Monday, February 12, 2007

Traffic Signal - 3.5 stars

I know, this film released 10 days ago but I want to write about it because I think it got more than one nasty review.

However, I think it is far better than a lot of trash churned out of Bollywood. Of course, it's not the kind of film you go to watch if you're in the mood for candyfloss. The Madhur Bhandarkar style of film-making is like the wada-pav on Mumbai's streets. It's gritty, it's real and can occassionally churn the stomach.

Admittedly, we're kind of used to his 'peep-into-my-world' formula. So the novelty angle has worn off. 'Chandni Bar' hit you straight in the gut. And 'Page 3' was a great follow up effort - at the opposite end of the social spectrum.

Corporate was a let down, to be honest. With Traffic Signal though, Madhur is back to what he does best. Weaving a tapestry of characters and situations from real life into an engaging feature-length film.

In a nutshell, this is the story of a motley bunch of people who make their living at your average Mumbai traffic signal. The beggars, hijras, gajra-sellers and the 'Midday le lo, Midday' urchins. Of course, it's all a 'business' at the end of the day. Every one doing dhandha at the signal pays hafta, which eventually reaches a 'bhai'.

Silsila (played by Kunal Khemu) is the cog in the wheel who collects the hafta from this particular signal. Yes, there isn't much of a 'story' except towards the end when there is a plot involving a flyover, builder-politician nexus and an engineer getting killed in the process.

But even as a collection of mini-vignettes the film retains your interest. There is little Chinnaswamy Vedgiri whose family has perished in the tsunami. He calls up the relief office week after week via STD to ask 'kuch pata chala kya?'. The answer is inevitably "no", but he just does not lose hope.

Another of the street kids invests his hard earned money in a fairness cream called 'Fair fast' which promised to make you 'gora' in 4 weeks. You know the disappointment in store and fully empathise when he hurls stones at a hoarding of the product towards the end of the film..

Then there's drug addict Dominic (Ranvir Shorey) who poses as a 'software engineer' who came to Bombay for a job but had his pocket picked. "This is very embarassing... but can you give me 50 rupees to go home?" he asks with such decency and genuineness that people can't help but falling for it.

Just like the little old lady in Colaba Causeway - a Parsi to boot - who begs in a similar fashion.

Kunal Khemu as 'Silsila' is outstanding. Neetu Chandra as his love interest is adequate. Sudhir Mishra (the director) is cast as a bhai and he certainly looks the part :) But everyone, from the paanwalla to the mausi with a minor part is excellent. The lack of star cast is wise, it would have completely ruined the film.

The ending is not a 'happy' one. But it's a little more hope-filled than some of his previous endings. And so is the overall tone of the film.

'Traffic Signal' basically brings out the idea that every human being is a thinking, feeling person. No matter how 'low' they may have fallen.

So Noorie (a prostitute played by Konkona Sen Sharma) may sell her body every night but having sex with a corpulent police inspector - on order, not out of choice - is an ordeal.

Dominic, the drug addict, has nothing to live for but he is secretly in love with Noorie. He may con people to support the habit but will insist on paying for the chai they share at the tea-stall.

And everyone, no matter how poor he may be today is dreaming of a bette future. So the guy who comes to marry Silsila's mooh-boli behen proudly declares,"Pehle mandir ke saamne sirf chappal dekhta tha. Ab bahut tarakki kar li hai... Haar-thaali bhi bechta hai".

As in all Madhur films, the little touches are the most memorable. Like the scene where a couple of politicians are haggling with an urchin over the price of the 'flags' commonly sold on Independence Day. A enunuch comes up and says, "Paise main deti hoon" and thrusts the flags into the netalog's hands.

It's quite powerful - the idea that the very people who pledge allegiance to the flag in the interest of 'desh seva' actually respect it the least.

Essentially, Madhur is a keen observer of human nature and human beings. And he must have a very able script and dialogue writer :) The film captures the many nuances of life on the street. Yes, it occassionally goes a bit overboard.

The bit about home loan agents from 'ICBI' bank harassing the bhai on his mobile phone is funny. As bhai remarks,"Police ke paas mera number nahin hai... in log ko kahan se mila?" But actually showing the guys being stripped and beaten up... did not work. It looked more like a personal agenda which Madhurji worked into the film.

Overall, I would recommend you see 'Traffic Signal'. And I for one am looking forward to Madhur's next film.

But first, I must make time for 'Black Friday'...


  1. Rashmi,
    Nidhi Taparia here. Am working on an article on blogging for elle magazine. wanted to speak with you. When would be a good time. As all writers, running against a deadline. email me at or call me if u can on 9821183144

  2. Hey finally a get to read a GOOD review of Traffic Signal..I saw the movie on the 1st day of its release & absolutely loved it.....the characters have been very well worked on...& it shows that Madhur has done alot of research before filming the movie......Movies like this one are not supposed to be missed..a Must Watch Sign from my side too.

