The Trap (Ottaal)
Kuttappayi, an orphan, lives a life of rural poverty with his grandfather in the state of Kerala, India.
The Trap (Ottaal) is set in a watery landscape of lakes and canals in the Indian state of Kerala, dotted with fields fringed by palm trees, and a sky rich in stars at night. The film tells the story of Kuttappayi, an orphan, who lives a life of rural poverty with his grandfather in the wetlands of Kuttanad, in the south of India. They live at the water's edge on a raised platform, built from bamboo poles that Kuttappayi's grandfather has lashed together, but otherwise exposed to the open air. Kuttappayi helps his grandfather tend a large flock of geese, gathering their eggs each morning, and bartering the eggs for any supplies they need. Because of this work Kuttappayi is known as "the duck boy" to the rich family who lives nearby, a family that includes Tinku, a boy of about Kuttappayi's age, who, because of his family's status and relative wealth, enjoys many advantages that Kuttappayi does not.
Despite these disadvantages, Kuttappayi is happy, his one wish to get an education (in several scenes we see him watching Tinku and other students through the classroom windows). When Kuttappayi's grandfather falls ill, Kuttappayi's future must be decided, since there is no-one else left in the world to look after him. With no obvious alternative available, Kuttappayi's grandfather arranges to have him sent away to Tamil Nadu to work in a fireworks factory, telling Kuttappayi that he is going away to school. The trap has been set, and in the last scenes of the film we watch as the human-scale tragedy plays out.
The Trap ends with an onscreen message which points out that child labour is endemic, and mourns the many children who, as a result, lost their one chance to experience a "normal" childhood. It's a powerful message, an abstract issue made much more potent by having seen it personalized in one child's life.
The Trap is based on a short story (Vanka) by Anton Chekhov, set in 19th century Russia—and we again see proof that a well-told story can be transplanted from its original setting and period, without in any way diluting its power or effectiveness. Here, as with all first-class films, we are taken inside a world that at first seems strange and exotic, yet by film's end we realize that it is a world not too much unlike our own.
The setting of the film is postcard-gorgeous, and the cinematography shows it off to maximum effect. In one shot near the end of the film we watch Kuttappayi and his grandfather paddle across the calm surface of a lake; in the background we see the rest of the watery world in which their story has taken pace: some mud flats, and a fringe of distant palms which the ultra-wide-angle lens has bent into a convex shape. Through this simple device the horizon has been transformed into the planet's rim, and the microcosm of the story has become an entire world.
You can watch a trailer for the film here.
There are no more screenings scheduled for The Trap (Ottaal) as part of this year's VIFF, but watch for its return in general release.