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Trapped! A metaphor for Motwane's movies

Last updated on: April 06, 2017 14:40 IST

'In Udaan and in Lootera, the initial sensations that drove Vikramaditya Motwane to make those pictures never quite travelled beyond the walls that contained them.'
'Here, in Trapped, this sensations-strangled-by-the-walls feeling becomes the movie's real tune,' says Sreehari Nair.

A scene from Vikramaditya Motwane's Trapped

IMAGE: 'Trapped is the kind of movie that can get an audience high on its own "aesthetic purity," and its own "fine eye for themes lurking beneath the story".'

 

The Face of Empathy, yes! The Face of Empathy, oooh!

Five hours after inspiring a boot-polisher at the Dadar railway station to flash 'The Face of Empathy,' my photographer friend walked out of Vikramaditya Motwane's Trapped still soul heavy and trying to get me to agree that the movie was a metaphor for life, survival, and loneliness in big bad Mumbai.

I shrugged: "For my part, I thought the movie was a campaign against soaring floor-rise prices.

The friend thought about my theory for a moment and said solemnly, "Yes... that too."

Later we squabbled over whether to have coffee or drinks, before agreeing on banana-split (which gives you the guilt of alcohol and the queasiness of caffeine both) and by the time the check arrived, we'd forgotten everything about metaphors and campaigns, and were woozy and joking about the sexual patterns etched on the glasses at our table; the soul-heaviness had by then been shed and we were back in high school.

While not without its very specific strengths, Motwane's Trapped is the kind of movie that can get an audience high on its own 'aesthetic purity,' and its own 'fine eye for themes lurking beneath the story.'

It may even force some to fancifully say, 'I could sooooo imagine this situation happening to me!'

Try telling any of these metaphorical diehards that the movie can be best enjoyed as a genre piece (a thriller -- no more, no less) and you'd be handed the classiest of chidings: 'I think you need to watch it again.'

Yet, for all this sacramental talk about how the picture transcends its genre, any pleasure that Trapped truly delivers, it delivers within the confines of its genre.

There is a virtuoso escape sequence at the end where Rajkumar Rao's Shaurya leaps out of his balcony, dangles for a bit, crow-walks along the edges, stops, deliberates, says his courage-chants, and then jumps to his safety.

And when the scene cuts between Shaurya's quick thinking and the ball-busting geography of his action-field, we can feel his heart beating within ours.

By the end of the sequence, when stomping down that one final obstacle, Shaurya's done being an ingenious planner and is acting out the celebratory rituals of a pagan warrior (taking us along with him all the way).

It is not merely ironical that in a movie which, for the longest period, has its lead walled-up in his home, it is the final escape sequence that carries the most vitality.

I think there is something in the medium of cinema that works against such stories of stranding-and-pondering.

For, in such pictures, once the austerity of the set-up has worn out, we in the audience feel walled-up too -- and we crave to make our getaway.

But how can we take the escape-route to pleasure, when there's a director-actor duo performing self-flagellation just for us?

To not partake in their misery would be to commit the highest act of sadism, no?

 A scene from Vikramaditya Motwane's Udaan

IMAGE: 'Udaan, for all the talk about its aching heart, seemed like the work of a pianist playing his golden note on a loop.'
'This was the movie equivalent of watching three back-to-shows of Death of a Salesman.'

 

So we seek solace in discovering the metaphors strewn all along -- there's always that big salute to human courage that works, and since 'Spirit of Mumbai' is old news now (even advertisers think it is bad strategy to shove The 'Spirit' down viewers' throats), how about urban alienation?

But between all this metaphor-grafting, few seem to acknowledge that Vikramaditya Motwane -- if his first two movies are any measure -- is not too unlike a director who gets trapped inside his own movies.

Udaan, for all the talk about its aching heart, seemed like the work of a pianist playing his golden note on a loop.

This was the movie equivalent of watching three back-to-shows of Death of a Salesman -- the sort of experience that can reform the most hardened of social cynics and get them to walk out screaming, 'Screw you, Arthur Miller. I love the American Dream!'

Udaan was a picture in which the process of self discovery faded out at the precise moment that the brilliant Ronit Roy and his bottle took over.

Vikramaditya Motwane belongs to a family of directors who work around expanding discontinuous feelings into a movie.

This is quite an illustrious family if you consider it has such names as Fellini, who in the second half of his career made movies where plots chased specific feelings; or Bergman, who constructed Persona almost entirely from a set of discreet images that occurred to him while he was recovering from pneumonia.

I have watched Persona both with and without sound, and have to confess I liked the mute version better.

Part of the reason for why these directors could turn their inklings into great movies (though, in Fellini's case, there were as many misses as hits), or why their brainwave-altering imageries could continuously sustain your interest, was that they knew how to spread out their feelings across the various elements in their movies.

