Filmmaker Arati Kadav’s sci-fi short film 55 km/sec starring Richa Chadha and Mrinal Dutt on Disney+Hotstar is a poignant retelling of the year that was for most of us. It is set against a meteor attack and covers the last few minutes before the end comes calling for the two protagonists and all others who inhabit the planet, and it gets over with a bang.
At a deeper level, it is an ingenious attempt to look back at the year when the mighty Coronavirus hit the entire world, and a few of our own — relatives, friends, acquaintances — and lakhs of unknown people around the globe became hapless victims of COVID, much like the meteor — Celestine — moving at a speed of 55 km/sec that was about to hit the planet at 3 pm on that fateful day, wiping all traces of life and living out of it.
The writing on the walls only adds to the fright factor with the planes zip, zap, zooming in the clear blue sky adding to the woes. The flight service to another safe place is available only to a chosen few. There’s no escape from the impending doom for most of the people as the TV anchors announce, giving hope that they will be together, uninterrupted, with their viewers till end. The deserted streets and quiet supermarket are reminiscent of the times that all of us lived and survived in the early part of the year gone by, so the shots and settings are relatable, as are the video and phone calls. The VVIPs had been safely escorted to a safe haven as the voiceover announced; a few lucky ones had found a place in the underground bunkers of dubious construction quality while others who couldn’t make it to the lottery system were in the queue, waiting for the inevitable end. The government had sent the animal kingdom’s embryos to outer space to save the species from extinction. Just as life seemed slipping away, minute by minute, a bunch of college buddies get together on a video call to bide away time and prepare for the strike of the meteor, together, talking, laughing, and bantering. There is a twist in the tale when the boy Suraj (Mrinal Dutt) confesses his love for Shrishti (Richa Chadha) over the video call, and out of the blue. Perhaps the morbid fear of the end makes him say what he would have otherwise never said. She tells him about the greeting card with hearts that he had received from an anonymous sender back then was actually from her; he finds it lying in one of the cartons and it fuels the spark in his heart. He keeps asking her, “are you alone?” till the voice on the other end, blanks out and with that, his hope of togetherness too. The names of the protagonists are metaphorical.
The entire film was remotely shot during the COVID-19 lockdown, and the cast and crew deserve a big round of applause for adapting to the new normal in filmmaking with perfect ease. Their seamless coordination, the frugality of the means and minimalism in the filmmaking approach make Kadav’s effort commendable. The subtle subtext and the deftness with which she handles her subject — questioning the human existence with a lot of empathy — leaves us shocked and awed, in equal measure, at her clever attempt. Her sci-fi gives an out of the world experience that unfolds in a little more than 20 minutes but keeps you gasping till the big thud announces that it is all over, and the blank screen gives way to the credit roll. It’s an escape from the mundane world to the unknown, unheard, unseen and unexplored, and is undoubtedly worth a watch. ~ Shillpi A Singh