Cast: Kunal Khemu, Neetu Chandra
Direction: Madhur Bhandarkar
If you eat dhokla, your brain gets khokla. If you’ve honeymooned at the Niagara, very shortly you’ll need Viagra. And if you’re a street hooker your biography is more than likely to win a Booker.
Welcome to Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal which delves into the lives of a motley gang of derelicts surviving by their wits in world of nitwits. And surprise surprise, it’s a largely uncompromised and unconventional take on the low life of a metropolis. Perhaps the outcome won’t be as marketable (read box office) as his other jaw shockers, but in terms of sheer cinematic rigour and social concern,it’s his best work yet.
The format is fragmented like the recent Salaam-e-Yuck, jogging with a bus full of characters and finally unloading them at a singular destination.Gratifyingly, the gambit pays off marvellously here.Honestly, you’ve never met such real people in the movies lately..the sort you pass by on the street every day but either ignore or pretend not to notice.
In fact, it is more than likely that you’ll never feel smug at the green-red-and-blues again. Here are the city’s fringe-dwellers devising ways to beg, borrow or steal. Leading the derelicts, there’s Silsila (Kunal Khemu), named after the Yash Chopra movie which his dad liked…it’s another matter that dad must have been a minority of one at the time of its release. Sillysila organises traffic jams and stages faux accidents to pocket money from the Benzes and the Marutis.
And the weekly earnings are handed over to a Fagin-like don (Sudhir Mishra, please stick to direction) who keeps kissing his chillum, as if he wanted to parody Emraan Hashmi. Predictably, all the creepy crawlies are stereotyped. Indeed, every minister, high-ranking cop and real estate builder breathes carbon monoxide – and there are those heavy duty hints that Mr D controls them all like paploos on a string. No zing!
Redeemingly, the little people are utterly plausible. Especially the saucer-eyed kids, one orphaned by tsunami in the south and the other, hung up on fair and lovely creams. As for the two cell phone callers, on the prowl for new bank accounts, they’re screamingly funny. Ditto, the multiplex moviegoer who strips down to his underwear to cry and beg money for his popcorn fix.
Silsila’s romance with a Gujarat handloom vendor (Neetu Chandra)is engaging simply because it is not overplayed. Believe it or not, melodrama is quite conspicuous by its absence. At the same time, you do wish there was an infinitely more solid plot in the script co-scripted by Sachin Yardi. By the time you’ve met all the people, it’s time for them to vanish.Poof! Annoyingly, the relationship between the tender hearted streetwalker (Konkona Sen Sharma, infallibly excellent) and a suicidal druggie (Ranvir Shorey, astonishingly credible) turns out to be all smoke, no fire.
Predictably, too, Bhandarkar keeps carping about bisexuality, transvestites and pedophilia. Come on, Chandni Bar and Page 3 have gone yawn and yawn about alternate sexuality, haven’t they?
The ending, too, is majorly abrupt as if Bhandarkar bhai had run out of raw stock or the producer out of patience. By way of compensation there are such insightful scenes like a boy begging for his “dead father” who suddenly gets up to light a bidi, lecherous businessmen stroking flower sellers at traffic junctions and a pitiable old man baying at the clouds.
Nitin Desai’s set designs are amazingly natural (Fort meets Andheri flyover). The dialogue is crisp and colloquial and the editing is first-rate. Of the cast, Neetu Chandra is appealingly confident.Sandeep Kulkarni, as an idealistic social worker, is first-rate. And despite fluctuating boot-polish kind of make-up, Kunal Khemu is excellent, consistently nuanced and believable.
All its high and low points considered, for a reality check it’s surely worth stopping at this Traffic Signal.