Their imageries or sensations weren't standalone couplets, but lines that dispersed like dandelions, and later conjoined, and mated.

In short, Fluidity was a big part of these directors' Randomness.

Motwane has feelings too. But in his movies, you get the sense that he is trying to will those feelings into existence, without going through the actual steps of making a movie.

Consequently, the drama in something like a Lootera, felt heavily insulated from what may have been happening outside the four fences of its setting.

 A scene from Vikramaditya Motwane's Lootera

IMAGE: 'Lootera, despite terrific performances from both its leads, was like a chamber-drama with all the deficiencies of that genre inherited.'

 

In Vikramaditya Motwane's stories, feelings don't cross set boundaries; they stay in and stale out.

Lootera, despite terrific performances from both its leads, was like a chamber-drama with all the deficiencies of that genre inherited.

There's, however, no denying that an artist's mind resides in this rectangular body.

And so, like Federico Fellini, who while making 8 1/2 turned his creative block into the major plot focus of his picture, Vikramaditya Motwane, this time around, whips up a theme from his own directorial-malaises.

Trapped is most certainly a metaphor, but it is only a metaphor for the director's first two movies.

In going this personal, Motwane may have liberated himself, and sculpted into form his most easy-peasy genre picture. And the press would have seen it too, if only they could stop trying to mine out the 'essence.'

While jutting his chin out, and making this bold statement about his shortcomings, Vikramaditya Motwane also seems to be cheering on his leading man; almost pleading him to re-compose his preferred acting raga.

Make no mistake, Rajkumar Rao is an unambiguously fine actor; but then, he's also the greatest of our stuttering heroes.

 A scene from Vikramaditya Motwane's Trapped

IMAGE: 'Back-and-forth is critical to Rajkumar Rao's artistry, and it is this essential faculty that Vikramaditya Motwane denies him' in Trapped.

 

Rao is at his best when he has someone to jeer at. He needs situations where his calculations turn awry, and then he can make a moment alive; can work up his confusions and smoulder at the person staring at him with all sincerity.

Back-and-forth is critical to Rajkumar Rao's artistry, and it is this essential faculty that Motwane denies him here.

The actor responds with an intuitive, physical performance, but as far as memorability goes, the best turn in Trapped comes from a mouse -- which keeps its eyes wide open, as it nibbles like a beginner monk at a sushi party, and later turns around slightly to look at Rao before it leaves.

Like in a very well made genre picture, it is the moment-to-moment rewards in Trapped that are immaculately staged.

For example, there's a great commitment to capturing the exact texture of Shaurya's desperations; and Motwane doesn't make it all one toned.

When he's being workman-like and Masonic, the camera follows Shaurya, even jerking up slightly when he flinches in pain.

When Rao's yelping almost to prove to himself that he's trying hard enough, the camera closes on him, and later it stays in its position, as if smiling an all-knowing Osho smile, when Shaurya has made peace with his situation, or when he's enjoying his little gifts.

The sounds of the outside world, set in its mundanities, are carefully contrasted with the disquiet of Rao's internal world where time has stopped.

Motwane also jump cuts to keep up the dynamism, and every time the pressure in the plot releases slightly, it feels like the director just exhaled.

Even as you applaud the tightness in his craft, what Vikramaditya Motwane lacks in equal measure is a dense humanism of the Renoir-kind (in a scene with many actors you only have to watch out for how he directs his extras -- they exist as mere by-the-ways), and an Orwellian vision of the political horror being expressed as a personal one.

A scene from Vikramaditya Motwane's Trapped 

IMAGE: 'Like in a very well made genre picture, it is the moment-to-moment rewards in Trapped that are immaculately staged.'
'For example, there's a great commitment to capturing the exact texture of Shaurya's desperations; and Motwane doesn't make it all one toned.'

 

All those who saw Trapped being replayed in their own lives, ought to honestly evaluate the chance progression of events that build up to craft the picture's central idea.

The truth is that Shaurya's predicament never becomes an extension of every urban dweller's predicament; he is very much a victim of his specific circumstances.

In Udaan and in Lootera, the initial sensations that drove Motwane to make those pictures never quite travelled beyond the walls that contained them.

Here, in Trapped, this sensations-strangled-by-the-walls feeling becomes the movie's real tune.

If After Hours worked like a good change of pace for Martin Scorsese, Trapped allows Motwane to keep his pace.

That claustrophobia which rankled in his first two pictures and that inability to shade his narratives, are all critical to the genre that Trapped belongs to.

At the start of the picture, Shaurya is a man bruised by the city he is living in.

By the end, when staring at a balcony grill he has cut open, Shaurya seems to be showing us a small bruise he has created in that very city.

If you want to convince yourself there's an arc there, sure there is one.

I just put it here because it seemed like a nice way to end the piece.

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