If you had any doubt about Vikramaditya Motwane’s brilliance as a filmmaker after two high-calibre movies like Udaan and Lootera, he erases it with one sly, passing reference. In his latest movie Trapped, we see the two principal characters talk about the recent incidents involving beef ban, and how eating meat is against the leading man’s religion. Motwane shoots this conversation in a restaurant with saffron curtains in the background. Coincidence you think? Possibly. Maybe, I’m reading too much. But a part of me believes it was intentional, because hardly anything ever happens in a Vikramaditya Motwane film without reason.
Trapped is a dark comedy with very few parallels among mainstream Bollywood releases. It might come very close to Ruchika Oberoi’s Island City with its commentary on how man in the urban space has become an ‘island’. Although, this one is far more action-packed. On the surface, Trapped is a survival film. Where the story takes a twist is while most films in this genre have nature as the biggest antagonist, it is a locked apartment in a posh high-rise in Mumbai which is the bad guy here. So as we see the protagonist throw everything but the kitchen sink (literally) to survive, you can’t help but grin at the ill-fated situation. In one of the scenes, our protagonist points out at the Mumbai skyline and says, “Inhe kuch sunaayi nahi deta” and just with that one line Motwane sums up urban loneliness.
At several points, I found myself playing spot the reference. It draws inspiration from the greats of the genre including Robert Zemeckis’s Cast Away when the protagonist finds an unlikely companion to speak with during his ordeal. And also Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, which means there is blood, limited water and urine involved. However Motwane comes up with an original trope of his, as he imagines a Bear Grylls-like show, in which the host animatedly asks as to how far would you go to survive in an environment not suited for a civilised life – be it the Amazon rain forests or a small apartment in the heart of civilisation.
In one scene, I found myself internally screaming after a cardboard sign for help floats in the opposite direction, and lands on a roof. Only then did I realise how invested I was in the story, which brings us to our stellar leading man. Rajkummar Rao is nothing but terrific as he occupies nearly every frame of the movie. Having lost his voice after continuously screaming for several hours, he just leans against the grill with a look of quiet desperation as an entire city goes about its day, oblivious to his escalating state of agony. Rao makes the most of this rare opportunity which allows him to set the actor in him free, as he communicates wordlessly in most scenes. Even in that scene where he meets the love of his life, Motwane focuses on their palms to tell us the status of their relationship. Nothing is said, and yet it is all understood.
About half an hour into the movie we take the place of the protagonist as we look on expectantly at the city, for someone to miraculously hear him and put him out of his misery. The movie also seems like a coming of age tale, where a single experience forces a man to prioritise his life like never before. In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, our leading man recounts how he misses the most banal things including standing in a pool of sweat, in the midst of a crowd inside a local train. This is something most Mumbaikars complain about, but Rao enacts this scene with such abandon he almost puts them to shame for whining about something so trivial. He even hopes against hope for that last plate of lip-smacking Pav Bhaji with butter, before he passes.
The film isn’t perfect. Sometimes the director is complicit in aiding to the misery all too conveniently. Our protagonist does *almost* everything in his desperation to get out, and yet not *everything*. The VFX looks a little tacky in a sequence towards the end, but those are small, excusable flaws in a film which accomplishes so much more while operating within a million constraints.
Trapped in many ways has a been there, seen that feel to it. But the way Motwane expertly goes about unravelling the pieces to his puzzle, it is engrossing and disturbing at the same time. The idea to go without an interval to give the audience the same experience as the protagonist, is pure genius. The only respite is knowing that we’re on this side of screen.
The dread doesn’t fade away easily though, as we come to terms with the fact that such a mishap could happen with any of us. What would we do? How far would we go? Would we survive it? These are the questions the Rajkummar Rao and Vikramaditya Motwane leave us with as we exit the theatre, slightly overwhelmed.