Just How Gripping Is ‘Trapped’?

Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Geetanjali Thapa
Rating: ★★★1/2

Trapped is a film one has seen several times. A tight, well-made movie, it embodies the standard tropes of the survival drama. The lack of essential utilities (electricity, water), the solitude, the possibility of never being rescued, the failure of DIY methods to attract potential rescuers that nudge the survivor towards primitive modes of being. The difference is that instead of being abandoned in the wild, the survivor, Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao), a drone in a travel agency, finds himself locked in an apartment in an empty high-rise in Prabhadevi. This makes Trapped a keen comment on Mumbai’s housing conundrum.

Shaurya is a bashful fellow, whose name, meaning courage, belies his demeanour. It takes him several fumbling attempts just to ask his office mate Noorie (Geetanjali Thapa) out. He lives in a tiny flat with three others like so many single immigrant men in the city. When Noorie and Shaurya fall in love, he needs to quickly find a place for both of them to live or she will get married to the man her folks have found her.

The search for a flat within his means leads him to experience the other extreme of housing in Mumbai. Shaurya gets gulled by a tout, who offers him a flat in an empty skyscraper. The place is empty as it’s yet to get an occupation certificate, the tout says. This is the story of several buildings in various stages of halted construction that fill the central Mumbai skyline. Builders are allowed to commit construction violations by the authorities only to be punished by them later. In the meantime, towering edifices languish for months and years.

Shaurya gets locked in the apartment. There’s no electricity so when his phone runs out of battery, he’s left without any means of communicating with the outside world. He spends the next several days trying to bust out. Director Vikramaditya Motwane skilfully handles the tension, keeping the camera close to Rao as he paces about, throws things at the stubborn door and devises all kinds of tools with which to attract the attention of his neighbours. The problem is that he’s on the thirty-fifth floor of the building and everyone else is out of earshot far below.

There’s a neighbouring cluster of old, low-rise buildings, the kind you see standing cheek-by-jowl near skyscrapers in central Mumbai. Such an alienating experience would never occur in one of those buildings. But the residents are too far away to hear Shaurya’s cries or even see his flailing form as the high-rise, ironically named Swarg, is angled in a way that casts him in the shade and hence practically invisible.

There are a few truly cringe-worthy moments when Shaurya is forced to do sickening things to survive. There’s a particularly tense moment in which you know a would-be rescuer will turn away before reaching Shaurya but you’re on tenterhooks nevertheless hoping he will be set free. Rao is masterful, conveying a sense of despair as his voice thins to a squeak from shouting and his hands tremble as he performs revolting actions, all without breaking into histrionics. In sum, Trapped is a flexed wire of a movie that grimly delivers a sense of how trying life in the city can be.

Trapped was released in cinemas across the city on Friday, March 17.

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