  3. "Traffic signal" was blasted everywhere!!!All the self proclaimed "guru's" gave it a bad rating. For me this movie is a postcard!! Click a photo in one of the busy Mumbai Traffic Signal..and this is what you see!!!!I found it real...and raw!!! and i did enjoy watching the movie...

  4. I have not yet seen the movie but I guess I will definitely take some time off my busy schedule here in IFT Delhi and watch the same. Yes! Madhur Bhandarkar's movies are a different lot which usually do not show the typical happy ending we are so much used to in the Bollywood movies.

    But I do not think "Corporate" was a let down. Yes maybe the acting or the way it was put was not very good but the message that it tried to put forward was nicely done.

  5. Sorry! That was IIFT Delhi!

  6. Hi Rashmi,

    This might be off the topic but I was wondering if you could comment if this link is BS or it is true? If it is true it was in a really bad taste

  7. Nice review: shall check out the movie.

  8. hi,
    Thank u for the review.. i read ur blogs cos i feel it brings me closer to india..Once again thanks a lot..


  9. this movie sounds so interesting...showing that every human, no matter how low he/she's fallen, is still a living, thinking being...with his/her own ethical code of life...not an original concept, but its still cool...i hope it wud be available in Pakistan sometime.

  10. hello ma'am

    i am one of the lucky ones to have heard u giving a talk and met u in person. it is always a treat to read ur blog.

    i 2 read de rediff review of Traffic Signal. i usually read the rediff review of movies befor deciding to watch the movie. now i really wonder if i should be doing that!!

    but yeah, most of us MBA students here liked corporate. wasnt it a true account of the corporate world then?


  11. The Blog was very informative

  12. Rashmi

    WE have a film which will be ready for relase by next week. We are running a contest for Poster design on our blog. I would like to share it with your readers so that they too get an opportunity to vote.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. hi continue:-As a rule, group efforts are something that come before a solo career--not after a solo career is in full swing. First, the artist makes a name for himself/herself as part of a group, then the artist leaves the group to become a full-time solo artist. That's usually how it works, but with Imogen Heap, it was the other way around; the British singer/songwriter (who is also a classically trained pianist) had been an established solo artist for a few years when she became half of the London-based duo Frou Frou. Although Heap now lives in London, she isn't a native of England's largest city. Born in the late ?70s, Heap lived in Essex, England as a pre-teen--and it was in Essex that she first studied European classical piano. Heap didn't really get into rock until she went off to boarding school as a teenager; eventually, she decided against being a full-time classical instrumentalist and realized that alternative pop-rock, Euro-pop and electronica would her main focus. In 1997--when Heap was in her late teens--she signed with Almo Sounds as a solo artist. I Megaphone, Heap's debut album, was released by Almo in 1998; the album's influences ranged from Kate Bush (a frequent comparison) to Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics to former Sugarcubes vocalist Bj�rk. Some reviewers have compared Heap to PJ Harvey, although Heap has denied that Harvey is an influence. I Megaphone found Heap working with three different producers: David Kahne, Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame) and Guy Sigsworth (who has worked with major artists like Madonna, Bj�rk and Seal). After I Megaphone, Heap and Sigsworth kept in touch--and in the early 2000s, they were reunited as the duo Frou Frou. Hearing the name Frou Frou, one might expect something bubble gum; one might expect some fun, frivolous Euro-pop along the lines of ABBA, Bananarama Fun Fun, Jemma & Elise or Aqua. But there is nothing bubble gum about Frou Frou, whose alternative pop-rock tends to be atmospheric, dreamy and ethereal. Frou Frou's work is very European-sounding, although not in a cutesy, bubble gum way. As Frou Frou, Heap and Sigsworth signed with MCA/Universal in 2001, which didn't mean that Heap was giving up her solo career -- Frou Frou was meant to be a part-time project. Details, the British duo's first album, was released in England and the United States in 2002. "Breath In" was released as the album's first single. In 2005, Heap resumed her solo career with the release of Speak for Yourself. ~ Alex Henderson, All Music Guide

  15. Hi Rashmi,

    The one thing i like to bring to notice to all my indians that what ever movies is prepared and people used to c it as an entertainment but we must c from the view point education that each and every movie speaks about something of our day to day life which we come accross and we should fight against such unfourtunate trouble. It is not a traffic signal but a mind signal. we must learn about it and be educated about the life to live .

  16. I saw the movie last night and liked it. It was very well-written and what I really love about MB's movies is that he does not overdo realism.

    Your writing is very very good.

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