Cast: Kavin, Amritha Aiyer
Lift, for the most part, is more deceptive than what meets the eye. It uses elements of horror to trap two IT professionals inside a glass building on OMR, but it also makes a larger point about the work culture in these organisations. The movie takes place in the course of one full day—the first day at work for Guru (Kavin)—who takes up the role of a team leader in one of the many teams servicing one of their many clients. We also meet Harini (Amritha), an HR professional in the same company. We then meet a third person, another new hire, but he's there only so another character can rant to the audience about the peculiar nature of this job.
In what's a two-hour film, these introductions take up a long time with the only addition being a glance into a typical day at work. A rudimentary meet-cute between Guru and Harini follows, with the lady making the first move. Boredom sets in pretty quickly and we feel the hollowness these characters must feel in their nine-to-five work days. The sound of AC vents replace the metaphorical sound of crickets to make minutes feel like hours. There's almost no background score and the greys and blues of the office flush out any instance of life or joy from the walls.
But all this begins to feel like a part of the design as we move into the scary parts of Lift. Guru wants to take the last elevator down to the basement to go home after a long day at work. It begins to malfunction with a mind of its own, and suddenly we see the striking image of a man in smart casuals getting stuck in a box. Suffocating and claustrophobic, this image takes us back to the rant from earlier about how the job has a way of boxing us in. It comes with prestige and perks, especially for those trying to climb status markers of the middle class. It also comes with a carrot dangling above you, usually an 'on-site' posting in the first world. But what about the other side? With EMIs and pink slips hovering all around, the cushy IT job doesn't feel all that cushy.
This means that the malfunctioning elevator itself turns into a metaphor for a career in IT. It gives us the illusion of a person rising through their ranks in their career. The elevator also lets you feel that you can leave at any point. But this too is an illusion of a place where one can "check-out any time you like but you can never leave." It is over this conceit that its director places the story of a ghost and the office building as a cemetery of incomplete dreams.
The director takes his time in these portions, often holding onto moments a tad too long. He isn't generous with the scares either, with the better ones being more psychological than physical. Take for instance the surreal loop these characters fall into when they try to take the staircase. They walk up or they walk down but the starting point remains the same as the finish line. And what about the brilliantly shot action set piece inside the lift? Guru loses control over his right hand and a knife lands up with him at this point. With a mind of its own, it begins to attack Guru and Harini. This sequence too works in a surreal space. In the context of the film, it's probably the ghost attacking its captors. But is it too extreme to think of this as a hint at the after-effect such jobs have on one's mental health? With self-harm being a recurring theme, this scene is another example of the way Lift uses visuals to make us feel trapped within Guru's mind.
Despite such clever ideas and imagery, why then does Lift turn into an explosion of information? By this point, every viewer is expecting an elaborate flashback in the second half to tie it all together but there's almost zero freshness in the ideas here. The concept of every employee being disposable is powerful but when it's told using basic writing and unidimensional characters, it loses its essence. And for a film that operated so strongly on its ability to say deep things using visuals, it then becomes too reliant on reams of dialogue.
If this was a theatrical release, you could have excused it at the insistence of a producer who wanted to spoon-feed the audience. But on OTT, there's no such need. In that process, a movie with a solid concept gets stuck somewhere in the middle without reaching its potential. It's the same old storey, all over again.