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Friday, February 9, 2007


Traffic Signal (drama)
Cast: Kunal Khemu, Neetu Chandra, Sudhir Mishra
Direction: Madhur Bhandarkar

Chotu sells paper flags at your raaste ka redlight. Chutki sells mogra gajras. Chatpati sells her gaudy assets. Chatpata declares the market's experimenting.

And Chalta Purza is simply begging...It's a familiar terrain that greets you in what is being heralded as the third film in Madhur Bhandarkar's trilogy of cinema verite.

If Page 3 flipped the covers off the glitterati and Corporate sneaked into boardroom slugfests, then Traffic Signal supposedly turns the lights on gutter-street survival, an intrinsic part of maximum city melodrama.

The fact that there's an entire bustee sprawling around a busy lal batti is visible in any overcrowded metropolis, be it Mumbai, Dilli, Chennai, Kolkata and now Bengaluru and Hyderabad too.

But the question is whether you, in your stretch limo, would actually want to know what lies behind the crazy beggar's lament, the smack addicts passion or the runaway kids ram kahani (life story). And if you really want to know, then maybe Salaam Bombay would be the perfect running-nose roadside drama to give you a heart-rending dekko on the grime that lies behind the glitzy Mumbai streets. Traffic Signal?

It trips before you can actually connect with the muggy faces that fly past your tinted windows. The problem with Traffic Signal lies in its overriding disconnect with viewer sentiment. The first half of the film simply flashes through with no story at all. It is a relentless introduction of stock characters who seem to have no flesh and form.

All that the filmmaker manages to establish is the fact that there is an underworld that operates at the traffic signals too and unleashes its stranglehold on all the oddballs who run regular dhandas here.

And like all subterranean enterprises, this industry too runs on clout, petty crime and the perpetual threat of annihilation by the powerful police, politician, bhai nexus.

So you have a roll call of the different players in the red light hierarchy which extends through the entire first half of the film: the bhai (Sudhir Mishra), the neta, the bhai's henchmen, the local goonda (Kunal Khemu), his ragtag army, his eye candy (Neetu Chandra), the hooker (Konkona Sen Sharma), her hooked-on (Ranvir Shorey) and a load of other altu-faltu types. Like, the carwallah who can't satisfy his young wife, the middle-aged pervert who feels-up the chokris, each time his car stops at the red light, the baldy who insists on bribing the gods by shelling out his dope to a single beggar...

in short, the rich and rubbishy types. Neither is the pain of the pathwallahs established nor is their passion allowed to lend drama. Even the Kunal-Neetu romance is patchy and poker-faced. As are Konkona's nakhras with drifter Ranvir.

The second half sees a semblance of a conflict when the signal city is threatened with eviction due to a city-builder's greed. Time for the street army to rise in rebellion, led by the long-haired Silsila (Kunal). But by then, you already know he's got a raw deal. Our Kalyug hunk has little to do and the docu-feature format of the film robs it of the requisite drama. The director simply scores in creating stirring vignettes of Mumbai's street life. But these aren't enough to hold the film together.

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