Survival films have been quite a staple with Hollywood for a prolonged period of time flourishing in the 1990s. Almost all of them dealt with the man vs. nature theme and located the narratives in various untamed landscapes. A few examples can be Alive (Frank Marshall, 1993) in the Andes Mountains, The Edge (Lee Tamahori, 1997) and The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2011) against the backdrop of Alaskan wilderness, Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis, 2000) on a Pacific Island or All is Lost (JC Chandor, 2013) unfolding in the Indian Ocean. Vikramiditya Motwane in his 2017 film Trapped uproots the generic narrative from its backdrop of wilderness and plants it within an apartment in the heart of Mumbai, the very core of everyday urban reality. For a mainstream Bollywood film, this is a significant achievement in terms of creating a premise which yield a narrative dealing with absolute basic aspects of city living, things often taken for granted and spin a yarn of horrors out of the mundane like a Roald Dahl or a Stephen King story.
The plot of the film is built around Shaurya (Rajkumar Rao), a man of insipid and indecisive nature with next to zero social skills and living almost like a nonentity in Mumbai. When he gets involved in a romantic relationship with his colleague Noorie (Geetanjali Thapa), circumstances force him to find a new apartment within half a day’s notice where he plans to settle down with his newfound love. Moving from pillar to post and being turned down by every agent, he finally comes across an individual who finds him an empty and barely furnished high-rise apartment in an otherwise deserted complex in the heart of the city. Shaurya packs up his meagre possessions in a handbag and shifts to his new address. When he wakes up and gets ready to leave the next morning, the dysfunctional main door of the apartment swings shut with the keys hanging outside and leaving him locked in. Horror and panic set in when he discovers that there’s no electricity or water supply either and his phone battery has also given up, thus cutting off any form of communication with the outside world.
The toughest challenge in this kind of films is selecting the suitable actor who can carry the narrative on his capable shoulders for the bigger part of its runtime. With Rajkumar Rao, it’s an absolute perfect ten! The sheer brutal honesty of his performance is THE driving force of this Motwane film. He succeeds especially in conveying the emotion stake of the narrative while at the same time not attempting to make the character likeable. The film scores quite well in terms of sound design and background score as well. While never really going overboard, the audio track delivers an intelligent mix of mostly diegetic sounds, often repeating them in a rhythm or in a loop and thus both reflecting the character’s despair in the futile escape attempts and somewhat also underlining a sense of irony. The screenplay, for most part successfully builds a narrative exploring the notion of panic and fear by almost meticulously addressing every other aspect of urban living such as mobility, communication or supply of resources and creating scenarios out of their absence or failure. As a result, the very idea of existence gets reduced to its basic elemental factors such as fire, rain and blood. Together these factors make the film a very engaging experience for the majority of its runtime.
The film basically falls short in one fundamental area, that of the film form or the film language. Considering the inherent absurdity of the scenario where a man is lying trapped within his apartment in Mumbai, the film form is extremely sane and measured leaving no room for any insanity or excess. While the cinematography does an honest and faithful job of documenting the character and his activities, its continuous movement both within the space as well as having the liberty to move out of the apartment becomes counterproductive, not allowing the panic or claustrophobia to set in. Consequently the film resorts to a couple of dream sequences to capture the psychological sphere which really do not sit easy or add anything to the narrative. And finally there are the last ten minutes or so where the film just rambles around unable to find a closure, becoming slightly redundant and straying away from what seem to be the original objective of the film.
Having said that, Trapped remains a commendable effort nonetheless. Operating within the defined confines of mainstream Bollywood, the film succeeds in narrating a tale of threats veiled beneath the apparent mundaneness of everyday life. While the body of the film seemed to be bursting apart with a plenitude of possibilities which largely remained unexplored, it certainly sets the tone which is exciting enough to look forward to Vikramiditya Motwane’s future works.
Arup Ratan Samajdar