Trapped : Movie Review
4.5 stars out of 5 (Outstanding)
Hindi (English subtitles available), 2017
Director : Vikramaditya Motwane
Writers : Amit Joshi, Hardik Mehta
Those who have lived in a busy metropolis may sometimes reflect that the milling crowds are not always an automatic antidote to loneliness. Some who have the talent of infecting themselves with cabin fever, can get cooped up in their apartment - an internal exile within four walls with an irrational refusal to venture outside. Writers Amit Joshi and Hardik Mehta have other plans - their train of thought grounded them into thinking : what if a person got physically trapped in an apartment ?
A mentally sound person itching to be outdoors daily for work, romance , persuasion, more money - in short, a lot of things a young man aspires for, except that this youngster suddenly finds himself trapped in an apartment with the entrance door accidentally locked and jammed, with the keys dangling outside in the corridor. Can't he yell out ? He can but he's on the thirty-first floor and it's hard for people to hear him. Leaping off the balcony is not a bright option either because of the height. Surely there must be people around to notice him ? Not really - it is a deserted high-rise, empty for two years because of a property dispute and this youngster just got the apartment on rent by a shady dealer. Does he have a mobile phone ? Yes, but it's out of charge and there's no electricity or water in this damned ghostly tower and the old watchmen below shows all the potential in the world to get a building full of people killed by negligent indolence.
Many folks will retort what an unrealistic premise this is, but life is full of great stories whose "Udaan" was launched from unlikely ideas. Joshi and Mehta lock their idea in, and tightly engineer a lean, merciless narrative peppered with only a few outside shards. The directorial keys are handed over to Vikramaditya Motwane - the prolific producer of the one of the country's best and most daring production houses - "Phantom" - with Motwane himself being a fabulously focused director. The result ? An outstanding thriller thoroughly Indian in its milieu and ethos, with shades of daring South Korea in its dark personal odyssey, and a coolly international flair in story-telling.
The actor who carries the burden gloriously is Rajkummar Rao : whose lean, small, unassuming physique and innocuous face belie tremendous acting talent. We've seen him years ago as the rabid police inspector in "Shaitan", more recently as the brave-heart lawyer in "Shahid", just last year as a nice budding journalist in "Aligarh" and here as an earnest soft-spoken bespectacled youngster named Shaurya who unwittingly gets much more than he asked for. He just wants a decent one-bedroom apartment and the Maximum City a.k.a Mumbai gifts him an entire tower that holds just him and no one else.
There is no weak link on display at all - one of my favourite reviewers Bharadwaj Rangan praised the movie but had reservations about it being "one-note". When it comes to foreign cinema, a huge variety of minimalism is well tolerated , but a desi movie like "Trapped" no matter how absorbingly it manoeuvers its minimalism, is called "one-note". If you can play a single note like this, I am so satisfied that I do not need to listen to the rest of your orchestra.
The set-up is also superb. Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao) is the above-detailed modest youngster whose efforts to woo a girl in his office - Noorie ( an excellent Geetanji Thapa) - goes initially well. But he only has little money and soon into their courtship she reveals that she's engaged to be married. Neither person subsequently comes off honourably. I'll leave you to work out why Noorie needles two men - one, her fiance by betraying him with another romance only days before her marriage , and two - Shaurya by agreeing to respond to his courtship even though she's still intends to proceed with her marriage. She likely expected Shaurya to lead her to his bedroom and unearth the mattress to reveal ten crore rupees in stashed diamonds and gold (she openly tells him that he doesn't have enough money). As for Shaurya himself, his decision to continue wooing her after the above concerns, smacks of disregard for her other suitor, not to mention his own foolhardy romanticism that sadly always packs a low success rate.
Eager to impress her nonetheless with a bigger flat, Shaurya eventually finds himself in the apartment thirty-one floors up in the deserted tower thanks to a tout. The core of the movie then unfolds.
