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‘Trapped’ film review: The higher you go in this gripping drama, the closer you get to hell

Vikramaditya Motwane’s film has a superb central performance by Rajkummar Rao as a prisoner in his apartment.

Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped is an allegory about present-day Mumbai as well as a lesson in screenplay deconstruction. The nail-biting drama sets narrative and philosophical snares for its lead character Shaurya, pushing him towards harm’s way ever so often to see how much he, the crew, and the audience can endure.

For the bulk of the film’s 105 minutes, Shaurya navigates the equivalent of an obstacle course within the confines of the apartment in which he has been inadvertently locked. Victory is fleeting, and sparks of hope are quickly extinguished. Some of Shaurya’s tribulations could have been dispensed with in the interests of a tighter narrative, but Motwane mercilessly keeps his finger pressed to the wound, expertly evoking sighs and screams at just the right places.

Some of the snares are foretold in the sly opening sequence, in which Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao) nervously woos his colleague Noorie (Geetanjali Thapa) at the travel agency where they work. The movie title comes right in the middle of Shaurya’s victory in winning over Noorie, who is engaged to be married.

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Trapped.

Desperate to rent a house where he can live with Noorie, Shaurya moves into a 35th-floor apartment in a building that doesn’t have municipal clearances. When Shaurya gets locked into the boxy flat with grilled windows for days without water, food or electricity, his experience demonstrates that Mumbai is indeed a concrete jungle where a trap can lie halfway between the ground and the sky. Reverse shots amply demonstrate Shaurya’s diminutiveness in comparison to the low-rises and chawls that lurk below his building, appropriately called “Swarg” (heaven).

The writing by Amit Joshi and Hardik Mehta, and Motwane’s direction, have a Lego set quality. Shaurya uses every element in the barely furnished apartment as a weapon towards his freedom. A rat drops by, pigeons flutter in, and a cockroach becomes a metaphor for life itself.

But Shaurya is mostly alone, and since he is played by Rajkummar Rao, he becomes the movie’s thumping heart. Rao’s talent has been amply demonstrated in his previous films, and it reaches its zenith with Trapped. Despite inanimate objects and mute creatures to play off against, Rao brilliantly and effortlessly transforms the location and the movie into a battlefield of emotions. Shaurya wholly earns his empathy, one doughty move at a time. Since neither director nor actor embraces melodrama and sentimental short-cuts, Shaurya becomes a striking symbol of the Mumbai resident’s struggle to rattle the invisible cage in which he is imprisoned along with millions of others.

Rajkummar Rao in Trapped.
Rajkummar Rao in Trapped.

It sometimes appears that Mumbai cannot accommodate any more residential towers and office blocks. The megapolis is a byword for cheek-by-jowl existence, and the high-rises that have been shooting through the horizon in recent years are cynical proof that when the ground is packed, the only way to grow is upwards.

Motwane brilliantly upends the idea that a sublime existence awaits those who wish to rise above the clutter. The higher Shaurya goes, the closer he gets to hell – most vividly demonstrated in the scene when he first enters his assumed paradise and takes in the view with a satisfied grin.

What he is actually seeing, and what Motwane dexterously demonstrates, is a nightmarish vision of present-day Mumbai. The city is a silent member of the cast. It gives Shaurya the power to dream, but bares its teeth from beyond the grilled windows through which he yells for help. His screams ricochet through the air, and he learns the hard way that in Mumbai, you are well and truly on your own even in the middle of a crowd.

Mumbai isn’t the only villain of the piece. Geetanjali Thapa’s Noorie is a bit of a tease, never quite returning Shaurya’s ardour in full measure and never quite shedding her share of the blame. In King Kong, it was “beauty killed the beast”. In Trapped, Shaurya’s endurance test is the result of falling in love. The big “what if” in this meticulously written and directed film isn’t “What if Shaurya hadn’t left his key in the lock?” It is “What if he hadn’t lost his heart in the first place?” The city is hell, and the Devil is disguised as a woman.

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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

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In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

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Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

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The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

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The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.