CHANDNI BAR peeped into the lives of bar dancers.
PAGE 3 exposed the glitzy lives of the glitterati and chatterati.
CORPORATE was about wars fought inside the Board Rooms.
Madhur Bhandarkar's new outing TRAFFIC SIGNAL introduces us to a world we thought never existed. A world we see every single day at the traffic signals, but forget all about it the moment the signal light turns green.
Like PAGE 3, TRAFFIC SIGNAL is more of a collage of moments than a cohesive script.
A flourishing 'industry' exists at the signals and those who engineer and run the 'empire' include gangsters and politicians. Actually, you need to have a strong stomach to absorb the characters depicted in TRAFFIC SIGNAL. This is no glossy, feel-good, escapist cinema that has actors dressed in designer outfits and breaking into songs in the Swiss Alps. The plot is stationed at a traffic signal, the characters are shabby to look at, they wear tattered clothes and the lingo they speak is outright pedestrian, coarse and uncouth.
Madhur dares to travel a path no one has traversed in the past. Although TRAFFIC SIGNAL rests on a thin plot, the experience of watching a never-seen-before world is its USP.
There are films that entertain. There are films that enlighten. TRAFFIC SIGNAL belongs to the latter category. This one doesn't get preachy. It just opens your eyes and mind to a deglam world that exists in the glam cities of India.
Silsila [Kunal Khemu], a young orphan, who was born and who took his first tiny step at the Signal, is now its manager. For him, the Signal is his workplace and a home where he lives. He loves all those working at the signal, which in a way is his family, but would spare nobody when it comes to business.
Silsila's mentor Jaffar [D. Santosh] is the collector of his region. Both Jaffar and Silsila work for the local Mafioso, Haji [Sudhir Mishra]. Inherent in the social structure lies a nexus between the local mafia and politicians, though at that level Silsila is almost non-existent.
Yet, by a force of circumstance, Silsila gets drawn into the bigger game and finds himself responsible for the annihilation of his own world. What would Silsila do in such a situation? Silsila knows that he can never take on Haji, who is too powerful and way beyond him. Yet, no matter what and how, he has to get his life and the lives of his family at the Traffic Signal back on track.
Like PAGE 3, TRAFFIC SIGNAL is about assorted characters. There's a kid called Tsunami, who has lost his parents in the Tsunami. There's a socialite who likes toyboys. There's a girl from Gujarat who sells traditional outfits. There's a hooker who has a soft corner for a drug addict. The drug addict, in turn, has his own story to tell. There's a gay who's part of the flesh trade. And, of course, there's the 'manager' of this traffic signal -- the protagonist.
Madhur doesn't peep into every character's lives. All he does is introduce the characters that breathe the same air, but live on the mean streets. Actually, the story begins in the middle of the second half and the twist in the tale [the engineer/Manoj Joshi is shot dead by goons] reflects on the times we live in.
The climax is unconventional. There's no herogiri or bhashanbaazi here. The protagonist doesn't fight the evil forces single-handedly. He can't, he's too insignificant in front of them and he knows his shortcomings. And the only recourse he sees is approaching the law.
Director Madhur Bhandarkar's choice of the subject is laudable, although one wishes that there were ample dramatic moments in the narrative. Besides, the subject material will have its share of admirers and adversaries. Yet, there's no denying that the film has some brilliant moments. The Ranveer-Konkona track [including Ranveer's sad demise], the entire track of Manoj Joshi [right till his assassination] and the track of a beggar and the rich Gujarati businessman [with a turning point in a multiplex] are superb. From the writing point of view [writers: Sachin Yardi and Madhur Bhandarkar], the penultimate 25 minutes are captivating, but the film ends on an abrupt note. Ideally, there should've been a strong culmination to the tale.
Special mention has to be made of the costumes worn by the characters [costume designer: Shefalina]. They look real! Ditto for the makeup; it lends the required authenticity to the characters. Mahesh Limaye's cinematography adds to the natural look. Being a slice-of-life film, there's not much scope for the song-n-dance routine, but the theme song has rich lyrical value, while 'Aai Ga' is aimed at the hoi polloi.
The ones who stand out with more than commendable performances include Kunal Khemu, Konkana Sen Sharma and Ranveer Shorey. Kunal Khemu looks the character and emotes his part with admirable precision. Konkona Sen Sharma breathes life in her role. Ranveer Shorey steals the show with a superb portrayal. Upendra Limaye is first-rate. Neetu Chandra does reasonably well. D. Santosh is able. Well-known director Sudhir Mishra leaves a mark as an actor. Manoj Joshi is perfect.
On the whole, TRAFFIC SIGNAL is a slice-of-life film and that is its USP. This deglam film should find a good share of supporters for its theme and also for the execution of the penultimate 25 minutes. At the box-office, the film has two major advantages -- a brand called Madhur Bhandarkar that has cultivated its loyal audience with films like CHANDNI BAR, PAGE 3 and CORPORATE and of course, the right release period. TRAFFIC SIGNAL being the only release this week and the absence of a major film till 16th February will give ample time to its distributors to recover their investments and more. In a nutshell, it's a 'Green' signal for its investors!