By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Monday, February 05, 2007
Starring: Kunal Khemu, Neetu Chandra, Ranveer Shorey, Konkona Sen-Sharma, Sudhir Mishra
Director: Madhur Bhandarkar
You have to hand it to Madhur Bhandarkar. He has his own formula of creativity which he applies generously sensitively and surreptitiously to specific sections of people from every walk of life.
Life for Bhandarkar's characters, sucks. They're often a victim of sexual and political abuse. And you're inclined too turn away from their anguish. What redeems these people are their frailties and their unquestionable humanism. The director captures them in on a cascading and mutating canvas. We see lives frozen in a state of emotional and economical imbroglio. The characters are often seen doing the metaphysical equivalent of picking their nose in public.
There's no shame in letting it all hang out, as long as the characters are prone to probe their wounds in bouts of agonized satire. If Page 3 probed the beau -monde with incredible emotional sharpness, Traffic Signal doesn't lag far behind.
At first you are flummoxed by the breathless pace. No shot in the first twenty minutes lasts more than some seconds. Bhandarkar wants us to know his multitude of street characters in quick spasm of introduction. The actors are all so obtainable you can't keep them from penetrating your hearts.
The street -smart and yet emotional Silsila (Kunal Khemu) so named because he was born the day Yash Chopra's film was released, helms the proceedings. Bronzed in a remorseless sun Silsila leads a bright pack of traffic -signal derelicts - the beggars (quirky funny, sweet, bitter and resilient), the eunuchs( tall in their morality though characterized by a neutrality of gender), prostitutes(of the spitfire spit-paan masala variety), the children(abused yet amused by the vagaries of life)....Never before have Mumbai's street people been so gloriously portrayed in postures of positivity since Mira Nair's Salaam Mumbai.
Indeed this is Bhandarkar's own sly sensitive gritty and powerful salaam to Mumbai done in shades that convey the granite will-power of people who are trained to survive on the harsh bustling streets of Mumbai.
The traffic signal becomes as emblematic of their lives as the invisible green and red lights that manoueuvre mankind from anguish to atonement in that cycle of life which we call existence.
Bhandarkar's microcosmic view of the street people is cluttered with characters who swish by creating their own little space in the bustle of the street hustle. Moments remain with you...the orphaned little boy Tsunami's determination to retrieve his lost parents from the the rubble of destiny, the prostitute Noorie (Konkona Sen Sharma)'s growing relationship with the junkie street hustler (Ranveeer Shorey) and the strangely ironical relationship that grows between passengers in posh cars and these fringe people at street signals who eke out a living by lying to their destiny.
Traffic Signal is a much bigger achievement than it outwardly appears. Bhandarkar controls the vast cast through some adroit editing . Apart from those repetitive shots of the mafia don(director Sudhir Mishra trying hard not to give a performance) the narrative moves forward with the unshakeable determination of a traffic snarl adamant on making its way ahead through the maze.
As in the director's earlier works the performances, by known and unknown actors, carry the narrative to the pinnacle of credibility ...only to bring the proceedings back to earth with a resounding thud.
A special word for Ranvir Shorey who takes to his part with the bewildered expression of a man who's lost something valuable on the streets of Mumbai. To watch Shorey at work in Khosla Ka Ghosla and now Traffic Signal is to recognize the arrival of a significant naturalistic actor. Konkona Sen with her bright lipstick and crimson dialogues, Kunal Khemu as the spunky and spirited but sensitive Silsila and Neetu Chandra as the tender-hearted traffic-stopper...each invests a feline fluency to their bravura performances.
It's as amazing to see Bhandarkar create humane relationships within the traffic snarls as it is to consider the possibility of street people bonding beyond the rituals of day to day existence.
With an eye for detail that defines the cinema of neo-realism and a heart that bleeds withouit creating a tedious splash, Traffic Signal hits you in the solar plexus almost as forcefully as Bhandarkar's Chandni Bar and Page 3, and far more so than his last film Corporate which was too niche to be universal.
Every one of the scores of characters in Traffic Signal connects with the audience. You can't afford to look away. You may miss an invaluable rhythm of life, and lesson on How To Survive On The Streets Without Losing Your Dignity.
Learn it. You never know when the light may turn red on you.
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