A pulsating, well-acted thriller that banks more upon human emotion than heroic action for impact, Rajesh Pillai's Traffic is an unconventional entertainer.
Traffic, a Hindi remake of Pillai's 2011 Malayalam hit, is inspired by a true incident. While it does inevitably take recourse to drama to heighten reality, it stays firmly focused on the requirements of the story.
The film lets no extraneous elements seep into the multiple tales that it weaves around a single road mishap that triggers a tragic crisis for two families and a rousing opportunity for a handful of individuals to display life-affirming heroism.
On his way to his first big interview with a movie star, a young Mumbai television journalist is hit by a car. As he lies brain dead in hospital, his parents decide to donate his heart so that it can be transported to Pune to save a pre-teen girl in need of an urgent transplant. The doctors and the Mumbai traffic police are confronted with the challenge of delivering the heart within two-and-a-half hours. Given Mumbai's peak-hour traffic, it is a daunting mission.
A traffic constable, just back on duty after being under suspension for taking a bribe, steps up and volunteers to drive the police vehicle to its destination.
The Traffic screenplay (Sanjay and Bobby, adapted into Hindi by Suresh Nair) is almost flawless and the acting is of an exceptionally high order.
The film has a cast of seasoned actors who, with their perfectly modulated performances, add both depth and weight to the narrative.
Manoj Bajpayee as the disgraced traffic policemen seeking redemption is the one who stands out.
But no less impressive are Prosenjit Chatterjee playing the movie star whose daughter is dangling between life and death, Divya Dutta as his distraught wife, and Jimmy Shergill in the role of the joint commissioner of traffic police who, after initial hesitation, plunges headlong into a mission that is fraught with risk.
Traffic is a rare gem of a film that combines the qualities of a good thriller with the elements of strong human drama.
It brings to the fore a reality of this country that people are acutely aware of but are rarely compelled to think about seriously: the increasing load on our roads.
The director of Traffic, one of Malayalam cinema's big names, died prematurely a little over two months ago. This film is a reminder of what Rajesh Pillai had the potential to achieve had he lived longer.
But it is not just in the honour of his memory that Traffic should be watched. It is too good a film to be missed.