What do you when you live in a bustling metropolis like Mumbai, but you get shut in an apartment for days without water, food and electricity?
It sounds like an implausible scenario, but actor Rajkumar Rao’s latest Hindi survival thriller Trapped, out in UAE cinemas on March 16, delves into the world of utter isolation, wretchedness and abandonment.
“As an actor, it was a role that pushed me to my limits. It’s one of those films where you are not eating for 16 days and giving your own blood for some of the scenes. You have to show that frustration, the anger and the helplessness,” said Rao in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!.
Rao, the Indian National Award-winning actor who is open to potent experimental films, lived the desolate life of Shaurya to get into the headspace of a person who’s going through the most harrowing ordeal of his life.
But unlike Hollywood blockbuster Cast Away, the tale of an executive who survives a plane crash and ends up in an island, Trapped highlights the irony of a man who’s a part of civilisation but with no help in sight. The scenes in which Shaurya screams for help from his balcony, clutching onto the railings like a wounded animal brings out the worst fears in humans. Rao is stuck in a situation that could happen to any of us and it’s scary.
“Imagine a man stuck in an urban place without food or water. He’s not in some jungle or a faraway land, but it all happens inside a house in a city like Bombay. As far as ideas go, it was a phenomenal one,” said Vikramaditya Motwane, its director.
Rao and Motwane poured in all their efforts to make the survival drama gripping and realistic.
In the beginning of the film, Shaurya is an unassuming white-collar worker who’s busy with his job and with wooing his colleague (Geetanjali Thapa) to give their budding romance a chance. But getting trapped in an apartment brutally reminds him of the frailties of human existence and how frustrating it can all get.
“Trapped is his journey. We want all those who watch it to live Shaurya’s journey. We want them to root for him and that’s the experience I want the people to have. They should realise the importance of life and how thing can changes in moments… and to value life in itself,” said Rao.
The taut thriller, co-produced by the likes of Anurag Kashyap and Vikas Bahl, is designed to draw a visceral reaction from the viewers. Rao doesn’t shirk from committing himself fully to the role or to show how warped his existence becomes. For the role, Rao was on a diet of coffee and carrots and even went without substantial food for more than 16 days to show the physical and emotional decline of a healthy man.
“At the end of the day, we are all trying to survive. It’s rare for somebody to say that my journey has always been smooth. We all have our battles to fight and our own demons to deal with and survive. Trapped is about that too,” said Rao, adding that it has humour and optimism too.
Helping him realise his potential was his director. Majority of the film focuses on Rao’s hostile predicament and his savage battle to survive. The scenes in which Rao screams out for help and writes the word ‘help’ in his own blood is a brutal man-against-nature scenario.
“The credit has to go to the director for creating an environment that enabled me to pull that off. Also, when you get into that physical state where you don’t eat for 16 days, your body automatically starts to change and it reflects on my emotional and mental state,” said Rao, adding that the director gave him immense freedom to get into the role of Shaurya.
Motwane, who was hailed for his poignant father-son relationship drama Udaan, claims Rao was always his first choice for his new thriller.
“I always felt that I needed an actor who did two things: I wanted an actor whom you can watch for the entire length of a film and I always wanted to cast some actor who will throw up doubts on a viewers’ mind if he will succeed to escape or not… If you cast a bankable star, you may fall into this trap where you know that he will ultimately save the day,” said Motwane. His discovery for the lead had the right amount of vulnerability in him, believes the director.
The gamble seemed to have paid off. At the screening to a select local press last week, gasps could be heard from the audience.
The succinct thriller (115 minutes) doesn’t waste time on glossing over current realities too.
“This film is a comment on our life and the time we are living in. Nowadays, everybody is so busy with their own lives and technology… busy with their phones and iPads. We have stopped actually looking into each other’s lives. We are missing out on emotions,” said Rao. The survivor drama also touches upon bystander apathy — a situation where people around you aren’t inclined to help even those crying out for it. A de-sensitised urbane living, if you will.
And the biggest challenge that Motwane faced was to find the right rhythm and the pace of playing out the drama.
“How do we not let the film lag and how do you keep up with a pace that makes the viewers emotional and the film thrilling was my biggest worry.”
He needn’t have fretted. Trapped is gloriously frustrating and a visceral experience for a viewer to watch a man fight against all odds to survive a dreadfully bleak scenario.
“Enjoy the ride, I say. Even after Shaurya gets stuck in that apartment, there’s still humour in all that human suffering. You enjoy watch him go through all that for survival. Come enjoy the ride. Laugh, scream or cry, but make sure you enjoy it,” said Motwane.
While it sounds like a promising proposition for a film buff, the director was also pleasantly surprised that his film would make it to the UAE cinemas.
“I was surprised when Reliance [distributors] told me that it was releasing in the UAE. Trapped is at no point trying to be an arty film. This is an accessible film from a story and character point of view. Shaurya is an immigrant in the film and that’s accessible thing to many In the UAE… This shows that there is always an audience for interesting stuff,” said Motwane.
Don’t miss it!
Trapped is out in the cinemas on March 16.
“If someone’s son is talented then it is not a problem. I want to see good talents on screen… I am a big fan of Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt because they are good at what they do,” said Rajkumar Rao when asked about his thoughts on nepotism in Bollywood.