Traffic Signal is the director's own, romanticized, glowing view of the poor. It is compassionate as well as entertaining.
By: Deepa Gahlot
Critic's Rating: 17/5
Friday 2 February 2007
Neetu Chandra, Kunal Khemu, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ranvir Shorey, Sudhir Mishra
His latest, Traffic Signal is a particularly brave attempt?a film on the street people of Mumbai, the class filmmakers don?t even want to acknowledge in real life, leave aside in films.
It is his own, romanticized, glowing view of the poor, but it is compassionate as well as entertaining?the bleakness and squalor hidden under the relentless good cheer and feeling of brotherhood.
It would be astonishing to those outside of Mumbai (and to some in the city too), that a small world exists around traffic signals, with a hierarchy of it own? the beggars, hawkers, whores, petty thieves, all report to a manager, who is under an area chief, and the chain goes all the way up to politicians and mafia dons. A bit of it may be exaggerated, but Bhandarkar makes it look believable. Nothing escapes his eye ? all the traffic signal stories are followed up with a documentary veracity minus the dullness.
Since he stands on the side of the poor, Bhandarkar portrays the rich and powerful as debauched villains?which is as one-sided as showing all the poor and kind and generous.
The manager of the Kelkar Marg signal is Silsila (Kunal Khemu) who was raised on the streets and named after the Yash Chopra film. He looks after his brood like a benevolent big brother and all of them look up to him. Bhandarkar keeps out the ugliness of poverty?nobody goes hungry and there is just a little hint of violence when rival thugs steal a little boy?s money. All the film clich?s of poverty are kept away, but unfortunately not the clich?s about the rich ? the people passing by in cars are squabbling couples or perverts. The only sad story is that of a junkie (Ranvir Shorey) who dies on the street; everybody else has resigned to their fate?like the hooker (Konkona Sensharma) sold in the city by her husband. A jobless man finds it easier to get alms than a job, and turns beggar, and it is funny when he runs into a ?client? at a multiplex. The alms-giver is understandably outraged that the poor, dirty man he gives money too is blowing it up at a pricey movie and popcorn.
The urchins have stories of their own, one little boy has lost his family in the tsunami but still keeps spending his hard-earned change to make calls to Chennai to trace them. Another boy called Dambar (Tar) because of his dark skin, invests his money in a fairness cream which doesn?t work!
Bhandarkar keeps the film moving at a dizzy pace and yet creates characters who stay in the mind long after the film is over. Perhaps because he was accused of being too gloomy in Chandni Bar and Page 3, he keeps Traffic Signal light?too light perhaps, except towards the end. Even the gangster (Sudhir Mishra) is kind of jokey figure, doped out on opium.
Whatever the box-office fate of the film, at least people will look upon the faces at the traffic signal in a fresh light.