Indian filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane, within his three films, has switched between different genres and styles. Motwane’s debut feature Udaan — a hard-hitting coming-of-age tale — was followed by light-hearted romance Lootera. His latest Trapped (2017) is once again a huge departure from the previous two films.
Despite the dissimilarities in terms of theme and style, the director’s central characters remain ‘trapped.’
Abusive father and social status ensnared the protagonists of Udaan and Lootera.
The trap becomes starkly literal in Trapped. It’s a survival thriller along the lines of Cast Away or 127 Hours.
The scenario here, unlike those other survival flicks, is set indoors and looks more terrifying because it could happen to anyone.
The basic idea for the film came up when first-time screenwriter Amit Joshi was auto-locked inside his flat in Mumbai.
Later, Joshi fleshed out his idea with Hardik Mehta, an independent filmmaker (who also worked as an assistant director in Lootera).
For most of the film’s 105 minutes, Rajkummar Rao’s Shaurya is stuck inside a flat on the 35th floor of a high-rise, ironically named ‘Swarg’.
The hellish scenario, however, arises from the earlier swooningly romantic moments.
When we first see Shaurya he is desperately attempting to woo his colleague Noorie (Geetanjali Thapa) over the office phone.
She is intrigued by his general good nature.
The film title comes up right after Noorie says that she’s already engaged and wedding is imminent.
Therefore, the relationship sets up the basic trap.
Desperate to not say farewell to the one person who makes him feel special, Shaurya asks Noorie to immediately marry him.
Of course, the stumbling block to fulfill the dream of living together is to afford the kind of flat that would make Noorie happy.
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In his exhausting search, Shaurya meets a man who says he can get him a flat for an affordable rent.
The flat is in a high-rise, which is tied up in court cases and doesn’t have an occupancy certificate. So legally, it’s uninhabitable.
Due to lack of choices, Shaurya takes up the offer, passes up the money, and swiftly moves in.
A combination of simple mistakes shuts Shurya inside, with keys in the lock on the outside.
What seems to be little inconvenience gradually becomes a full-blown hellish situation.
With no neighbors to hear his screams from the high-rise heaven, and no electricity, food or water, it’s entirely up to Shaurya to free himself.
The setting isn’t multiply layered. Trapped unfurls as a straightforward survival thriller with few surrealistic flourishes.
In this literal set-up of urban isolation, Shaurya, the every-man, relies first on outside factors to gain his freedom.
When he understands that’s not a possibility, he journeys inwards to confront fear and securities to shape weapons for his survival.
The makers don’t crowd the film with metaphors and are conscious of limiting its artistic flourishes.
Director Vikramaditya Motwane intends to showcase monotony without a monotonous narrative.
Trapped doesn’t just focus on the idea of fleshing out logistics for Shaurya’s survival.
The lean nature of the setting allows Motwane to exquisitely put together certain scenes which gain a meaning on their own.
In his first visit to the flat, Shaurya takes the scenic view with a grin.
He is satisfied to have risen out of cluttered buildings on the ground, unaware of the imminent nightmare.
Later, Shaurya sets things on fire to gain some attention and when it spreads quickly he makes a great effort to extinguish.
The scene cuts to a bright calm morning as if to show the city’s indifference to his predicament.
In fact, the city itself becomes an influential part of the cast.
It’s like the silent villain that bestows Shaurya with a longing and eventually traps him in the alleged paradise.
Joshi and Mehta’s meticulous writing links Darwinist themes, not just into the unique scenario, but also relates it with survival in a concrete jungle.
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The script doesn’t carry a heavy psychological baggage.
There’s no hint given on Shaurya’s background.
The intention is to make love the only driving point of his desire to survive.
Furthermore, the writing focuses on the theme of being alone among millions.
Then there’s a message which conveys the importance to shape our freedom from deep within.
In fact, Motwane’s heroes are always a bit reluctant until they go inward and gain strength.
The wordless epilogue plays out well. Since Shaurya has learnt to accept and live with his self, he may outgrow his strong desires.
It’s a fine bittersweet ending. He has walked away from the claustrophobic setting, although the memory of it still looms large.
Shaurya’s steadfast nature at times seems a bit exaggerated (for example, the near accuracy of sling-shots).
Some moments here and there liberally give space to wacky ideas.
But we never lose the emotional connection, thanks to Rajkummar Rao‘s assured performance.
He’s the heart of the tale and effortlessly transforms the apartment into a battleground for survival.
He earns our empathy without embracing any sentimental routes.
As Shaurya stands rattling the window grill for days, he becomes the representation of millions of others, dwelling within invisible traps.
Trapped (105 minutes) tells the tale of a man trapped amidst a metropolis, where escape looks so close yet so far to materialize.
The film’s simplest yet scary scenario is masterfully established with tension and sharp emotional resonance.
By Arun Kumar
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An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’