Rajkummar Rao

Trapped: Breaks New Ground….A Landmark Film in Hindi Cinema

Phantom Films seem to be making a habit of this….a rather good one, I must say. Each year, this production house puts out a film that breaks new ground, introduces new and engaging concepts. In 2014, their second year in the business, Phantom produced two such films: Queen and Ugly. In 2015, they came out with NH10Hunterr (which showed that a sex comedy need not necessarily be cheap, crass and vulgar) and Masaan. In 2016, it was the drug drama Udta PunjabTrapped is another such film.

The concept is simple. Shaurya is in love with his colleague Noorie, who is about to get married unless they get a place together. He manages to get one after some hassles. The catch: the flat is on one of the top floors of an unoccupied high-rise in Prabhadevi. Whilst on his way to meet Noorie, Shaurya gets locked inside the apartment, the key hanging outside the door. Stuck inside with hardly any food or water and no electricity, Shaurya is forced to improvise. He does a hell of a lot of stuff. He does every imaginable thing except one: give up. In his own words, “Kuch bhi ho jaaye, idhar nahi marna hai.”

The screenplay, penned by Amit Joshi and Hardik Mehta, is the pillar on which this film should stand but ends up needing a stronger push from the actor to straighten up, after which it works just fine. Where it fails is the length. Perhaps a trimming by fifteen-twenty minutes would’ve been good. Where it works is many places. It restricts the romance of Shaurya and Noorie to ten-odd minutes. It’s engaging once the protagonist is trapped. It gives the audience an insider’s view of Shaurya’s frustration, anger, fear and determination. The screenplay taps more into the psychological aspect of things than the physical aspect. The concept is such that you’ll go in thinking you’ve figured out all the plotholes but you haven’t quite, at least not all of them. The music by Alokananda Dasgupta is eerie and haunting, working its way seamlessly into the film. Nitin Baid’s editing is sharp and crisp, though he should have ideally snipped off a bit more of the film. DoP Siddharth Diwan has a tough task and manages it admirably. To restrict your camera angles due to such a small set had to be a daunting task but Diwan carries it out expertly. While the cinematography didn’t make me claustrophobic, it did make me shifty and uncomfortable. The lighting team too have done a fine job of creating a sense of dread in the atmosphere.

Geetanjali Thapa’s cameo is an adequate performance by a talented actress. The film’s biggest pillar is one of the most talented actor among his peers. The man capable of turning out an incredible performance each and every time he appears on screen. Whether it was alongside Aamir Khan, Amit Sadh and Sushant Singh Rajput, or with Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao has always been one heck of an actor. He is Shaurya in this movie. Every frame of his performance is brilliant. He is naive, head over heels in love, scared, and determined. The lack of dialogue doesn’t prevent him from going all out in his performance. He portrays Shaurya with such depth and understanding that you can’t help but hope the guy gets out of that wretched apartment.

Vikramaditya Motwane delivers a film that is daring and unique. The fact that the crew and the cast have operated so smoothly has to be credited to the man behind the monitor. Motwane keeps the film clean, devoid of taam-jhaam. He is in total control of a film where so many things could go wrong but somehow don’t.

There have been films with no songs or no stars. But it is highly unlikely that a film will be what Trapped is. It relies not on an item song, not on cleavages and six-packs, not on locations and not on fandom. It relies on its story, its performer and its crew. Never does it pretend to be more than what it is: a well-made film (Dilwale and Varun Dhawan, I’m looking at you. Dilwale=Inception….really?!). Watch Trapped to get a sense of how Hindi cinema is changing and for Rajkummar’s terrific performance.

Trapped: 4/5

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Aligarh: A Thought-Provoking Film

I haven’t watched two of Hansal Mehta’s most recent films: Shahid and Citylights. I wanted to watch Aligarh because of its story and the topic it focuses upon. The Delhi High Court had decriminalised homosexuality in July of 2009. The Supreme Court re-criminalised it in December of 2013. The controversy surrounding it made me a little hesitant about reviewing Aligarh but what the hell! I feel that a person should have the freedom to choose his/her own sexual preference. I know people who will disagree but I stand firm on this. The problem is that things tend to go a bit too deep when it comes to religion and society. In any case, both influence a person’s thought process. But does either really need to interfere where a person’s personal life is concerned? I don’t think so. After all: Live and Let Live, right?

