Trapped movie review: A promising premise and Rajkummar Rao should have added up to more
At one point during Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped, much to my embarrassment, I started in my seat and shook an imagined rat off my foot, only to realise that what I mistook for a rodent was in fact my handbag which I had placed there when I sat down. Having recovered from a fright, I surreptitiously looked around shame-faced, to check that no one in the audience had noticed the disturbance I thought I had caused. Thankfully they had not.
This is the kind of reaction a film elicits only when it zeroes in on the audience’s own fears, especially those we are expected to – but do not – grow past when we enter adulthood. Everyone has ’em. Mine are rats, lizards and – even at this age – ghosts standing behind curtains in darkened rooms at night. Motwane picks the first item on that list and effectively whips up the eeriness quotient of his film as a result.
Trapped is the story of a young man in Mumbai who gets locked in a flat in an empty high-rise building. In the absence of food, water and electricity, 35 storeys above the ground, he struggles to remain alive through the several days that it takes him to figure out an escape route.
At first, it is hard not to be intrigued by the innovative ways in which Shaurya (played by Rajkummar Rao) manages to keep himself going. His claustrophobia and dread are palpable. That rat, for one – yikes!
Cinematographer Siddarth Diwan draws us into the protagonist’s struggles by hugging him so close that it often feels like we are walking with him rather than watching him. When the camera does draw away, it does so with a specific purpose, usually highlighting Rao’s, and therefore Shaurya’s, littleness. We are reminded then, that this is no Rana Daggubati or John Abraham or a conventional film hero by any yardstick; this is a small man facing a mammoth challenge lost in a tiny corner of a mammoth city.
Films such as this one, where a solo individual struggles against apparently insurmountable odds, work best when the audience is truly invested in the central figure rediscovering themselves through an ordeal. Like Chuck in Robert Zemeckis’ Castaway, Pi in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and – my favourite of the genre – Aron in Danny Boyle’s unbelievably enthralling 127 Hours. Shaurya does not enter their league because for the most part, all we get is a surface feel of the man behind his Everyman appearance. So yes, he is a non-descript chap who rises above his seeming ordinariness in extraordinary circumstances, and yes, he comes up with ingenious ways to beat the odds he is up against in that isolated flat, but Trapped fails to capture his heart and mind with depth.
What the film ends up being then is a series of oh-my-did-he-really-do-that and what-would-I-have-done-in-the-same-situation moments, which too lose their sheen in the last half hour. Shaurya’s survival tactics remain admirable throughout if you give them some thought, but the manner in which they are portrayed becomes too matter-of-fact after a while and ceases to inspire the awe it should as a reflex response.
Trapped is in trouble as soon as the sense of urgency wanes.
Worse, the film does not quite manage to convey the inexorable passage of time (an element so crucial to the genre) in that cramped space, a couple of solutions fall into place rather too easily towards the end, and logic takes a walk beyond a point. For instance, with so little nutrition available to him despite his inventiveness, how does Shaurya not collapse from fatigue in that flat? No doubt a statement is being made about modern urban life and how unconnected denizens of a sprawling metropolis can be, but it still defies believability that not a soul in his life bothers to look for him.
Rao is a fine actor, we already know that. He underplays Shaurya well, but the sustained sense of possible doom and his unbreakable resolve, both essential to a film like this, can come only from compelling writing and direction, not from good acting alone.
Geetanjali Thapa is reasonably effective in her brief appearances in Trapped as Shaurya’s friend Noorie. Khushboo Upadhyay has barely a few seconds of screen time as a woman living near Shaurya’s multi-storey deathtrap, but those moments are enough to note that she is an artiste with a screen presence who is worth watching out for.
This is Motwane’s third film as a director and it is clear that minimalism is his natural style.
His debut, Udaan, which won multiple awards in India and was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival 2010’s Un Certain Regard section, simmered with explosive rage rendered all the more forceful because of his no-frills storytelling. Lootera was gripping, with both Sonakshi Sinha and Ranveer Singh toning themselves down to fit the film. In Trapped though, Motwane takes the unfussy direction too far.
It is one thing to avoid high-pitched melodrama, but quite another to allow your film to lapse into lack of energy. Trapped is interesting to begin with. It also makes telling comments about the loneliness of individuals in a crowd and the downside of a city that never sleeps: if no one is ever silent long enough to listen, how can your cry for help – literal or metaphorical – ever be heard?
Sadly though, the film is unable to maintain those interest levels through its 102 minutes and 56 seconds running time. This promising premise combined with the formidable talents of Vikramaditya Motwane and Rajkummar Rao should have added up to much more.