Some movies win you over on charm alone. That’s not the only thing that Cargo has going for it, but it’s more than enough to make this an endearing film.
Cargo is set in the year 2027, in an alternate timeline where a truce between demons and humans governs the world. As part of the truce, for the last seventy-five years, demons have handled humans’ transitions after death from a number of large spaceships orbiting Earth.
One of those ships is Pushpak 634-A, piloted by the demon Prahastha (Vikrant Massey). As one of the six original astronauts sent to space to handle Post Death Transition Services, Prahastha has been happily alone for seventy-five years. (Although they look like humans, demons age more slowly, apparently.) He’s not pleased when Ground Control sends him an assistant: an eager young astronaut named Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi).
All demons have a magical ability, and Yuvishka’s is the ability to heal injuries. This is a particularly useful skill, since one of the steps in prepping dead humans for reincarnation is repairing injuries and ailments, and all of the equipment Prahastha has on-hand is outdated and falling apart. His main control center is a desk with a bunch of knobs, a printing calculator, and a CRT TV monitor.
The low-tech equipment that went into its design makes sense within the context of the story — the ship is almost eight decades old, after all — but it’s also a reminder that Cargo was made on a minimal budget. Props are used so thoughtfully that the film has a distinct, pleasing visual style. One may notice the absence of high-tech effects and CGI, but Cargo is so well designed that it never feels like it’s missing anything.
The staging and props evoke nostalgia for science fiction films and shows of the 20th century, which is appropriate since Cargo hews more closely to the tone of the original Star Trek series than to contemporary sci-fi. There’s nothing grim or dark about Cargo. It’s about the exploration of the human condition, not a battle against an existential threat. The focused story muses on life, death, and what comes after through the experiences of its two leads. Prahastha writes letters to a woman he used to love, but he never sends them. Yuvishka thought that becoming an astronaut would finally make her feel like she mattered.
Greeting and processing dead people as they arrive on the ship just reminds Prahastha and Yuvishka of what’s at stake, both for mortals with short lifespans but for themselves as well. Many of the dead ask if they can speak with a loved one for a final time. Others wonder what the point of their life really was. Prahstha and Yuvishka collect the belongings from each person, waiting until after they’ve moved on to launch those belongings into space. As the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.”
Cargo‘s plot is tertiary to its atmosphere and characters, moving at an unhurried pace that allows the audience to get to know the crew of Pushpak 634-A and enjoy spending time with them. Massey and Tripathi work beautifully together and are so comfortable to be around. Writer-director Arati Kadav achieved something really special with her debut feature. Cargo didn’t overstay its welcome, but it also left me wanting more.