'Trapped' has a constantly engaging 97 minutes to play with. That run-time automatically makes it lose some of the epic feel of the 140 minute "Cast Away" (a "trapped in an island" movie) , with "Cast Away" itself not being fully comparable to the days of orgiastic experience issuing from "The Life of Pi" - a soaring novel of being marooned at the sea. But Joshi, Mehta and Motwane's effort, enhanced by Alokananda Dasgupta's restrained music and Nitin Baid's keen editing, still ranks at a world-class caliber. Knowing that the strong script has mapped out the proceedings event by event all the way to the finish, the rest of the executive team cleanly projects the story onscreen with no distraction and no unnecessary masala. Imagine the damage an inserted song would have caused to the taut mood here. Dasgupta's score wisely limits itself to flourishes like using the crash and tumble of Shaurya's desperate implements and using that sonic rhythm in varied loops as background to a montage that frames the "hero"s escapist throes.
After Shaurya has thrown all the kitchen-sink-equivalents at the entrance door, and shouted his voice hoarse and weak through the balcony, he eventually comes to a point where he has to decide whether he should prick himself to draw blood to write messages on cardboards which he then flings out. Does he even realize that possible tetanus can kill him even if he gets out, or does he know it but trashes such concerns in desperation? To avoid spoilers, I will of course desist from outlining all his escape and survival antics which proceed smoothly one after the other. But one thing will surely reach out to the observant viewer - of all the people he tries to appeal to, folks try in varying degrees to respond to some signs but no one goes that extra mile or that one extra flight of stairs to conclusively end the thread. Is that how it is in real life too? People might be suicidally depressed, physically and sexually abused and they may be giving us pointers but we are either too busy or just don't care enough to fully respond ?
Once the "Trapped" sequence begins, the team permits itself only one cut-away - just a single brief respite, no more - to a flashback sequence where Noorie and Shaurya have a meal in a restaurant. Both Thapa and Rao emote with flawlessly realistic spontaneity in that scene where she defends meat-eating and he backs the moral merit of vegetarianism after she challenges him on him having never eaten chicken. One senses that after their robust debate, neither party will budge to shift their goalposts and here you have to admire how organically the writers slip in the hot-button issue of "beef ban" which has created much brohuaha in India. Noorie asks what the big deal is if people eat meat and Shaurya very softly while looking down at his food replies that they will get their just desserts. 'Does that apply to me too?', Noorie asks to which her new boyfriend gently contends that she is a good girl and that that her other good karma will balance it out ! Rao is simply superb in showing how his character is consistently mild-mannered yet rock-solid in his convictions even as he sweet-talks his girl through thorny moral dilemmas. Back in the high-rise locked-in flat, Rao is more than smart enough to realize that the narrative already has a lot going for it, and that all he has to do is to avoid overacting while letting his keen instincts as a character actor take over. Result : not once does we lose sympathy for his situation.
Motwane thus re-cements his status as one of the best young directors working in India today. That is admittedly a bold assertion to make considering he has made only three feature-length films including the one under discussion, with a fourth one - the promising "Bhavesh Joshi" scheduled for release later this year. But I'm willing to make that call because Motwane reveals a instinctive expertise for emotionally acute story-telling and measured yet fluid direction in every frame of his limited ouevre. "Udaan", "Lootera", "Trapped" - that's three films in seven years - a middle-aged Kubrickian pace for someone who has only just crossed forty. He has to direct films more often not only for himself but also to make up for the Mumbai film industry that is still trapped in mainstream mores.
'Trapped' has enough straight-arrow narrative going for it without the need to excavate a heap of metaphors and while I will resist the urge to embark on a thesis about the existential odyssey that mushrooms from this terrain, there is no denying the sense of fierce self-determination that steadily pupa-rips through this four-walled boiler-room with a view. When Shaurya pleads with a man that he needs a new apartment because he's getting married, the increasingly flabbergasted man snaps angrily "Then Don't Get Married."; the girl he's fallen for is already engaged to be married, and the man who's rented him this deserted apartment in a ghostly tower does not bother to check on the apartment even once in the upcoming days. It's a metropolis of millions of people many of whom are genuinely helpful but when the knife twists to bizarrely trap you in the middle of a city with every rescue attempt somehow thwarted, we are forced to do that which is at once most selfish and most self-sufficient : helping ourselves. Are you depressed ? Then watch this movie. It may not take away all your ills, but it will give your famished mind something to chew on.
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