Optimism in Trapped: An Examination of Isolation, Film Companion

Vikramaditya Motwane’s terrific survival drama Trapped (2016) is an essential, uncompromising watch in times of lockdown. It is one of those rare films that works literally and metaphorically with equal command. Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao) is a regular office-going young man who is shown as a simple, admirable individual. Rao, in what is one of his most accomplished performances yet, brings a simplistic innocence to Shaurya, which makes the eventual turn of events even more heartbreaking.

In Noorie (Geetanjali Thappa), Shaurya finds that one relationship for which he is ready to take unhinged personal and financial leaps. He wants what most Hindi film heroes want – a life with the girl he has fallen in love with. Motwane mounts the first few minutes of the film with the fluff and calm of a regular romantic film. We are aware that things will turn bad for her but we enjoy the little time we get with these two characters before tragedy strikes.

It is important in a film like this that the core of the primary relationship is strong enough to remain relevant when the tide turns. For Shaurya, the accident (if it all it was one) is a small one. He is stuck in one of the many skyscrapers of Mumbai. A building that is largely empty due to some legal issues. The apartment he finds for himself and Noorie (who he convinces for marriage days before her engagement in a terrific nod to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge) is on the thirty-fifth floor, high enough to give them a panoramic view of the city. Also, high enough to become Shaurya’s very own hell.

But much before Shaurya finds himself alone, locked from outside, the film establishes an important aspect of Shaurya’s character that furthers into the narrative as his condition goes from bad to worse. Shaurya brings Noorie to the apartment he shares with three nameless boys and takes her to the bedroom. The room is lit with a red light, reminiscent of the interrogation scenes in Anurag Kashyap’s directorial Black Friday. After all, there is no better confrontation with reality than the act of making love. Shaurya, in the middle of making out with Noorie, talks about them getting married. What they share till now is nothing more than a timely fling. In that moment of silence, though, we see a seriousness carpeting over their understanding of each other. Like a hopeless romantic, Shaurya is convinced that he can sort his life in two days and be ready, socially and economically, to marry the girl he is in love with.

This scene is important in the film because it is here that we meet the endearing optimism that defines Shaurya. He is the kind of person who likes to believe he can turn the table in his favor even when everything is going against him. This accentuates the trauma of seeing him do everything he can to survive his closed-door trauma. He does not give up easily, and Motwane builds his struggles as an ongoing, unending failure of every idea he comes up with. He does not make Trapped merely about the claustrophobia of being indoors. He makes it about hope being a constant companion for Shaurya, way more than Noorie or for that matter any human can be.

In a scene, much later in the film, Shaurya imagines the host of a Man Vs Wild-esque show in the house, telling him about the nutritional power of a cockroach. This is again an important moment in the film. It talks about our ability to go back to our mind palace and find things that help us survive the worst of times. Our survival instincts take control of us and we grow into realizing that food (any kind of food) and water are the only essentials that matter. This is especially visible when Shaurya collects rainwater with a broad smile on his face, storing and drinking that water even when it becomes a breeding space for mosquitoes. Hygiene, morals and taste buds start taking a backseat. Survival is all that matters. Survival that would lead him to the hope of a better tomorrow.

There is a fantastic sequence in Trapped where Shaurya talks about the things he is missing about the world outside. He starts missing the simplest of things, even the things that he would otherwise frown upon. A bus ride that is cramped with people and filled with the smell of everyone’s sweat. In a beautiful sequence, we see Shaurya dancing with a thankful smile in a BEST bus, reminiscing things that otherwise form the worst parts of one’s days. Even then, Shaurya is filled with hope. Maybe that is just who he is – an optimist. Or maybe when you are cornered in a place of disadvantage, there is no other way out. Optimism becomes a necessary, undeterred presence.

There can be a case made on why Trapped might be a disastrous choice in times like these. But I feel that the movie is a beautiful reminder of the privileges we continue to have in lockdown. It is a gentle nod to the need for optimism when things start to look bleak and remember that at the end of the day what matters is that you are alive. It is easy to convince ourselves right now that we are at the worst possible situation. Then, it is important to watch a film like Trapped and realize that we are far from the worst right now. I am able to write this, you are able to read it, and that is a privilege few are exposed to. Trapped reminds us that the power of optimism is massive, and sometimes it is important to see a story steeped in a dark, depressing world to find our own optimism and accept our lives with a humble nod to the privileges we are still enjoying right now.

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

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