Mili movie review: Fairly engaging as a survival thriller, but far less … – Firstpost

Mili poster
Cast: Janhvi Kapoor, Manoj Pahwa, Sunny Kaushal, Anurag Arora, Rajesh Jais, Hasleen Kaur, Vikram Kochhar, Sanjay Suri, Seema Pahwa, Jackie Shroff
Director: Mathukutty Xavier
Language: Hindi
‘Tis the season for southern Indian films being remade in Hindi by their original directors.
After Pushkar-Gayatri’s Tamil-to-Hindi journey with Vikram Vedha, here comes Mathukutty Xavier’s Mili, a Hindi version of his Malayalam hit, Helen starring Anna Ben. While watching the original in 2019, during one of its most intense scenes, I recall thinking how vastly different the social dynamics would be in north India with the characters present belonging to the exact same communities. The scene involved a young Muslim man caught driving late at night with alcohol on his breath, in the company of his Christian girlfriend, being interrogated at a police station by a narrow-minded officer called Ratheesh who made nasty insinuations about the couple and treated the woman like a child who had to be handed over to her father for her protection. In Kerala, where the story was set, Muslim men in relationships with women of any other community are viewed with suspicion. If this precise scenario were to be transposed to the north of the country, while animosity towards the Muslim man would be a constant but would most likely take on a far more visceral and violent form, an additional prejudice that is prevalent in this part of the country would kick in: the stereotyping of Christian women as being promiscuous and, as conservatives would put it, of “loose morals”. This is a prejudice largely neglected in the liberal public discourse although it was incessantly perpetuated by pre-1990s Hindi films.
Far from exploring the complexities involved in such a situation, Mili pares it down instead. The titular heroine of the Hindi remake is Hindu, not Christian, and the man too has a Hindu name; it is implied that he is from a lower caste, but the script remains fuzzy in that area. Helen was written by Alfred Kurian Joseph, Noble Babu Thomas and Mathukutty Xavier himself. The changes introduced in the Hindi screenplay by Ritesh Shah, this time with producers prominent in the Hindi film industry, place a spotlight on one of the biggest failings of contemporary Hindi cinema: its aversion to examining tricky social and political issues, especially in the mainstream arena.
Mili is the story of Mili Naudiyal, played by Janhvi Kapoor, who lives with her widowered father (Manoj Pahwa) in Dehradun. Mili is a nurse and is planning to migrate to Canada for employment, so that she can lift her family out of their present strained financial circumstances. Towards this end, she is studying for her IELTS exam and works part-time at a fast-food outlet in a mall. She is a strict disciplinarian with her ageing father who dotes on her. Belying her sternness towards him, she is a warm and kind woman, well-liked by those around her.
Mili’s boyfriend Sameer is far less responsible. She keeps pushing him to take up a job, while he prefers to hang out with her if not drinking with his men friends and getting into brawls once in a while.
Life is humming along for Mili, when one day she gets accidentally isolated and confined to an extremely lethal space where she must use every iota of her intelligence and instincts to stay alive.
So much of the experience of Mili depends on whether or not you have seen Helen. If you have, then you know where she gets stuck, what strategies she uses to protect herself and her ultimate fate.
As someone who has watched the original, despite knowing all these details I found that at the level of a survival thriller, Mili is fairly engaging. The tension is palpable when the leading lady disappears and social politics comes into play in the search for her. That said, the dilution of the sensitive equations in the original definitely takes its toll on this one. What further pulls it down are the many minutes needlessly added to the narrative. Mili has also retained the flaws of the original. For one, here too the father is let off too lightly for othering his daughter’s boyfriend. Mili’s over-riding importance in her Dad’s life is stressed to maudlin effect even after the point has been firmly established. His behaviour in the climax is excessively dramatised. And a somewhat silly, gimmicky cameo by Vineeth Sreenivasan in Helen is repeated here as an equally gimmicky, even more awkward and superfluous Jackie Shroff cameo.
The combined effect of all these factors is that Mili is suspenseful, but also unmemorable.
Janhvi possesses an Everywomanness that is useful in this role, and succeeds in portraying Mili’s sweet simplicity. Sunny Kaushal as Sameer has an attractive screen presence. This is an actor to watch out for.
Manoj Pahwa is solid as the heroine’s father, so is Rajesh Jais as his friend. Anurag Arora is good as the policeman from hell, but is put in the shade by memories of Aju Varghese’s chilling performance in Helen.
Irrespective of what the reaction to Mili may be, this question is unavoidable: why is the Hindi film industry so bankrupt in the ideas department that it has turned to remakes of successful southern Indian films in desperation? The appeal of contemporary middle-of-the-road Malayalam cinema in the past decade has been the ability to spot potential films in daily life, the courage routinely displayed by filmmakers, the social and cultural rootedness of their works and the socio-political insights offered. It is a pity that Mathukutty Xavier agreed to direct a watered down Hindi version of his Helen. Mili is hardly rooted in its Uttarakhand location, and is too afraid of ruffling feathers to risk clarity in its point about caste.
Precis: Mili is reasonably suspenseful but that is about all it is. 
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5 stars)
Mili is in theatres

Anna M.M. Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specialises in the intersection of cinema with feminist and other socio-political concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial
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