Sunday, January 11, 2009

Traffic Signal, or, No Turn on Red


From the moment a little message to the viewer appeared at the beginning, stating, "We believe movies should be viewed as they are; therefore you will not see any watermarks on your screen during this film," I had a feeling I would enjoy the movie to follow. And I was right! Ah, Traffic Signal. How do I love thee?

Perhaps I should start instead with, "Ah, Kunal Khemu." Not that I was drooling over him the whole time (I'm not that much of a cougar, even though! that smile!), but he really made this movie for me. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Traffic Signal is a 2007 movie starring Kunal, Konkona Sen Sharma, Neetu Chandra, and Ranvir Shorey. It was directed by Madhur Bhandarkar and is the third in his series on corruption in Indian life, following Page 3 and Corporate.

Silsila (Kunal, or That Kid from Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke) is a Signal Manager. At the street light near where he lives in Mumbai, he basically oversees the many daytime small businesses and entreprenurial efforts that have sprung up around the signal: beggars, kids selling garlands and newspapers, eunuchs trading money for blessings, ethnic clothing sellers, and others. He makes sure everything runs smoothly, that the light doesn't change too quickly from red to green, that the road stays torn up to block traffic, and that the lower-level mafia boss he reports to gets his cut. In return, they give Silsila their loyalty and protection money. Silsila is an ideal manager--caring, compassionate, business-oriented, and easily negotiating the various conflicts that arise between the people under his watch. When Rani (Neetu Chandra) moves to his area from Gujurat, a budding romance starts to make his life complete. However, Silsila is caught in a web of business and mafia connections extending far hire than his little corner, and the threads are about to criss-cross in a way that will have a devastating impact on his business and his world.

At night, Noorie (Konkona, who played the main character in Page 3) comes out to ply her trade as a hooker at the signal. She's made friends with a local heroin addict, Dominic (Ranvir, utterly heartbreaking) who uses his educated manners to bilk the unsuspecting out of cash during the day and buys drugs at night. Noorie's friendly with the other female prostitutes but resents the newest kid on the block, a guy, just a little bit for adding new competition. Eventually, though, fellow feeling leads to a more positive relationship.

The first twenty minutes or so of the movie is taken up establishing the setting, then most of the rest of it consists of character sketches. There's the storyline of the little boy whose parents were washed away in the tsunami but calls every week to see if they've been found, the little boy who longs for the success and love the adverts for skin lightener promise, the beggar who buses in from a middle-class neighborhood every morning to work at the signal, the disabled guy, Silsila's best friend, who carefully chooses which religious figures to depict so as to offend neither Muslims nor Hindus, the corrupt but friendly cop, the drug-addled but still vicious mobster two rungs above Silsila on the ladder, and the girl who married above her but finds herself regretting the bargain with her impotent, philandering husband (That Guy Who Hosted That TV Show in Main Hoon Na) , along with a few others. There's only a little over half an hour's worth of plot execution, spread out in bits and pieces through the length of the film, with an intense final fifteen or twenty minutes.

From that synopsis, it sounds as if the film must be either confusing or boring or both, but I assure you it's neither. Madhur Bhandakar is a masterful storyteller, and infuses each scene with a combination of pathos and gritty humor. For me, the movie walked the delicate line between showing the realities in which the characters live and allowing me to still consider the film entertainment. When things onscreen get too grim, I get sad and more often than not end up running away, but that didn't happen with Traffic Signal. It was more The Constant Gardener than Stop Loss, if that makes the distinction any more clear.

Almost every single actor in the film delivers an awesome, real performance (the few off-key notes are few and far between enough to stop me from rolling my eyes). I particularly liked the special appearance performance of Engineer Jha (That Guy Who Played Pooja's Dad in Chup Chup Ke). However, each character arc alternately broke my heart and made me laugh out loud. Kunal especially lights up the screen, but this is a true ensemble effort. I'm trying to remember any Superfantastic Bollywood Moments, and I'm not coming up with any, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. There is an item number, though!

I can't remember the names of any of the songs, and the wiki entry on the film isn't helping me out, but they were really great and had lovely lyrics as well. Most of them overlay the action instead of actors lip-syncing, with the exception of the item number which featured a girl I didn't recognize. Here's what YouTube informs me is called "Yehi Zindagi:"

In short, Traffic Signal is worth every penny and then some. I'm looking forward to watching Page 3 and Corporate now.

16 comments:

  1. I've somehow managed to not see this yet. Really liked Page 3 (excellent cast and music) and, to a lesser extent, Corporate. Waiting for Fashion to release on DVD. Wow, it's that kid from Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke! I think he was in Raja Hindustani too. LOL...how time flies.

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  2. I have always liked Kunal Khemu. He is just too good in whatever he plays. Boy next door. Have you checked out his first flick - Kalyug [2005]or recent one, Superstar [2008]?? I loved his act in those both. And both of these has got fabulous music.
    Neetu chandra, was revalation in this one after making debut in Garam Masala. Later she again surprised in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye . She Looked great, without makeup !!
    Koko & Ranbir were as usual, Fabulous. They really make a good pairing. Their [so called] off screen chemistry helps to make it alive on screen as well :-)

    Traffic Signal has a good soundtrack too. It is compilation of New songs as well as various tracks of non-film albums. Here is track list for you -

    Five Original tracks by Musician Shamir Tondon
    1.Yeh Zindagi Hai To Kya Zindagi Hai - Hariharan [singer]
    2.Na Jis Din Teri Meri Baat Hoti Hai - Bhupinder Singh & Kunal Ganjawala
    3.Aai Ga - Vaishali Samant
    4.The Spirit of Signal
    5.Signal Pe-Vinod Rathod, Baba Sehgal, Neerja Pandit. Raj Pandit

    Six tracks from non film albums
    1.Dilruba - Kailash Kher [album Teri Deewani]
    2.Haath Chute Bhi To Rishtey - Jagjit Singh [Marasim]
    3.DIn Kuch Aise Guzarta Hai - Jagjit Singh [Marasim]
    4.Albela Sajan- Kailash Kher [album Teri Deewani]
    5.Tere Bin Nahi Lagda - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
    6.Piya Basanti - Ustad Sultan Khan, Chithra [Piya Basanti]

    Also check out movie soundtrack of 'Superstar' - by Shamir Tondon, its worth.

    and hey, tBF - you din't know this was kid from Hum hai rahi...?

