Trapped begins with a love story. We see Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao), after a few hesitant phone conversations, gather up the courage to ask his office colleague Noorie (Geetanjali Thapa) to dinner. She tells him she’s to be married soon, but they keep meeting anyway, grow closer, fall in love. Soon, he’s looking for an affordable apartment for them to live in. All this could be its own separate film; instead, it takes up about 10 minutes of screentime.
Why does the director, Vikramaditya Motwane, show their romance play out in its entirety instead of dropping us in at the end? I suspect it’s to give the viewer the sensation of time condensed. The rest of the film is concerned with time expanded, magnified. It’s an irony built into the film’s structure: the moments Shaurya would want to savour are collapsed into a neat highlights package, while the ones he’d like to forget seem to stretch until the passage of time is rendered almost meaningless.
The bridge between these two extremes is the scene where Shaurya first sees the apartment he’ll later find himself locked in. As he wanders through the rooms, the camera follows him in a long unbroken shot. This “real-time” nature of the scene is crucial: it serves as a subliminal warning to the viewer that the film’s attitude towards time and its importance is about to change.
Next morning, Shaurya, attempting to leave in a hurry, manages to lock himself in the flat with the key in the door on the outside. Almost immediately, things start to go wrong. The electricity supply fails, his phone runs out of battery. Soon, he runs out of food and water. The flat is in an unpopulated building, so there’s no one to hear his increasingly desperate cries for help.
There’s a metaphor here, ripe for the picking – that people in Mumbai are islands unto themselves. I prefer this one instead: Shaurya represents the resourcefulness of Mumbai. Once he realises the predicament he’s in, Shaurya sets about making the best use of everything he can find in the apartment, be it cardboard, toothpaste or pigeon. We know very little about Shaurya when the film begins, not even whether he’s been living in the city for long. It doesn’t matter – even if he isn’t from the city, there’s an adaptiveness to him that’s pure Mumbai. When I first saw the film I thought it was a fitting Mumbai story because of Shaurya’s isolation in an urban jungle; on a second viewing, though, I realized that it was his response to a hopeless situation that was typical of the city.
Survival thrillers don’t often take place indoors; confined spaces are usually the setting for horror films or psychological thrillers (like the 2016 Radhika Apte-starrer Phobia). Yet, Trapped is written (by Amit Joshi and Hardik Mehta) in such a way that the essential elements remain the same. Shaurya is starving, parched, cut off from humanity. He may as well be in the wild. Indeed, as the film progresses, his surroundings start to take on aspects of the outdoors: fire and water make dramatic appearances, and he begins to wear a headband and use a slingshot like some sort of emaciated Rambo.
Trapped is a 180-degree turn from the fevered romanticism of Lootera, but Motwane’s control over narrative doesn’t seem at all affected by the change of genre. In Rao, he has exactly the right actor for this kind of film: relatable enough to pass for an urban everyman, and talented enough to keep one’s attention for 105 minutes. Siddharth Diwan’s cinematography and Nitin Baid’s editing are precise and unshowy; far more prominent is the superb aural mix, with Anish John’s sound design blending into Alokananda Dasgupta’s score. Time and again, sound becomes soundtrack: the groan of an elevator turned into foreboding notes, the clank of a metal pan into nightmarish percussion.
None of this would matter if Shaurya’s struggle wasn’t moving – if we didn’t see some of ourselves in his determination in the face of insurmountable odds. “From ourselves comes only that which we drag forth from the obscurity which lies within us, that which to others is unknown,” wrote Marcel Proust. The book, fittingly, was Time Regained.