Aligarh brings forth a story not about a homosexual man, but about how the tag diminished his image. Professor S.R. Siras, a Marathi-teaching professor at the Aligarh Muslim University is a homosexual. Two people barge into his house and video-tape intimate moments between Siras and a rickshaw-puller in February 2010. Siras is suspended from the University. His accommodation is taken away. A large number of people come out to support him. An enthusiastic journalist from Delhi, Deepu Sebastian, is keen on writing a story about the incident. He meets Siras a few times and the duo develop a friendly bond over the course of the film. Siras’ case is taken up in Allahabad High Court. The judge rules in his favour on April 1st 2010. Six days later, he is found dead in his apartment in Aligarh. The order revoking his suspension reaches the University the next day. The Uttar Pradesh Police ruleit to be a case of murder and the case is registered but subsequently closed since substantial evidence cannot be found.

  1. DIRECTION: Hansal Mehta, take a bow! Superb direction. Mehta adds no melodramatic moments to the film and manages to keep the viewer engaged despite some lagging moments. The story, from Mehta’s perspective, is about the loneliness of the protagonist and not his sexuality. The film could have collapsed in many a place but there are no extravagant scenes and that keeps the film as natural as possible. Mehta ensures that just because some characters in the film are homosexual doesn’t mean that they’ll be funnily dressed. And since Aligarh is on a larger commercial scale than an Onir, people will notice the sensitive portrayal of a community whom Bollywood seems to be intent on portraying as clowns!
  2. STORY/SCREENPLAY: Ishani Banerjee and Apurva Asrani do a good job with the story. The plot has the ability to pack a hard punch with a great story and some interesting characters but is let down by Asrani’s screenplay, which stretches itself a bit too much. The non-linear aspect of screenplay may also put you off. The drawback was the length of some of the scenes and the film would’ve been much better with around ten-fifteen minutes snipped off.
  3. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Don’t expect aerial shots, moving shots or anything fancy. Satya Nagpaul’s cameras capture the film in a beautiful manner. The cameras stay static for a large part of the film, in a way portraying the slow-moving Siras. In the scenes with journo Deepu Sebastian, there are a few wide-angle shots and hand-held shots and the camera moves a lot more, much like the youthful pace of Sebastian.
  4. PERFORMANCES: If the supporting cast deliver weak performances, the film cannot work. Try imagining Bridge of Spies without Mark Ryllance. Something like that. Dilnaz Irani is very good in her brief role. Sukhesh Arora too does a good job. Ashish Vidyarthi steals the thunder of the rest of the supporting cast with a great performance as Siras’ lawyer. He delivers in one particular scene when he shuts up his opponent in court. Rajkummar Rao is an incredible actor and Aligarh takes him closer to becoming the Manoj Bajpayee of his generation. He portrays a very realistic journalist and adds a lot of youthful exuberance to his performance. People between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five should be able to relate to him quite easily. He manages to get the Malayali-accented Hindi right too. Manoj Bajpayee delivers one of his career-best performances as Professor Siras. He transforms into the character easily and is very believable. He doesn’t talk a lot but his expressions bring out a lot of the character’s loneliness. He forces you to think of the injustice done to Siras with his performance! Also, he nails the Maharashtrian accent, especially words like ‘pen’. He deserves a huge round of applause for his performance. The chemistry between Rajkummar and Bajpayee is reminiscent of the Hanks-Ryllance combine in Bridge of Spies.

Aligarh is not a flawless film but its content and performances are far too engaging for one to think of the faulty aspects. It delivers a strong message about Section 377 and makes one question the mentioned law. There might not be too many films like Aligarh this year. Watch it!

My rating for Aligarh: 8/10

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download1Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao in one of the most beautiful scenes of the film.