Mili Review: Janhvi Kapoor delivers her career-best performance in a discomforting yet compelling film

Film: Mili

Cast: Janhvi Kapoor, Manoj Pahwa, Sunny Kaushal, Sanjay Suri, Hasleen Kaur, Vikram Kochhar

Director: Mathukutty Xavier

Rating: 3.5 Moons

Just imagine this situation- You were accidentally locked inside cold storage with no warm clothes, no mobile phone, no water, and no food. Just you and the bone-chilling cold room. Feeling claustrophobic right? This is exactly what Mili taps into. The official Hindi remake of the Malayalam survival drama Helen, the film is directed by Mathukutty Xavier, who also directed the original, and is headlined by Janhvi Kapoor.

Mili, if you are assuming, is not an easy watch, especially for the weak and faint-hearted audience. Orbitting around the life of Mili Naudiyal (Janhvi Kapoor), a 24-year-old nursing graduate from Dehradoon. She lives with her father (Manoj Pahwa) after the demise of her mother. His failing health and meager salary force Mili to take up a job at a fast-food joint called Doon’s Kitchen at a mall. On the sidelines, she is preparing to go to the US to pursue a career as a nurse and support her father financially. The doting father is hesitant to let his only child go away from him.

While Mili is clear with her ambitions and goals, her boyfriend Sameer (Sunny Kaushal) is careless. Their relationship is unknown to Mili’s father. However, one night while riding Mili home post work, Sameer is stopped by the police for not wearing a helmet and drunken driving. They are taken to the police station where Mili’s father is summoned. The disappointed father cuts off communication with Mili.

Mili is visibly stressed out due to the tension at home. Unable to face her father at home, Mili chooses to wait at the fast-food joint for longer. This proves fatal for her. Just when she is about to head home, her manager Sudhir (Vikram Kochhar) unknowingly locks her in the cold storage. The film hereon focuses on Mili’s struggle to survive the extreme cold.

Mili is not made to make you feel comfortable in your seats, definitely not till the last frame which leaves you with a smile. You are bound to shut your eyes, feel the bone-chilling cold atmosphere that Mili has to survive and even squeal. That’s when you know that the film has won the battle. If you feel none of this, re-watch as you must have missed out on something critical.

Director Mathukutty Xavier has lived with Helen/Mili for most of his life and that reflects clearly on the silver screen with the kind of efforts he has taken to give the remake a fresh yet equally compelling touch. Despite being more or less a frame-by-frame copy, Mili is a gift to Hindi cinema in disguise.

Its unique narrative has the power to keep you engrossed. Majorly because the music by A R Rahman and the cinematography by Sunil Karthikeyan is hauntingly beautiful and discomforting. The director and writers don’t want you to watch Mili as an audience but desire that you live with her inside that cold storage. They succeed in doing so. The goosebumps due to extreme cold, frost bites, fracture pain, and helplessness are experienced in theatre seats whenever the protagonist feels them.

Mathukutty adds a tender touch to an otherwise haunting and uncomfortable film by establishing a sweet bond between Mili and a rat who becomes her companion in the cold storage. It is like a warm hug.

Despite giving Mili a voice of its own, director Mathukutty focuses unnecessarily on irrelevant things in the first half. He wastes a lot of time in establishing characters, making the screentime longer. The chemistry between Janhvi and Sunny doesn’t appeal and feels forced. Their individual performances and character graphs are the things that fall in the positive bracket.

Helen being a Malayalam film had the character play the role of a nurse, which is a common profession chosen by Keralites. Giving the same profession to a girl from Uttarakhand makes no sense as the state is not particularly known or popular for that. Also, the inter-caste love angle which is posed to be one of the conflicts doesn’t fit the narrative well.

Mili is an out-and-out Janhvi Kapoor show. Making bold and unconventional choices early in her career, she gets into the skin of Mili who is the most complex character in her career to date. It is not an easy task to bridge the gap between the screen and the audience but Janhvi does it effortlessly. The delicate and pretty-looking actress delivers a solid act, making it her career's best and definitely a defining one.

Manoj Pahwa is reliable as always. Sunny Kaushal has an impactful role which he plays to the best. As mentioned before, his chemistry with Janhvi fails to shine but he as an individual actor is good. Sanjay Suri is brilliant in a brief yet important role. There’s a surprise 'Hero'ic star entry for the audience in the second half; watch out for it!

The hero of Mili, along with Janhvi, is A R Rahman’s breathtakingly beautiful music. The songs are forgettable but the background score is not. It snowballs Mili’s impact and stays back with you for the longest time.

Mili is discomfortingly beautiful, majorly owing to Janhvi’s career-best act. There’s no possible way to get distracted from the screen. Make Mili your weekend watch!

PeepingMoon gives Mili 3.5 Moons