“The Lift Boy” is a simple and somewhat simple-minded and archaic tale of a “spoiled” young Mumbai man who learns to appreciate the value of menial work and the rippling power of kindness — “good karma” — by taking over his father’s job, operating an elevator in a low-rise high-rise.
Raju (Moin Khan) is speaking for the audience for this dramedy when he asks, “Why do people need a lift wallah (boy) anyway?”
Even in India, such buggy-whip mender/switchboard operator automated-out-of-existence jobs are all but extinct.
But Raju has much to learn, and not just in school, where he’s failed the drafting portion of his engineering exam four times. His long-suffering dad, Krishna (Saagar Kale) frets over how “spoiled” he is. Raju’s sunglasses, attempted mustache and general contempt for the working poor — like Dad — even extends to his father.
Because when Dad has a heart attack, Raju’s muttered complaint (in English, sometimes in Hindu with English subtitles) is “Today is not my lucky day. Nothing is going right for me.”
It’s all about him. But with Dad’s uniformed job at the Galaxy Apartments as the “the only thing that puts food in our bellies and clothes on our back,” Mom (Santosh Mohite) sends him out the door, bright and early, to “fill in.”
He’s still late, dismissive in that “How hard can it be?” way, and gets under the skin of the building’s owner, Mrs. D’Souza (costume designer turned actress Nyla Masood).
“Open the doors with a smile,” she says. “No small talk” with the residents. “Keep an eye out for any suspicious people” and “No pets in the lift.”
These are all trite but promising directions the script could take us in — wacky tenants, rich snob tenants, rule breakers and even house-breakers.
But first-time writer-director Jonathan Augustin limits this story to Raju’s journey, and a narrow one it is. The rich lady who is pushing her teen daughter, “Princess” (Aneesha Shah) gets his attention — not for the mother’s class-conscious contempt, but for the daughter’s flirtations.
Raju is rude and dismissive of pretty much everybody else, in the building or at home. Like his profane and portly pal Shawn (Damian D’Souza), Raju is too good for “leftovers,” too good for the job, too good to chat with a maid who lakes the elevator to work every AM. He is, he insists, “an engineer.”
Only he isn’t. Not yet. And as it’s not where his heart’s desire lies, it might never be.
In India, kids like him — the children of the aspirational working poor, “have two career options — doctor or engineer,” he tells Mrs. D’Souza.
And as we’ve seen his reaction to that first dissection in biology class, engineer it is.
Raju’s journey is from selfishness to kindness, from arrogant pride to humility, from resignation to his fate to pursuing his first, best destiny. The only novelty in that is the setting, and that’s only novel to foreigners, who will see this as the head-bobbingestIndian film ever, and little more.
There are only a couple of surprises served up during this tried-and-true film path. The jokes aren’t worthy of the label “jokes.”
The sweet moments lack much of an emotional kick. And while Khan makes an amiable slacker who needs to knuckle-down, there isn’t enough story or action here to justify this limp tale’s 108 minute running time.
It’s too long by half.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, profanity
Cast: Moin Khan, Nyla Masood, Saagar Kale, Aneesha Shah, Damian D’Souza
Credits: Written and directed by Jonathan Augustin. A Caroline Pictures/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:48