Traffic is the remake of the 2011 Malayalam film of the same name directed by the late Rajesh Pillai. A fictionalized account of true events, like any other, it adds wallops of drama and conflict to spruce it up. Not that the true story lacked drama or was without conflict. The story stands for what can be achieved when empathy and efficiency come together and it has a universal appeal to it that it is little wonder it makes for a great subject for cinema. Thus, we have Traffic now in four languages – Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and Hindi.
Traffic brings together two families, with the distance of Mumbai and Pune between them but just as much in common. There is an unappreciative and awkward father-child relationship on both sides. Both the sides have the mother holding together the families and looking out for the child. The third wheel here is Godbole (Manoj Bajpayee), an otherwise sincere traffic constable suspended for accepting bribes during a momentary lapse in judgement. As atonement, he takes up the job behind the wheel for transporting the heart for transplant, from Mumbai to Pune in record time. Overstated drama with some Hindu-Muslim angle thrown in is used to color this tale that may have just worked without it.
The journey forms the drama here with Godbole, Dr. Abel (Parambrata Chatterjee) and Rajeev (Amol Parashar) traveling in the police vehicle carrying Reyhan’s (Vishal Singh) heart to Pune for the 12 year old daughter of Dev Kapoor (Prosenjit Chatterjee). This obviously calls for displaying time on screen and Pillai does take a few liberties with geography and weather (but yes it is June and it would rain in Mumbai but there are parts with sunny weather). But to assuage this, he even has a rainbow across the frame as it is raining! There is also the showy acting to manufacture tension and elation from Jimmy Shergill and the doctors with the former playing the city traffic Commissioner monitoring the journey from his control room. While the film is named Traffic and the problems discussed before giving the mission a go-ahead is all about Mumbai traffic, their problems stem from human error. That adds a sense of authenticity but the film shows very little of the traffic snarls created and decisions taken by the traffic police within Mumbai.
The theme maneuvering through Traffic is of empathy and second chance. It is sometimes subtle, other times shoved in your face. It tends to get over-sentimental, juicing every emotional moment, be it the mother, father, wife or child part of it even as it focuses on the race against time. Some detours are better than the others.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)