(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)
In Vikramaditya Motwane’s ‘Trapped’, it’s all about communication – or the lack of it. A communication paralysis takes over bang in the middle of a city like Mumbai. Starring Rajkumar Rao – the film is Motwane’s return after Lootera – Trapped can be about many things. It’s about fear. It’s about really bad things happening to really nice people. It’s about how intensely wired we are to our many communication devices and how crazy we can become if they are pulled away from us.
Vikramaditya Motwane is probably the most exciting director in Hindi films today, bar Dibakar Banerjee. And just like Banerjee, Motwane doesn’t cocoon himself into a genre or brand of cinema. Trapped – the script by Amit Joshi – reportedly came to him when he was locked uncomfortably inside his own head, bothered by his next script, Bhavesh Joshi. Trapped shows that Motwane can not only fashion his pet projects and his ambitious projects (now that he’s lost the indie tag that came visibly plastered with Udaan), but he can also turn into director-for-hire and stamp his credentials on a script. That’s an incredible and admirable talent to possess, especially for an Indian filmmaker operating in a culture of films where the same person does the writing and directing and often if one is stellar, the other is found wanting.
Trapped is a writer’s film as much as the director’s. The idea is a one line marvel. What if you set Cast Away in the middle of a city? Add a virgin high rise as your island and the sky becomes your ocean. It is one thing to flesh out ideas and go about executing them on film. But Motwane grabs the film by its collar and sets about establishing the urgency. Trapped simmers like milk kept to boil and long forgotten. And we of course watch from another dimension, unable to help. It is a different dimension for Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao) too. A small-town man finds himself in a big city and we are shown in the beginning how he needs to rally himself to ask a woman out in his office. He is a nervous mess. He is also a simple man. A good meal is Pav Bhaji for him. So is a good date. Then he meets his faceless adversary, the ever expanding – horizontally and vertically – city of Mumbai. If only it was another man, Shaurya would have figured him out. Instead, he is forced to confront, not even nature, but manmade behemoths, four legged creatures and human apathy. Trapped is a great exercise in showing you don’t need the Amazon rainforests (which finds an explicit mention here) to be cast away in an alien landscape. It could be the concrete jungle with just as many foreign organisms. How to be lost in your own constructs, definitions and limitations of space. How to be lost in your own dreams. How to be lost in your own madness. How to be lost in your own escapist fantasies. How to be lost in your own loneliness. Trapped will show you.
Trapped is also about the very little time it takes for a perfectly civilized person to turn barbaric, all for survival. It can also be political. It’s Motwane’s economy that is a sight to behold. He knows exactly when to service the writing and when to let it shine, unadulterated. So does Rao, who is terrific. He’s just made for this and we’ve seen him play these naïve, simpleton-trying-to-make-it-big roles multiple times. But it is Rao’s magic that we believe him even when he turns into a hero, a survivor. There has never been a bigger and more convincing “mass hero” in a film without a villain. We want to whistle. After a point, we wonder if Motwane’s definition of Trapped is about being locked out of the rest of the world or is it all about being trapped in this endless web of communication. More than a good film, Vikramaditya Motwane has made a very intelligent one.