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Terrific Signal, but Amber: Movie review of Traffic Signal Monday, 13 April, 2009

Posted by ~uh~™ in Bollywood.
Tags: , , , , , ,

This is an old post cross posted from here.


When I stop at traffic signals in Mumbai everyday, I encounter with them. The lame beggar, the boy trying to clean the window pane, the young girl selling gajras, the eunuch clapping, another boy selling Mid Day. It’s part of Mumbai street life.

Such people who earn a livelihood from Mumbai traffic signals has inspired Madhur Bhandarkar’s latest film. It’s about life and being of people who’s live depends on the 120-second pause of red light.  The quick negotiations & transactions with “customer” on the other side of car window feed the business, run by these small people. The movie is about their daily life, relationships, hope & expectations, despair & agony and how they are exploited as resources of an organized crime disguised as business.

The director has already created a niche for his true to life depiction of urban subjects in Chandni Bar, Page-3, Satta, & not so effectively in Corporate.


Mumbai Traffic signals are a lucrative market for begging & selling industry. The business is owned by mafias, distributed through & managed by local stalwarts.

Silsila, the main character, is the manager of Kelkar Marg traffic signal. He & the Amitabh-Sashi Kaopor film was “released” on the same year, & his dad, admiring the film named him alike. Silsila is a young orphan brought up at traffic signal since he was 10 days old. He has a ubiquitous mausi to take care of him & he has a heterogeneous task force to take care of.  They are some 40 odd characters including a tsunami-affected orphan, a lame street painter, eunuchs. Silsila loves them as his family. Then there is a hooker, a gay, a drug addict, & a gigolo, a social worker, selling agents for home loan. Their stories are interwoven with the main characters.

He is responsible to manage the daily business & revenue & to pass on the booty to his mentor Jaffar bhai, who in turn reports to “Bhaijaan”. Bhaijaan manages the thronging Rs 180 crore business generated from traffic signals spread all over Mumbai. Obviously there are larger sharks in the pond & ultimately it all gets  linked to the lecherous politicians & bigger brothers in Dubai.

The network & the business seemed to be perpetual till one builder wanted to solve the traffic jam created by the signal, which is devaluing is upcoming real estate proposition. The matter is escalated to local mafia level & politicians to “convince” the BMC Chief Engineer to extend a proposed flyover to eliminate the signal. When local intervention fails to buy the honest BMC Engineer the issue draws attention of Dubai. There’s big money in stake & the problem needs to be solved.

Silsila is assigned a small task, but a crucial part of the dark & larger conspiracy. Being loyal to his profession & superiors, he unknowingly becomes responsible for a cold-blooded crime. Realizing the consequences he takes his stride to undo an apparently irreversible process.

Cast & Performance

Silsila: Kunal Khemu of Kalyug fame is in his absolute brilliant performance. Though his make up is little overdone, but his characterization was superb.

Noorie: Konkona Sen Sharma plays a hooker and made herself immensely believable. She has to go a long way.

Langda Manya: Upyendra Limaye. He is one of the best in the movie. His body language, gestures, lingo made him so real, as if we will meet someday, painting sai baba image on the pavement.

Rani: Neetu Chandra,  a embroidered garment seller, a newcomer from Gujarat, plays the love interest of Silisila. She has a nice face and demonstrated good acting, throughout.

Dominic: Ranvir Shorey as the drug addict. Probably, his best performance after KKG. He has again proved a good actor can make his character live, or even die convincingly. The relationship between him & Noorie and ending of it,  is soul touching. His facial expressions while telling blatant lie to pedestrians to borrow money is superb.

Bhaijaan the mafia don: Directior Sudhir Mishra’s acting debut. He has proved his directorial prowess in Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin & Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. Like his movie he has portrayed a dark & powerful character. He is high on marijuana & cruel even to the home loan agents.

Paaya: Sameer Khan as the typical street urchin. Looks unbelievably real as a sidekick.

Dumber: another boy who has a fetish for white skin, invests his money on a fairness cream and gets frustrated on failure.

Sailesh Jha: Manoj Joshi palyed the Chief Engineer of BMC. In a short and important role he did not look like he can do hilarious comedy.

Other characters like the assistant of Bhaijaan, the fake begger in underpants, the gay and the gigolo needs special mention for their respective parts. There’s a humorous duo selling home loans whom we can readily relate to.  That coldarin guy with his extra marital affair inside the car was artificial and misfit among the real ones.

Technicalities- Direction, Editing, Dialouges, Music

It may not be as real & shocking as Satya, but in my view its Bhandarkar’s best work so far. The bits and pieces of humour & hope interspaced between cruelty, struggle, depression and darkness could have been made it an outstanding film, if not a shockumentary (making a viewer numb with shock, like Parzinia). But the ending remains untold and left to viewer’s interpretation.

The direction & editing job is gripping. Handling so many characters with short sequences and linking them is a tough job. Bhandarkar does it well in the first half. The introduction of characters takes justifiably long to get the viewers familiarize with them. The pace is a bit slow, but smooth. Somehow when I started associating and expected something great the movie ends abruptly.

Cinematography by Mahesh Limaye is impressive. The sets did not look any different from the real places.

Dialouges are intelligently written by Bhandarkar & Sachin Yardi. The dialect is just real and lifted straight from the Mumbai streets. The extremely extraordinary life & diverse backgrounds of the street dwellers are expressed through the jokes, gestures and sometimes silence. There are many enjoyable scenes.

Background music is not that distinguishable. Soundtrack is nothing great too. I liked a song “Yeh zindegi”. A battalion of singers have contributed their voice- Hariharan, Vinod Rathod, Jagjit Singh, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Baba Sehgal. There’s a catchy dance number with a Marathi tune on the marriage party.


The film is dark, strong, raw and undiluted. Like neat alchohol. It’s strong enough to repel but once gulped in, can be enjoyed slowly & surely. This is what may be called an original movie, where the characters lived through. Though the subject is vile, the intrinsic humour is kept intact through many sequences. Many scenes moved me strongly, like tsunami’s repeated calls in search of his parents. Unfortunately, the movie fails to utilize the potential to the fullest & do not have that long lasting impact.

This movie is not a casual weekend entertainment, rather an honest effort to present a hitherto unknown dark world. Next time at a signal, we hear  “allah ke naam pe de do baba” or “lelo na saab- tin din se khana nahin khaya”, this movie will be remembered.


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