SHANGHAI: Dibakar and Emraan marks their authority in the industry

Shanghai doesn’t provide the comfort of answers or happy endings. But it forces us to ask urgent questions.

I wonder what Dibakar thinking was when he was working on the script. After films like Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and Love Sex & Dhoka it was a surprise for all film goers that he’ll come up with a subject. Though one who has followed his filmography closely can easily say that it’s a gradual progression as a director.

Shanghai, it’s not only a film, but it’s a reflection of our society. Our sad political state in which we are living. The film doesn’t try to be judgmental or pass an opinion on the present state of politics in our country. Shanghai is a movie that commands your attention and it is in-your-face!

Based on Vasilis Vasilikos’s novel Z, Shanghai is a very realistic cinema. Professor Dr. Ahmedi (Prosenjeet Chatterjee) is leading an anti-IBP (InternationalBusinessPark) movement and hence arrives in Bharath Nagar to deliver a public speech against the construction business park in the small city. He is involved in an extra-marital affair with Shalini (Kalki), who is a part of the movement.

Inspite of all the death threats, Ahmedi delivers the speech, but gets knocked down by a vehicle soon after. The driver is arrested and charged of drinking and driving. IAS officer Krishnan (Abhay Deol) is asked to investigate the case. As Dr. Ahmedi struggles for life, Jogi (Emraan Hashmi) who is a small time videographer has incriminating evidence against the ruling party. T.A. Krishnan (Abhay Deol) works for the politicians and has to conduct an enquiry on the “accident.”  Kaul (Farooque Shaikh) is his senior. The film is about how Jogi and Shalini work together to help Krishnan reveal the truth.

Like most Dibakar Banerjee films, Shanghaitoo is fast-paced, has a multi-layered plot, the proceedings are real and every character is well-etched. The film is engrossing and has enough shock-value attached, to keep the viewers hooked. The film starts off with too many tight close ups, thus introducing the viewers with each and every character up close and personal. Dibakar has successfully Indianised the political tension and made Shanghaia fresh subject of his own. The film isn’t about politicians dressed in Khadi. Instead, it’s about how politics adversely affects our day-to-day existence. It explores the underbelly of a township at the mercy of the corrupt politicians. In the name of progress, the poor is exploited and left to fend for themselves. 

After Once Upon a Time In Mumbai and The Dirty Picture, this one makes Emraan Hashmi stand out from his contemporary competitors as he pulls off yet another really different, difficult and if I may say a career defining role with ease. Emraan’s hard work is evident in the film as he has totally gone for an ugly, de-glam look with a paunch as well. His teeth are colored, his laughs are typically rustic and his dressing sense is anything but classy. But, his character wins our hearts.

Kalki Koechlin is fierce and aggression personified. Her character’s motives are lofty and honest. Abhay Deol is a Tamilian in the movie and his English has needlessly been tweaked to make it sound like a Tamilian’s. For example office is pronounced as ‘affice’. A needless gimmick. He speaks broken Tamil also for few seconds and is shown listening to the Vishnu Sahasranamam too. Abhay is required to underplay and he does it well.

But the notable character in the film is the role of Ahmedi played by Bengali superstar Prosenjit Chatterjee, who looks majestic with his beard and spectacles. I still remember when I met Dibakar and we were discussing about Shanghai, I did ask him the reason behind signing Prosenjit for the film and that time he had said that he needed somebody, who was unknown to the hindi film audiences at the same time to have tremendous amount of star power and charisma. Because the role of Dr.Ahmadi is the character of a tremendously charismatic man, he is a social activist but he carries his followers by the sheer force of his persona and charisma. If he had taken a known star, the character wouldn’t have been that believable. So he wanted somebody new at the same time he wanted somebody with proven star credentials. And this was exactly reflected in the character of Prosenjit as he carried of the role with great amount of charisma.

The screenplay writers (Urmi Juvekar and Dibakar Banerjee) have ensured that the viewer is pulled into the murky world of political machinations. The characters are wonderfully etched; their interpersonal relations beautifully evolve as the drama progresses.

While the viewer is engrossed in the story, he identifies with the moral dilemmas that various characters face. What the script doesn’t allow them to do is to take sides, and in that it holds a mirror to the contemporary situation of the Indian state. More than this, the screenplay works at the plot level. Incidents that take place in the second half not only shock the audience but also makes them await the epilogue. The climax doesn’t disappoint. The dialogues are first-rate.

The only minus point in the narrative is the fact that it doesn’t ask the audience to be mute spectators to the drama unfolding on the screen. Instead, it seeks them to, at times, put the bits and pieces together. The film doesn’t follow the usual path of story telling and for a lay viewer, who is not necessarily used to watching such films, might find parts of Shanghai a little difficult to comprehend.

To conclude, Shanghai is another worthy offering from Dibakar Banerjee. He has taken Indian politics as the main subject area and based a nice investigative thriller around it. The way the police and high ranking officials are merely puppets used by politicians according to their whims and fancies, is an oft-repeated plotline in Indian films. But, here it has been shown in a realistic manner without any overt cinematic licenses. How small Indian towns are exploited in the name of big infrastructural development is very relevant to the current times.

The movie is gripping from the word go. You will find yourself sucked into the happenings on screen.

Ratings: * * * */5

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