A part of me wishes I would have loved this as much as others did, but here is my honest opinion about this film. Having watched the original did impact on this. Still, a remake should work on its own to keep the heart of the original story intact and find new avenues to explore within the narrative or relationships that explore these very facts. Yet neither of these things happens.
Mili Naudiyal is finishing her nursing school studies and hopes to go to Canada. She works at Doon’s Kitchen at the local mall and takes care of her father, who she derides for smoking. She has a secret relationship with Sameer Kumar who is from a different caste that her father doesn’t know about. One night as she is packing chicken in the freezer, she is accidentally locked up inside, and she has to survive the night as the men in her life trying to find her.
I’ve seen the original Malayalam film Helen (2019) (original review in link) and thought that it was masterful in weaving social commentary on so many things in one, from the patriarchy, the neglect of women, the burden of work being put on the shoulders of women, the importance of workers in low-wage jobs that Helen greets and treats as people, and stereotypes when it comes to minorities being most prominent. However, it becomes clear that most of this commentary is lost when it comes to Mili (2022) to make it more palatable for the Hindi-speaking audience. This is sad because there could have been many things to explore, possibly new things too. Instead, it feels like every sharp-edged commentary has been softened to not make a statement on current politics or even to make the heroine part of a minority community.
In essence, Mathukutty Xavier – the director of both the original and the remake – did his movie again. Still, this time the fear and tension lessened thanks to the loss of what made the original so impactful. Ritesh Shah did the screenplay, essentially making the film about a woman from a minority community surviving in the society she lives in every day into one where the religiously dominant woman is surviving the patriarchy of the everyday.
As the title character, we have Janhvi Kapoor, who is convincing as our middle-class heroine. Her performance in half before the freezer is brimming with warmth, while in the freezer, she has to survive on her mere expressions and actions alone. It is a powerful performance, even if the male-dominated narrative cuts down on her time to show her skills in the second half. The only problem is that her character seems almost too perfect, a sweet person who happens to keep her relationship secret, even if her beloved father would have approved if given a chance since he has now been changed into a much more caring being than in the original.
Janhvi pulls off the freezer sequences with conviction; even if the cinematography by Sunil Karthikeyan doesn’t serve her as much, same with the constant editing by Nairita Thakurata does her the same disservice. Take an example from the original: Helen has an unbroken scene from the teacup to the bathroom door as she talks to her father. While Mili has it cut to her father smoking in the bathroom. This same philosophy continues throughout the film, leaving our title character and Janhvi’s performance feel less than it probably should have been or could have been.
As Mili’s father, we have Manoj Panwa, who is the embodiment of a loving father, if not one who acts irrationally with his health and others from time to time. He is loving, and he jokes with Mili often. He is by far the most changed character in the remake, losing his harsher edges and making this movie more about fathers and daughters. One could even say it is an overemphasis. Sameer is played by Sunny Kaushal, and he and Janhvi are cute together, even if he, too, has lost the edge of what made his character so unique and added to the tension in the original. Caste, by no means an unimportant fact, is muddled in how it is handled in the film, and if it were to have been emphasized more early on or when looking for Mili, it would have perhaps been the much-needed commentary of the film. It is very much the same as it was in Janhvi’s debut film Dhadak (2018) – a softer and looser remake of the Marathi film Sairat (2016) that softened the edges, glammed up the cinematography and made it more about a boy and a girl from different social standings than actually putting the emphasis on the Caste aspect of it. It is clear that if that aspect is spoken, it is spoken in whispers or a throwaway line and never made an actual plot point.
As the personification of the “villain” in this very villain-absent story, we have Anurag Arora as SI Satish Rawat, who is determined to make everyone miserable with his actions. He dominates with his power in society to cause as much trouble as need be and plays the part perfectly. Because, in the end, this story is not about villains. Society is the villain. Yet, Mili is determined to not blame society or stereotypes of minorities for the troubles of our heroine. It is merely a few bad apples, but one should remember the original saying: “One bad apple can spoil the bunch.” Mili seems determined to keep it to the first half of the sentence instead of interrogating the rest, which creates these “bad apples” in the first place.
The soundtrack is by A. R. Rahman and is filled with comforting tunes. It is a warm soundtrack that reflects the warm and loving personality of the title character. ‘Jeena Hoga’ might be my favorite of the tracks. They perfectly capture the mood of the film.
So, to end things, I will have to say that this far from the remake it could have been. It is not bad, but it is not good either. If you enjoy the newly made father-daughter bond or even the love story or are a fan of Janhvi Kapoor, this will satisfy you, but it is far from what it could have been. That is the tragedy here. Of the “what ifs” and lost opportunities. If the screenplay writer had been brave enough to make more social commentary. If the heroine or/and her boyfriend had been made into any number of minorities and not the dominant Hindu. To have them be Sikh, Christian, Muslim, Jain, or Parsi, to throw some in the wind. If Mili was allowed to be more flawed of a character in the normal way, instead in the typical heroine way that borders on perfect. If Mili had been given more time on screen in the freezer, Janhvi Kapoor could have flexed her acting muscles more instead of overt concentrating on the men in Mili’s life. Gone are the lower-earning women workers. Instead, everything is emphasized by the men.
If…if…if…this film is one of the lost opportunities and stays safe in its comforting Hindu dominant and beloved father narrative, without questioning too much of the society which made Mili end up in the freezer in the first place.
Thank you for reading!
4 thoughts on “Mili (2022) – A Diluted Remake That Does Not Bite Even In The Cold”
Sounds frustrating. The softening of the social elements doesn’t surprise me at all, sadly, but what in the world could be the reason to lessen/cut up the time spent in the freezer? Like, my word-of-mouth impression of this movie (vague, ill-informed, and Hindi-centric as usual) was “Janhvi in freezer.” One ought to at least deliver the basic USP of Janhvi! in a freezer!
Seeing this notification, by the way, alerted me to the fact that I had missed reading a few of your posts. And I’ll have to get back to the “Qala” one later as I still have aspirations of watching it before winter break is over ( ;
Great! It is a good film to watch during this time of the year, even if it is a depressing one, it really makes you take in the atmosphere more
Well, thank you for reviewing this! I did not watch Helen or Mili but your review made me think of Saairat vs Dhadak, which coincidently also had Jhanvi. Saairat was such a masterpiece because it dove deep into class, caste, sexism and didn’t shy away from it. On the other hand, Dhadak took away all that and created a glossy, happy movie that took away from the core/soul of Saairat. It’s like the Hindi version never understood why Saairat gained the following it did. It just replicated the story without any of the nuance. It sounds like Milli did the same with Helen.
I do feel a bit bad for Jhanvi because I think she’s quite delightful and I feel like she is going against the curve and trying to make some bold choices. Recently, I really loved her in Good Luck Jerry and I hope she continues to find success.
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