Mili Review: Janhvi Kapoor’s Film Keeps The Audience Glued To The Screen

Mili Review: It has its moments and a pivotal performance that demonstrates that Janhvi Kapoor is an actress who has the chops to carry an entire film on her shoulders.

Mili Review
Mili Review

Cast: Janhvi Kapoor, Sunny Kaushal, Manoj Pahwa

Director: Mathukutty Xavier

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Mili Review: It is hard to imagine why director Mathukutty Xavier would have envisioned a Hindi remake of Helen, his critically acclaimed 2019 Malayalam survival drama. It attempts no significant deviation from the original screenplay in Mili, which is co-produced by Boney Kapoor.

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In essence, Mili treads the same path as Helen, albeit with a few tweaks. The Janhvi Kapoor starrer is highly watchable, if not scintillating, despite this being a third version – a Tamil version (Anbirkiniyal) came out last year.

In Mili, the lead actress’ solid performance as a nursing graduate trapped in a freezer and battling hyperthermia holds the film together. There are also members of the supporting cast, including Manoj Pahwa and Sunny Kaushal. Apart from Mili’s writing and acting, its steadfast eschewal of the superfluous contributes greatly to its success.

With a script adapted by Ritesh Shah for Hindi movie audiences, the director conveys a sustained sense of urgency and intensity to the girl’s struggle for survival and the despairing efforts of her father and friends to find her. Despite its flaws, the film keeps the audience glued to the screen despite some parts that could have been tightened.

First and foremost, Mili is a father-daughter story. She plays Mili Naudiyal, a 24-year-old who lives in a quiet middle-class neighbourhood in Dehradun with her doting single dad, Niranjan Naudiyal (Manoj Pahwa). As she prepares for the IELTS test, the girl works at a fast-food outlet in a mall. It is Mili’s dream to become a nurse in Canada.

It is obvious that Niranjan and Mili can’t live without one another, but the man doesn’t stand in the way of his daughter’s decision to leave him and their small town behind for greener pastures. In spite of the fact that their lives seem largely uneventful, father and daughter conceal a few things from each other. Mili’s future depends on one of the secrets.

Throughout the house, Niranjan hides cigarettes and smokes on the sly. Mili demands that he quit the habit as soon as she discovers it. If he is allowed one last puff, the man promises never to smoke again. The deal is accepted by Mili. Their daily routine resumes.

Mili’s secret to her father is far more explosive. As implied in a few throwaway lines, she is in love with a jobless man, Sameer Kumar (Sunny Kaushal). (In Helen, the girl is Christian, the boy is Muslim. The religious divide is left out of the frame, and Mili doesn’t play up the caste angle.)

Mili intends to keep her affair with Sameer under wraps until he lands a job, which indirectly leads to the life-and-death crisis in which she finds herself. Her survival depends on the ability to mount a rescue effort before it is too late. She is trapped in a freezer with a temperature as low as -17 degrees Celsius.

Finding and saving her becomes a race against time and a battle against the town’s policing system for her distraught father. Mili’s colleagues don’t know where she could have gone after work. The local police station, headed by a smarmy, lethargic sub-inspector Satish Rawat (Anurag Arora), isn’t particularly eager to help a troubled father and his concerned neighbors.

A film like Mill is executed with sustained control. It neither pulsates with crackling energy nor overflows with plot twists, but it does not waver in terms of its focus on the girl in distress and on how her disappearance impacts her father. It also does well to capture the small-town milieu without overdoing it.

Not that the film harps on it, but the protagonist has two cocoons to reckon with – her home and the town itself. Neither is obviously inimical to her – in fact, they sustain her emotionally – but she desires to break free and explore the wider world. The freezer in the fast-food joint, in a way, serves as an extreme representation of what is a physical cage for an ambitious girl reined in by her life, her environs and her circumstances.

The freezer scenes give Janhvi Kapoor the scope to go the whole distance as an actress. While the make-up comes in handy here she is impressively steady. The heroine tries everything that she can to stay alive. The situation worsens by the minute even as her own nursing skills give her a chance of survival, however slim, in life-threatening conditions that she has no way of fully controlling.

In a performance marked by striking restraint, Manoj Pahwa plays a father at the end of his tether. While alarm bells ring and matters spiral out of control, the actor does not resort to outward methods to express the turmoil raging within him. The parameters of his performance are determined by the situation.

Despite the fact that Sunny Kaushal plays second fiddle to the heroine in a film that is centered on her, he is in the line of fire when Mili goes missing without a trace. Despite this, he does not let it undermine what he brings to the table. He makes the most of the role, which has sufficient meat.

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