Rajesh Pillai‘s Malayam film Traffic (2011) is a hyperlink movie. We get small glimpses into the lives of several characters, and learn over the course of the film how they are all connected to each other. DontCallitBollywood has a great discussion of what hyperlink movies are, and analysis of this film. Because of her writeup, I decided to check out this movie, that was also recommended many times on the Quora post.
Traffic was also evidently a seminal movie in the New Wave Cinema or Next Generation movement in Malayalam cinema because of its urban setting, vs. the traditional rural village, and young fresh faces outside of the star system.
Traffic most reminds me of the hyperlink Hollywood film Crash, which also touched on serious urban themes and issues.
Traffic, as you can imagine, starts with a traffic accident, and then backs up the narrative a bit to fill us in on the characters involved. We have a young man who is starting his first day on the job as a journalist off to interview a big movie star. A young woman being followed by some rowdies on motorbikes. The victim of the crash goes into a coma, and the doctors bring up a young thirteen year old girl, who desperately needs a heart transplant. And that’s the hook of the film. Getting that heart on a two hour drive through various towns and urban populated areas.
We flashback and learn about a police officer who has been disgraced by a bribe. He volunteers to drive the heart to try to redeem himself in the eyes of his family and neighbors. There’s the police commander who thinks it just can’t be done, and then coordinates all the road closures necessary from a command center. And most importantly we learn about a movie star on the day of his premiere — it turns out to be his daughter who is very ill. The young journalist is set to interview this star, and he has a romance with a young divorced woman.
It’s quite unusual to see a young divorcee in Indian films, and that is one of the key plot points that signifies this film as New Wave. The filmmakers set out to make a quite different film.
I loved the glimpses into the life of the Malayalam movie star. We see flashbacks of him being too busy for his family, and my favorite scene of the whole movie is when he is being interviewed on the radio while his daughter and wife roll their eyes at his answers. The daughter hands the interviewer a paper with some questions — “What is the name of my daughter’s favorite teacher? Who is her best friend?” And so on because she knows that will trip him up.
The second half of the movie is mostly taken up with the action of driving that police car at 100 kph or whatever it was to get the heart to the girl on time. And the action scenes were great. There’s a big twist right at the interval that had me gasp out loud. It really shocked me what one character did when he heard some awful news. And what he’s going to do next sets up much of the tension and conflict.
As Margaret points out in her take on Traffic, this is a movie about detours and second chances for many of the characters. It has a very interesting script, unlike most Indian films, and the action towards the end is very well done.
But my problem with the film is that since there are so many characters, I couldn’t really connect emotionally with any of them. And I really thought afterwards about why this film seemed to have such a strong reaction in Kerala, but I didn’t feel the same way about it. And part of it may be that just about every actor in the film I have never seen before. Only the young journalist, I had seen in Ohm Shanti Oshana.
Hyperlink movies in Hollywood like the silly He’s Just Not That Into You or Valentine’s Day have a bevy of stars and some new actors thrown in.
When you have Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck and Bradley Cooper in a movie, you know these actors. There’s a shorthand to their characters, and an instant rapport with the audience.
And I didn’t have that with the actors in the Malayalam Traffic that maybe the Mayali audience did. So, I give it three and a half stars out of five. I admire the film, but I didn’t love it. Rajesh Pillai also directed the Malayalam film Mili, which I also admired for being so female centric, but didn’t love. Bangalore Days and the Malayalam films that came after Traffic owe a debt to Traffic, but Bangalore Days is the superior film. Fewer characters, and you get emotionally drawn in to their stories much more.
Interestingly, when I was looking up links for this version of Traffic, I discovered that the same director made a Hindi version of Traffic that is going to be released May 6th! And here, we have Jimmy Shergill as the police commander and Manoj Bajpayee as the police officer who volunteers to make the drive to redeem himself. See, I’m instantly in! Because these actors I already have a relationship with from many, many movies. The film has the exact same plot, but with action “enhancements” which I’m very curious about. Same director, Rajesh Pillai, who tragically died earlier this year, so this is his last film. Instead of driving to Chennai, as in the real life case the movie is based on, the drive is from Pune to Mumbai.