TRAFFIC : One Movie I loved
Solitary croons of Mejjo Joseph’s piano open up a rather smooth credit slide, fading gracefully into the cobwebs that surround each day in the life of normal men and women within the Queen of the Arabian Sea. As the familiar voice of Sreenivasan narrates vitality of seldom felt coincidences in our life, Shyju Khalid captures the essence of routine life in a city, the roads, people, vehicles… Traffic.
Rajesh Pillai’s “Traffic” starts in a soothing tone. As the narration oscillates back and forth between the lives of a dozen odd individuals, for each one whom most of the others in reference are just another face in the billion faces that make up this planet. And there we have, a corruption tainted traffic officer, a young chap all set to join his new job, a megastar and a doctor who test drives a car without his seatbelt on… and a soothing score, with ample dozes of silence, knowingly or unknowingly, letting you know that those silent voids were just empty spaces which would be filled by faces around again. Sreenivasan cuts off his narration at a junction, a split second, when these men and get together, often seeing each other, but never knowing any deeper.
The narration makes way for a soft song, which, despite an strictly average melody, clings on to you, for the director and the editor amazingly fuses disjoint colors from lives of many people, and twang them to aesthetically fuse together a painting, which makes it frame, the city of Cochin, look more gorgeous than she had ever been. And as the song slowly fades into the 16th of September, the orchestration makes way for emptiness again, broken only periodic rhythmic beats, ones that remind you of a beating heart, and that is where it begins, the raw edge of this work, that screenplay which rarely gives you time to breathe, let alone yawn.
Slight plays with time and razor sharp edit cuts, with multi perspective views present the simple template, unfolded in complex fashion that makes you sit through it with much enigma. There aren’t many complaints, nor is there too much of emotional attyachar, the statements are raw, the depiction is real, and the visuals are down to earth. The characters are outright loveable, simply because they are, unlike the common kind, pure, and real.
As the endearing cameo by Jose Prakash delivers what easily qualifies to be the films best lines, decisions are turned, and the improbable undertaken, but where this one wins is in its grounded nature, never does the screenplay get lost in the trappings of commercial demands, and it presents actors, not stars, for once in our cinema. Cochin is one of the few cities in our part of the world that still rewards good cinema, and without say, a weekday afternoon could still draw a houseful crowd, even when a megastars self deprecatory clownish venture lures crowds upstairs. That is a reason to celebrate, for there wasn’t aggressive promotion behind this one, and it makes it clear, it is not merely the fault of the audience that creates voids in our entertainment industry. What people deserve is not movies that calls itself the best, but those which linger around, making you wonder whether it was actually artificial, or balmily real. And there it began, a breathless chase.
The script, by and large, is undoubtedly the strongest part of the movie. The duo of Bobby and Sanjay have worked really hard on it, and it is of no surprise that the complex unfolding looks so easy on screen, most tangles have been settled in peace, and the director has understood the script in its very essence. The writers have shown tremendous confidence in each character, and they have not fumbled in any scene. According to the legendary Nolan, an idea, it is the most resilient parasite. The crew of Traffic proves it, as they stretch and amazingly hold together a vibrant and crisscrossing story in which coincidence plays a character by its self, all stemmed out of one simple idea, the mission undertaken by the Chennai Police some time back. Let me not give away the mission, for it is the plot, the heartof this movie. Inspirations have been lived up to, if not surpassed. Ranjith Shankar, who gave us a fresh and sweet ‘Passenger’ last year would be a happy man, for his example has surely triggered more scriptwriters and directors to experiment with amazing new concepts based on sound screenplays from simple ideas. Though Traffic delivers no razor sharp message through its thrilling brouhaha unlike Passenger, the emotional warmth of everyday life is strong, and the thrill in the screenplay stunning, and at instances, I would say its material that surpasses many contemporary thrillers.
The writers have got the geography of Cochin and the route directions wrong at places, and in a movie of this amount of originality, that jars as an off scale note. Luckily, the director and the editor ensure that they do not give the viewer any time to even notice it, so forget pondering over it. The background scorer then picks up momentum with the script, and delivers what is needed to bring alive the tension in the script. It leaves you sitting at the edge of your seat. Though a few pieces here and there remind you of vintage Rahman tracks and Hans Zimmers soundtrack for The Dark Knight, the soundtrack is strikingly original, with drumkits pumping in pace and dhols building up tension, particularly during the climatic chase sequence in Bilaal Street, arguable one of the best cinematographed sequences in Malayalam cinema. The only flinch that you may contemplate about the soundtrack is that unlike the script, this one was predictable. Though the team has delivered the kind of music that stays true to the script, it is, unfortunately, just the kind of music that you would expect to hear. That immense edge of creativity like Amit Trivedi’s work for Dev D, or path breaking sounds, like Gopi Sundars soundtracks, is missing. Something that could have taken this movie way beyond what it was on paper it was, nevertheless, the current soundtrack isn’t anything bad, and does not let down the director at even a small instance.
Now, easily the best work of this crew is handled by Mahesh Narayanan (I must confess, it’s the first time I’m hearing about this chap, then again, not many can claim deep knowledge about people behind the camera in movies, isn’t it?), the editor. The scenes, often shot in a Vantage Point inspired multi perspective angles, are scissored at the right time instant, so much as to avoiding even a small unrequited frame. As these scenes replay, additional seconds added reveal the plots complexity, and you can only gape wide mouthed at the way the editor has understood the screenplay, which in its self is grand. Now, this is one department which elates the screenplay to another level, and creates one of slickest thrillers we’ve seen in recent times.
It would only be fair if I list out the names of each actor who made this amazing. But again, there are few who have shed images and got into the skin of the characters. First on the list is Kunchacko Boban, who shows tremendous maturity in the initial scenes and maintains consistency throughout his screen time as the trauma stricken Doctor. Asif Ali too outshines, especially with the chase sequences, and his voice modulation is amazing (don’t really know if it’s dubbed though). Sreenivasan, as expected, maintains at ease and relaxed throughout, lending good foil for the above to actors to do the extremities. Anoop Menon is stiff as the commissioner and Saikumar too delivers well. Rahman plays the superstar in all its egoistic grandeur, and Vineeth Sreenivasan is so loveable, that shackles torment you each time the director reminds you of his character. The females are just there, with nothing more than ordinary, except for maybe the woman who plays Rahmans wife, and she does it quite well. But this not an actors movie, it belongs to the crew, an all and out directors movie it is.
There is a great amount of maturity that you see in this story at the end, just as it began, as the edge of the seat ride subsides, the cobwebs fall back, as you see the commissioner switch off the light in his office, and make his last phone call of the date… as Asif Alis character, lost in the way, manages a ride and is questions whether he is scared of speed… and the doctor sits alone in the corridor of a silent hospital… as the superstars biggest failure hits him hard… and as the Traffic officer rides back home along the dark road, witnessing yet another on road quarrel, smiling, waving and moving on… This is how the world was, it is, and ever will be. All these men, on a thrilling chase, battling between lives, heroes for a land… but at they end of the day, like all men around, be it players or spectators, say their prayers, and go to bed, with hope of a better tomorrow.
True it is, every hero… is a bore at last.