Traffic, a thriller directed by Rajesh Pillai who passed away in February this year at the age of 41, is a remake of his 2011 Malayalam film of the same name.
The film, based on a real-life incident in Chennai in 2008, owes its plot to teenager Hithendran, his doctor parents who decided to donate his organs after a road accident, and head traffic constable B. Mohan who drove at 120 kmph to get his heart to nine-year-old Shanthi. It was an 11-minute drive, within Chennai.
Writters Bobby and Sanjay have lengthened and dramatised that story by adding many
dramatis personae and their personal stories.
One by one we are introduced to all these characters in a stilted way: Meet Rehan. He is a journalist and off to the airport for his first interview, with Dev Kapoor, who is on his way to Pune, to be with his daughter and wife.
Also meet Rehan’s conventional, strict father, his adoring mother and his secret, live-in girlfriend.
Meet Godbole (Manoj Bajpayee), a Mumbai traffic constable on suspension for taking bribe. He’s reinstated through some push and pull.
Gurbir Singh (Jimmy Shergill) is the joint commissioner traffic, Mumbai.
Dr Abel Fernandes (Parambrata Chatterjee) works in a hospital in Mumbai, and is planning to celebrate his wedding anniversary.
Dev Kapoor (Prosenjit Chatterjee) is a very busy superstar. His daughter Ria has a heart condition, is critical and in need of a transplant. He is trying to get to Pune, to his worried wife (Divya Dutta) and ailing daughter.
It’s June 25, 2008. A bike accident takes place in Mumbai and that’s when the film really takes off.
The young victim is shifted to the ICU of a hospital and his parents are informed that he won’t survive.
Ria is in a hospital in Pune. She urgently needs a heart as she has only a few hours left.
Rehan is on life support and will not survive.
Grave-faced doctors and time ticking at the bottom of the screen establish and maintain the urgency.
Will Rehan’s parents keep him on life support, or will they take the most difficult decision of their lives and let him go, to let his heart be transplanted into another?
Finally, when the parents agree and the doctors are ready to send off the heart to Pune, it’s another race against time.
To complete the 160 km journey from Mumbai to Pune in time, Godbole has to drive at 120 km per hour — through the very crowded and chaotic weekday traffic of Mumbai to first get to the highway and then off to Pune.
What follows is thrilling ride which has, in the control room, Gurbir Singh shouting orders into his walkie-talkie and clearing the route, and Godbole at the steering wheel driving desperately to redeem himself.
The screen splits often to draw us into the tension all around — Ria’s worsening condition, a blocked road, a tense Gurbir Singh, the heart sitting in an ice-box in the SUV with Godbole and his two companions — and recruits us as cheerleaders.
We are invested in the success of this journey and our mind is on the ice-box.
The film is most powerful and compelling when it’s on the road. The speeding car on road follows the classic thriller zig-zag narrative, stalling every once in a while to increase our heart rate.
But the film also keeps flitting to stories of the people involved, and that’s when it’s boring and a drag. From rising tension, it skips to sentimental tracks, contrived family drama, and keep going back and forth, back and forth…
Traffic has great actors, none of whom give great performances. Only Jimmy Shergill and Manoj Bajpayee deliver the goods, somewhat.
My biggest disappointment was Prosenjit Chatterjee. He is almost always very good. But here he seemed lost in his “star look” — thick hair dyed so black and a gora-chitta face.
There wasn’t much written for him, but whatever little there was, he did nothing.
What’s interesting about Traffic is that the film’s plot has various layers of meaning and it often makes us think even as the SUV is zooming on bad road.
The story is not just about one man redeeming himself, especially for his daughter’s sake, but also about second chances.
It’s not just about our ultimate road nightmare — being stuck in traffic with someone critical — but also about the dangers of religious processions.
And, that not all wrong turns are always wrong.