I am from a country where public transport has been in shambles since the time of dinosaurs. The sitting prime minister of my country won the elections by practically convincing the people that building roads and public transport was not important. So you can well imagine moving around the cities would be some sort of hell for most of us. Being a vehicle owner myself and driving for the past 15 years, I cannot explain the amount of hate I have for driving. But I was always fascinated by the traffic post-midnight that consisted mostly of trucks. It was a different time. A different world altogether. A big giant never-ending trucks, on to a long journey, a journey not particularly entertained by what you call “human companionship”. Probably it is the very lack of human interaction that made truck driving a very fascinating world for me. I couldn’t explore it the way I wanted to because I am a woman stuck in a country where being a woman is your first crime. The rest of the crimes follow automatically but are all committed by others. Despite never truly knowing what it’s like to be a truck driver or their problems, I continued to be fascinated by the expansive and isolated journeys, the tuck shops, tarkay wali chai, and desi breakfast on a chorpoi at some deserted dhaba. Romantic, no?
This romantic trance was however broken by the movie “Milestone”. A ‘daish-drohi’ (traitor) like myself indulged in Indian cinema at the recommendation of a very dear friend. I didn’t know what I was getting into. “Milestone” reintroduced me to the word ‘melancholy’ in a way that no other tragedy of my life had. I didn’t realise I had that many feelings that I simply refused to acknowledge or feel. I often felt that even the abyss I looked into didn’t reciprocate and I kind of felt unwanted even by the abyss. Till I watched “Milestone”. This movie saw through me like no other thing or person.
Ghalib, the protagonist of “Milestone”, plays the role of a truck driver. In the quietest opening scenes of the movie, the resignation in the face of Ghalib, the expansive emptiness of his eyes, and his lingering backache, everything got me hooked to the movie in the first few minutes. Ghalib’s story slowly unrolls and makes the audience acquainted with his loneliness, not only in his personal life but professionally too. His loneliness has been depicted brilliantly through the vast emptiness of the roads, his empty apartment, and his lonely driving duties at night accompanied by nothing but melancholy. The film drops hints here and there about the circumstances of his wife’s death but mostly remains focused on Ghalib’s long journey to nowhere. But even those hints suggest that he blames his aloofness, which made his relationship bitter and then nonexistent. The feeling of homelessness that instills in the opening scenes remains with you throughout the movie.
Ghalib, a man of few words, can be witnessed getting further worn down in the movie as a young recruit threatens Ghalib’s job. The young intern was zealous about perfecting the art of truck driving but Ghalib was desperate to save the only enduring relationship he had, which was his relationship with the truck. A lot of people would comment on the commodification of labour class or discuss how capitalism traps you, especially when it comes to the labour class but for me, Ghalib saying: “I do this job because it is who I am. My misery lies in the fact that this is all I am,” was a punch in the gut. This was his entirety of life, a long road, a never-ending journey, the misery of being who he was, and the lingering feeling of being disposable.
Director Ivan Ayer has encapsulated the predicament faced by the labour class with so much melancholy. The attention to detail and the long uninterrupted scenes with fewer words keep you going as you explore layers and layers of emotions such as despair, paranoia, and loneliness. Ivan has done a tremendous job in portraying the diminishing value of human life by walking the audience through the protagonist’s life.
You might wonder if my fascination ended with the life of truck drivers? I don’t think so. I might never be able to romanticise it again but I have to say that the loneliness it offered was at the same frequency as mine. And I couldn’t thank Ivan enough for making this absolute masterpiece and giving such deep projection to the intricate emotions.