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  3. I liked Corporate and Fashion very much. Madhur Bhandarkar is indeed a good story teller - keeps you interested in watching the movie. Bipasha Basu has done very well in Corporate - it is the only movie of Bipasha i have seen and liked her in it.

    I haven't seen traffic signal or page 3.

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  4. I love Madhur Bhandarkar's movies. Page 3, Corporate and Chandni Bar were all so good and like theBollywoodFan I cant wait for Fashion to come on DVD. This one I hadnt heard of, but it sounds good in a heart-breaking and thought-provoking way. And from Darshit's list, looks like the soundtrack is superwow, too.

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  5. I loved Traffic Signal too. Though it can hardly be called a movie and plot is water thin. What movie delivers is opens our eyes to hidden world of workers at traffic signals and movie just passes from character to character. While Bhandarkar said that he wanted to highlight the plight of traffic workers, only lessons I could draw from this movie was that don't trust anybody. There are more people to deceive and loot me at traffic signal than I had earlier known. Specially the plan involving drivers of rich people, plan where child is fed less to look famished, alive dead man, and english speaking software engineer duping public. It was gripping and entertaining none the less. Page 3 was good too. Corporate and Fashion are mere okay.

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  6. Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire? It was made by two Brits, but filmed in Mumbai with an all Indian cast. It was all the buzz at the Golden Globes...just wondering.

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  7. Traffic Signal was pretty good but I feel Slumdog Millionaire covered the subject way better and with some style! Do take a look at my blog too. It's at www.bhargavsaikia.com

    Thanks,
    Bhargav.

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  8. Need to see this, it's in my pile :)

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  9. I heart Kunal Khemu & he was great in Traffic Signal. I've loved him in every movie I've seen him in. He was great even way back as a child actor, Master Kunal, in Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke. I especially loved him in Raja Hindustani, where he really took charge!

    All the best!
    Sita-ji

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  10. Bollywood Fan: If you get a chance, do check it out. I thought it well worth it! I couldn't believe it was Sunni from HHRPK either... He certainly grew up well!

    Darshit, thanks so much for taking the time to type that list up for me! I think Nicki's reviewed Superstar, which would explain why it's in my Netflix queue. Hmm. Hariharan... I think that's the name of the singer who sang "Khali Hai Tere Bina..." in Paheli. It's one of my favorites.

    Anonymous: I'm looking forward to watching both Page 3 and Corporate, the latter not least for seeing Bipasha's best-reviewed role.

    Bollyviewer: "thought-provoking" and "heartbreaking" are definitely the best two terms to apply to Traffic Signal. I thought it was one of the best-done Bollywood films I've seen in a long time. I hope you post about it if you decide to watch it.

    M'Ellen! No, I haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire yet, although there was much rejoicing in the Bollyblogland when it won its Golden Globes. I haven't seen a movie in theaters since we went to see Bourne Supremacy! LOL

    Hi Bhargav! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It's interesting to read you think Slumdog Millionaire did a better job since there's a slightly heated debate at BollyWHAT about whether or not desi people are insulted by a gora guy coming and directing a movie about Mumbai poverty. I'll have to check out your blog.

    Memsaab: It hasn't been blogged about much, so I hope you'll post about it when you do see it!

    Adaab, Sita-ji! Glad to see you're back! I need to re-watch RH just for Kunal. LOL Not that it isn't worth a re-watch anyway.

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  11. Debates about Slumdog Millionaire which you have mentioned above seem to be really petty and rubbish (if i may use a strong word)

    It is a very good movie and deserves all the awards it is getting. I hope you are able to see it soon.

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  12. I didn't even realize you saw this movie! Guess that's what I get for not logging in Blogger much last week. Glad you saw it and liked. I really liked Traffic Signal too but that's cause I've enjoyed all of Mandhur's films. I have Fashion at home now but haven't watched it.

    Isn't Kunal a cutie-pie?? Love him!

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  13. Anonymous: Thanks for chiming in about the Slumdog Millionaire issue; my first feeling was along with yours (rubbish, that is) but I didn't want to assume since I'm not desi. I hope I get to see it soon too!

    Nicki: See, I thought I remembered you reviewing it but I couldn't find your post when I searched your blog! Did it get deleted? And, heck yeah Kunal's cute! Can't wait to hear what you think of Fashion.

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  14. I've only reviewed Super Star. I do plan to re-watch all of Madhur's films again after watching Fashion. I have too many movies to watch, hehehe.

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  15. I've never heard of this but it sounds soo good!Thanks for the post, Ajnabi!

    And not only is he cute, but his name is Silsila? Sign me up!

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  16. Hey, Ashish! I just realized I neglected to reply to your comment--sorry! Anyway, I agree that the plot is very thin, but I found the characters intriguing enough to enjoy watching anyway. Maybe if it'd been more familiar I wouldn't have been so interested (Vivah, anyone?)

    Nicki: Okay, *someone* reviewed Traffic Signal because I wouldn't have put it in my queue otherwise. Hmmmm. Who could it have been?

    Nida: My pleasure! And, who else is named Silsila? I'll have to go search your blog.

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