Film: "Traffic"; Director: Late Rajesh Pillai; Cast: Manoj Bajpayee,Jimmy Sheirgill, Parambrata Chatterjee, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Sachin Khedeker, Divya Dutta, Kitu Gidwani; Rating: *** ½
One extra star-rating goes to this uniquely formated thriller for its impressive cast of actors. Manoj Bajpayee is in terrific form as a digraced havaladar trying to redeem himself by taking on a seemingly impossible goodwill mission: of transporting a heart across the super-busy Mumbai-Pune Express Highway for a little girl’s transplant.
By the time the well-crafted though clumsily scripted thriller is over many of the characters have redeemed their souls and undergone a change of heart, one of the literally. The plot borrows from a 2008 real-life incident where a little dying girl in desperate need of heart transplantation was saved by a quick-thinking fleet of do-gooders.
The Hindi version could have done with a lot more restrain.While the main plot remains rigorously riveting, thanks to the able actors who make the urgent transportation look absolutely convincing. The digression about a doctor with an unfaithful wife is so artificial and forcibly super-imposed in the plot you wonder why they bothered! The climax is also an attempt to heighten the drama with exaggerated bravado when in fact the film’s subject matter is inherently dramatic.
Why add to the tension to the point of making the proceedings unbearably self-important? The climax has the heroic havaldar driving the car through a “communally sensitive” locality where the colour green becomes a benign flag for the urgently racing automobile.
It’s all too crammed crowded and claustrophobic to hold together in a credible clasp. Nonetheless the essential power of the plot furnishes enough heart to the goings-on. Even when the contrivances get over-manipulative there is never a dull moment in the narrative. The performers make sure we are with the drama all the way.
Manoj Bajpayee as the disgraced havaldar who rises to heroic heights brings to the screen a deeper understanding of his character’s suppressed rage than perhaps the script permitted. The ever-watchable Jimmy Sheirgill as a cop trying to make sense out of an impossible life-and-death mission is splendidly charged-up. Sachin Khedeker as the dying boy’s undemonstrative father gives the most emotionally rousing performance in the film.
But the film should have belonged to the two actresses Divya Dutta and Kitu Gidwani playing the respective mothers of the child who needs a new heart and the mother of the dying boy who can give a new life. There is a terrific telephonic exchange between the women where Divya pleads(with heartrending sincerity) while Kitu (we should see a lot more of the latter) listens. It reminded me of the Shabana Azmi-Smita Patil telephonic sequence in Mahesh Bhatt’s "Arth".
These patches of brilliance remain isolated in a film which seems to be as much in a hurry as its characters. Maybe the director knew he had to go sooner than later. Traffic is engrossing and innovative enough to make me wonder what Rajesh Pillai would have brought to the screen next. Perhaps another film with a lot of heart and a lot more restraint.
The film seems to have been hurriedly out together with patchily edited sequences and some awful dubbing including the sound of rain that comes and goes at will. Pillai deserved a more polished send-off.