Arati Kadav's Cargo, which released on Netflix last year, was one of the sleeper hits of 2020. It was another reminder of how all you really need to tell a truly imaginative story is great imagination, logistical constraints no bar. It also introduced a fresh voice in the indie cinema landscape of the country " Arati Kadav gave us a truly original, Indian sci-fi story, with its endearingly goofy detailing and dank production design winning more than a few hearts, of memers and otherwise.
Her follow-up is a much smaller film, even in relation to the indie-smallness of Cargo. Titled 55 km/s, the film was made remotely during the lockdown. Still, it bears the stamp of Kadav's ingenuity of thought, along with what seems to be a yearning to incorporate all of the cosmos into stories about the infinitesimally mundane glories of regular folk.
The advantage of having that unique perspective and vision means that if you've watched and liked Cargo, then the manner in which the first few minutes of the short film set up its premise will be easy to buy into.
Old-school graphics reminiscent of Doordarshan in the 90s is the visual aid that news anchors use, to inform their fellow citizens " and us " that the end of the world is imminent. An asteroid has been hurtling towards earth at 55 km/s, and at 3 PM on the very same day, everything will be destroyed.
After this apocalyptic setup (unsurprising, given the state of the world), we meet Suraj (Mrinal Dutt) " a grim 30-something, living alone, almost welcoming the end of the world because at least it's a change of pace from everyday monotony. 55 km/s, then, is about the things you left unsaid, the stuff you left undone, and the little questions of your life that you should have found the answers to when you had the time.
It's a bittersweet little experience, small to look at, but with a big beating heart that wants to tell you not just about Suraj's last moments, but also clue you in to what's happening in the world at large, in its final moments. There's a familiar sense of detailing to flesh it all out; radio, phone calls, voice notes, screens of all shapes and sizes tell us about sturdy VIP bunkers for the rich, lottery-assigned holes of questionable integrity for the not-rich, frozen embryos from the animal kingdom sent off-planet to ensure their continued survival, the works.
The film also stars Richa Chadha as Srishti, one of many old college mates Suraj gets on a conference call with, as a sort of group therapy to deal with the impending doom " a weird Apocalypse Anonymous, if you will. Among the motley bunch are those that are either still frantically waiting for a last-dash lottery pass to the nearest available bunker for a shot at survival; or have given up and are just waiting for the merciful end at 3 PM, now just minutes away.
Over and above the whole sci-fi flavour of Kadav's voice, there's an old-world goodness to her films so far, which form the strongest aspect of her storytelling. The sci-fi exterior is merely the means to a more noble end, pun not intended. One gets the sense that Kadav senses the incomprehensible vastness of the physical world, and yet places fragile regular person things like love, front and centre in the former's gargantuan context.
Kadav's penchant for old-school graphics and interface design hardly hamper the film, instead, letting you focus on the value of even those last few minutes of your life, where you might just do what you couldn't in all the years that led up to them. With its simultaneous simplicity and magnitude, 55 km/s strengthens the hope that Arati Kadav goes on to explore the eccentricities of the cosmic everyday in bigger and better ways soon, well before the apocalypse actually comes.