find a way out, the capitalist system only adds to his emotional anguish. While privatisation and free markets have played a pivotal role in advancing the economies worldwide, the quality of human relationships and values like trust, friendship, and cooperation seem to have dwindled. Ghalib’s situation is similar. Soon after his friend and colleague Dilbagh is shot for having poor night vision, Ghalib is faced with his near future, which raises his uncertainty about his career. When he is assigned to train Pash, a young driver who might eventually take his place, Ghalib’s anxiety grows. He feels so desperate to keep his job that he offers Pash a large sum of money in exchange for him leaving, therefore creating a problematic situation for himself and the trainee. In some ways, the scene is notable because it portrays how someone who has been victimised by the system unintentionally and unconsciously feels compelled to inflict questionable behaviour on others, reinforcing the notion that victims create victims. Another great example is the scene with Ghalib and Dilbagh, in which they find solace and laughter when Dilbagh narrates how he slapped their owner’s son after he got fired from his job.
Although one could argue that Ghalib could quit his job and begin a new life, this begs the critical question of what exactly? A man in his forties who has left his village, sold his land, moved to a big city and devoted a significant portion of his life to a profession ends up with almost nothing tangible. The film asks its audience to consider what they want out of life and how much they are willing to risk achieving it. Is it worth jeopardising our friendships, bonds and origins for the sake of the ultimate result? Ghalib may be able to invest his resources in a new source of income, but is he emotionally capable of doing so? Unfortunately, our current institutions, which are focused mainly on materialistic gains, not only fail to meet people’s bodily needs but also have an impact on their mental well-being. The rat race, which compels us to reach some level of worldly success, reduces the quality of interpersonal connections and, in the process, eliminates core humanistic values, leaving people emotionally impotent. Such is the bitter reality of our system. The beauty of Milestone is that Ivan, through Ghalib’s account, tells the story of many other migrants who leave their homes to make a living in big cities while the system uses and discards them. The story of a young union leader, played superbly by poet Aamir Aziz, who rose to fame as an influential voice of resistance during the CAA-NRC protests, may be a fantastic example from the film itself.
Milestone is an important movie for contemporary times. It tells a compelling story and encourages the viewer to think about what they want to get out of life. Ivan’s characters and the world he builds are believable. We’ve all seen a Ghalib or a Pash in our real lives, contributing to the story’s realism. The issues raised in the film are also not particularly exotic; these are the problems of ordinary individuals. Milestone does not exactly fight the existing process. Neither does it propose a solution to the system’s problems; instead, it does a beautiful job of lamenting the current state of humanity with honesty and genuineness. The film had successfully premiered at the Venice Film Festival and the Pingyao International Film Festival last year. However, in the journey of Indian cinema thus far, it would be a milestone if we as audiences prepare ourselves to embrace films like this and allow talented storytellers like Ivan to step into mainstream Bollywood with their unique brand of filmmaking.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.