Trapped is an example of credible writing, smart direction and masterful acting – transforming mundane to lyrical, passable to remarkable.
There’s something sullen and sordid about a typical Mumbai flat. It is dingy, gloomy and cramped. It says you don’t deserve any better. It talks to you, all the time, without saying anything – and none of it is complimentary. You don’t just live in a Mumbai flat; you live with it, endure it – like a bad marriage. A typical Mumbai flat is your shame, your secret, your badge of inadequacy. And it is this flat – a dwelling so modest that it accommodates a washing machine in a bedroom – that Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao), Trapped’s protagonist, wants to escape.
Shaurya was doing fairly okay in his last place, but he needs a new flat, that too within a day, because he wants to impress and marry his girlfriend. If he doesn’t, he’ll lose her, for she’s getting married to someone else. Like many Mumbaikars, Shaurya is pressed for choices. Like many Mumbaikars, Shaurya’s identity hinges on his zip code, his locality, his flat and the number of square feet it packs. And it is this flat – a (relatively) spacious one-BHK in a newly constructed building, his first step towards upward social mobility – that becomes his undoing, for he gets stuck inside it on the very first morning. The inside lock of his flat’s front door isn’t working properly and, after a point, it comes off, leaving Shaurya shut inside. More importantly, Shaurya finds himself in a South Mumbai high-rise, probably built on disputed land, all by himself. A glib broker duped him into renting this place, which has no running water, no electricity and, since he’s just moved, no food. Moreover, Sharuya’s flat is on the 35th floor. Shouting, crying or waving won’t help. His cellphone, on low battery, dies soon. He has no means to charge it, either. Neither his flatmates nor his girlfriend knows the address of this place. Shaurya is well and truly trapped.
Trapped, directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, becomes the kind of film you want it to become. At an obvious literal level, it’s the story of a young man getting stuck inside his house. But backed by credible writing, smart direction and masterful acting – transforming mundane to lyrical, passable to remarkable – Trapped becomes much more. You needn’t have been stuck inside a high-rise to identify with it. Shaurya scampering inside his flat, trying to get hold of anything that will let him out, encapsulates an existential agony familiar to many: the desperation to escape from a routine job, a dull relationship, a monotonous lifestyle.
It is also very much a Mumbai film – a city where tomorrow races with today; where buildings sprout like trees; where people are in abundance but companions are not; where the only true sound is that of silence. So someone like Shaurya, a striver in a city of strivers, tries. He cries for help. He shouts, “Watchman! Watchman!” till his throat is sore. The watchman, guarding a discarded building, a job lacking purpose and joy, wards off his own loneliness through an old radio. His ears are attuned to songs, not to the wails of a stranger. Shaurya then writes “help”, along with his flat number and building’s name, on the flap of a cardboard and flings through his window, hoping someone would notice. When seen through Shaurya’s world (his flat), his every action feels significant and urgent; the outside world, though, couldn’t care less. Motwane shows us how. He cuts to the point of view of a woman who, on the terrace of a nearby house, is the intended recipient of that cardboard flap. Shaurya keeps shouting, but she remains oblivious to him. She can only see numerous silent windows from afar. Shaurya has become a big city cliché – alive yet faceless, speaking yet mute, present yet invisible.
Motwane’s film has big ideas aplenty, but they would have looked forced had it been poorly written. Trapped rarely takes the easy way out; it makes its lead struggle, sweat and bleed. Shaurya’s fight, although dramatically heightened, isn’t, at its essence, different from ours. He struggles for small victories, for small moments of joy and relief. Nothing comes easy, everything becomes a challenge-within-a-challenge: dislodging an LCD screen from its stand, procuring food and water, cutting the balcony rails. Motwane makes Rao live every scene, own moments of agony and despair; as a result, we’re with him at all times, rooting and hoping for him. Only a few transitions (such as him throwing the LCD screen from the balcony) seem hurried and contrived. Trapped, consequently, works well as a genre piece, a survival thriller, too.
But the true hero of Trapped, in more ways than one, is undoubtedly Rao. He doesn’t just emote in Trapped, but acts through his skin. There’s a scene where Rao’s Shaurya, who’s been thirsty for hours, spots an empty bottle of water in the kitchen. Desperate and helpless, he picks it up, hoping to find the last few drops. Nothing comes out in the first attempt; he tries again, shaking the bottle, thrusting his tongue with such fierce force that it risks coming out. For a second or two, I felt thirsty. In a subsequent scene, Shaurya hears the sound of rain. He can barely control his excitement; while collecting the rainwater in a cooking pan, he jumps on his feet with such childlike enthusiasm – his face coloured with hope, registering a fleeting smile – that he ends up elevating an already superlative scene: that happiness maybe elusive but not entirely impossible, that maybe, just maybe, on a rainy day it is even inevitable. You can write this scene, even explain it to someone, but watching an actor distill its essence on screen, with remarkable sincerity and aplomb, is something else altogether.
Trapped is also a welcome return to form for Motwane (who followed an assured debut, Udaan, with a sporadically impressive, tonally uneven second feature, Lootera). Motwane, however, is on the top of his game here: He never goes out of his way to imbue Trapped with larger meanings. He primarily concentrates on telling a compelling story, with impressive focus and consistency, and the rest – the motifs, the bigger picture – automatically falls in place. With cinematographer Siddharth Diwan, he also toys with frames and spaces. When Shaurya orchestrates a desperate plea for help and fails, the aspect ratio shrinks, underscoring his mindscape, someone getting suffocated with every passing hour.
Mumbai has inspired enough literature and cinema, so much so that anything new on the city runs the risk of narrative fatigue. And yet, when Shaurya says, “Kuch bhi ho jaaye idhar nahin marna hai (Whatever happens, I don’t want to die here),” you feel he’s echoing an overdue sentiment of many, of small people in a big city engaged in an eternal fight: aspiring to live a life that has dignity, value and meaning, that finds company even in the most bleak hours. Several scenes of Trapped are centred on Shaurya sitting in his balcony staring outside at nothing in particular. It’s an oddly poignant moment: a defeated man, hopelessly lonely, in a desolate house, up against a bright, pretty and unending city that can’t wait to swallow him.