Mili review: Janhvi Kapoor weathers extreme cold to survive a tacky remake

Director Mathukutty Xavier rehashes his Malayalam film Helen [2019] for the Hindi audiences. The survival thriller also subtly exposes the caste divide in the region [Uttarakhand].

Janhvi Kapoor in Mili [2022]

Rating: 2.5 / 5

You hit rock bottom but it is only way up from here. Janhvi Kapoor though hits the lowest of lows in this chilling story. Leave aside standing up, but here every breath feels like a battle. Accidently locked inside a cold storage, young Mili Naudiyal [Janhvi Kapoor] is freezing to her death. Despite the extreme cold, Mili is not one to throw in the towel.

Director Mathukutty Xavier’s Mili [2022] is the Hindi remake of his Malayalam film Helen [2019]. We couldn’t find the original on any OTT, which works to Mili’s advantage. Screenwriter Ritesh Shah’s adapted screenplay is set in Uttarakhand.

Mili lives here with her father Niranjan [Manoj Pahwa], an insurance agent. Having lost his wife, the father seems heavily dependent on her daughter and only child. The father and daughter are a tight unit. Mili deciding to migrate to Canada for a nursing job inevitably worries her father. This is also bothering Sameer [Sunny Kaushal], the other man in Mili’s life. The boyfriend is reluctant to let her go. Huh, a woman’s dream is crushed by patriarchy. It would be easy to ridicule Mili’s story as regressive. However, the urban feminists can never understand the problems of the lower middle class in a small town. Xavier’s protagonists stay true to their roots.

While he obeys his daughter religiously, but daddy cool is not pleased after learning that his ‘ice ice baby’ has been dating a lower caste boy. Niranjan unearths the truth in a local police station where the senior inspector Rawat [Anurag Arora] had hauled up Sameer for drunk driving. Jobless, lowborn, inopportune first meet, you can’t blame the father for not thinking highly of her daughter’s boyfriend. With Mili missing 24 hours later, Niranjan gets all the more suspicious of Sameer.

The nursing professional works part time in Doon’s Kitchen, located in the nearby mall. She’s slogged her way to affording every rupee to fund her Canada migration. But with a name like Doon, a tragedy was bound to happen in this hell’s kitchen. The early father-daughter sequences aren’t quite convincing. It is a little hard to believe that an insurance agent wouldn’t enroll his only child in an English medium school. She is confused about prepositions, and here she has landed a job in Canada. The part-time job helps to improve her communication skills. Kerala or Uttarakhand, a Mili epitomises the lower middle class struggles, yet the film truly begins from the time when the girl is trapped in the cold storage. 

Given the ‘cold’ plot, how do you build a screenplay where the protagonist is alone, locked in a freezer, shivering and barely able to talk? How do you communicate with the audience? Mili’s predicament sends a chill down our spine. She connects with the audience through her resilience, surviving instincts. Just like Rajkummar Rao’s Trapped [2017], Mili, too, banks on a tiny mouse to build engagement. There’s the rodent, Mili and the freezing cold storage. The human-rodent tag team is pitted against the harsh chills of a human creation [cold storage].

Often survival tales ride on its lonely atmosphere. Xavier uses Mili’s relationships to build the external tension. Mili loves her father dearly, but she is often miffed with his secret smoking. At work, she has to endure an overbearing boss Sudhir Malkoti [Vikram Kocchar]. Sameer, too, strikes you as a slightly possessive boyfriend. Then she also has to contend with a roadside Romeo, rather lech. Huh, there’d be many urban women empathizing with Mili hoping that she gets a break from the patriarchy around her.  

As she battles for her life, Xavier also smartly touches upon the caste divide. The father is left shocked and deeply unimpressed with her daughter’s Dalit boyfriend. Sameer’s best friend is a Muslim guy, Feroz. The chief divider in this story is the senior inspector Rawat [Anurag Arora]. A film helmed by a Keralite Christian, set in BJP-ruled Uttarakhand, and a probable antagonist having the surname Rawat. Xavier subtly condemns the politics of divide. Arora though is brilliant, arguably the most consistent performer here.

A freezing tale should have made Shah Rukh Khan the ideal choice for Xavier’s story. ‘Aye ayeeee’ chuck the bad joke, but Janhvi Kapoor impresses with her choice of scripts, again. Dhadak [2018], Ghost Stories [2020], Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl [2020]. Even Roohi [2021] was worth the experiment. Good Luck Jerry and Mili this year, add to her variety. 

Having experienced near death due to hypothermia once, yours truly can relate to Mili’s ordeal. A challenging role, more so physically, Janhvi does well to bring out Mili’s apathy. Yet it is a performance that is perhaps stifled by the cold screenplay. It might sound cruel, but maybe the temperature being lowered by a few degrees could have raised the level of performance by a few notches.

The father-daughter relationship looks staged. The average writing cops the blame here. But Pahwa, isn’t his usual dependable self. There’s no real chemistry between Janhvi and Sunny Kaushal. The latter though shines in the latter half. Though brief, but Sanjay Suri makes a fine impression as Rawat’s superior Ravi Prasad. The unheralded Hasleen Kaur too leaves her imprints as Mili’s colleague Hasleen. The caste divide is key to this plot, but Mili also bats for dignity. The humble Doon employee made it a point to regularly smile at the Pacific Mall gatekeeper.

The script has its loopholes, prime among it is the lack of sight on the part of the investigating authorities to troubleshoot such cases. But then again, the incompetent, insensitive cop Rawat thrives in his dereliction of duty. The survival saga is finely shot, it keeps you on the edge. However. the outside action doesn’t build consistent engagement. The background score is fine, but Javed Akhtar’s lyrics and A.R. Rahman’s music is pretty average.

Mili promised a lot, but maybe the writer’s hands went numb while penning the screenplay.  Given the cold line-up of releases this Friday, a Mili still has enough chills to warm your weekend.


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