The post-IPL movie rush has been anticipated keenly for quite sometime now and one of the front-runners in that respect, carrying with it a huge baggage of expectations, is Dibakar Banerjee’s ‘Shanghai‘. It has been in the news for quite sometime now for a variety of reasons ranging from its political overtones to its rather unusual cast mix. Now to top it all the following are just few of the euphoria inducing sound bytes emerging over the last couple of days, ever since a privileged few watched its exclusive shows for press and friends.
“Dibakar Banerjee is the best filmmaker in the country. Period. There is no scope for discussion on this, visceral and stunning film ever made in this country”- Anurag Kashyap
“Shanghai is utterly terrifying and terrific. Don’t miss it.” – Anupama Chopra
“Raja Sen: Emraan Hashmi, Best Actor 2012.” – Raja Sen
and so on and on.
So is it worth all this hype? Has Dibakar Banerjee proved himself to be a true genius with this outing of his? Does the lead trio truly stun you beyond words? ‘Alas, I wish’ is my answer. However the movie definitely does make some good strides in the direction of quality cinema, but just has too many issues going against it to be called great cinema by any stretch of imagination.
The skeletal plot by now is pretty popular, but I will anyways go ahead and do the basics. Social activist Dr.Ahmedi(Prosenjit) comes to Bharatnagar to protest against the mass displacement of people in the name of ‘pragati’ to make way for the ‘India Business Park’. There is lot of tension in the meeting and amidst this, a van comes and smashes him and he slips into coma. His student, fan and local host(Kalki Koechlin) gets a warning about his safety even before he arrives in the city and looking at the turn of events she is convinced it is a murder plot. She eventually finds an ally in a sleazy local porn filmmaker who is on the spot(Emraan Hashmi) and has some key video footage. A ‘CM appointed enquiry commission’ under the IBP Vice Chairman(Abhay Deol) interrogates the incident amidst a very volatile political atmosphere and the rest of the movie is about the struggles and moral dillemas of the lead trio in the turn of events post the accident.
The movie has quite a few things going for it. There are a few standout scenes such as the Chief Secretary (Farooq Sheikh‘s) briefing with the police and Abhay when the commission starts, Mrs.Ahmedi’s breakdown in the kitchen, the climax scene exchanges between Abhay and Farooq, the one scene where the CM(Supriya Pathak) appears and so on. All of these are very shrewd, subtle, scenes with simple and sharp dialogues. There are also lot of very understated, thought inducing, crisp shots of situations such as political rallies and curfews, police behaviour within its ecosystem, the whole concluding montage in the film, and many others. On paper the high point of the film is the scene where Kalki discovers who the truck driver actually is and the overal helplessness about the situation. But this scene to a large extent is diluted by Kalki’s rather shreiking response to it. Music in the film is mainly about the 2 songs aired regularly on television(‘Bharat mata’ and ‘Imported Kamariya’) which are pretty good, there is hardly any BGM adding to a pretty ‘docu’ effect, editing is decent and dialogues in some scenes impactul but never razor sharp.
Now on to the negatives and a discussion on why audiences should definitely not elevate this movie to a ‘classic’ status. The first issue with Dibakar is there is a thin line between subtlety and superficiality and for every moment of subtle brilliance there are dozens of ‘lost-in-translation’ shots and situations which truly do not convey their final message. Kalki’s whole character suffers from moments such as this, including her phirang origin(which people mention quite a few times) and a totally ill-fitting background on her General father. The much hyped unconventional casting trio is ultimately weak in its output for a variety of reasons. Kalki is the weakest of the lot and there is definitely no grounds to cast her in the first place. Her situations are half baked for a large part and the one great scene she gets, she screws up with rather weird reactions. Abhay is pretty competent and balanced for large part, but his accent though thankfully not a routine bollywood caricature is still very ordinarily researched. He switches between a rather flawless hindi and uses a rather UP sounding twang for some of the beuarucratic lingo such as ‘form’, ‘order’ and ‘application’. Emraan is definitely the pick of the lot and is a natural. He brings in a lot of dillema and conflict effortlessly to his role but again in large chunks of the 2nd half he is hardly there.
In what is projected as a political thriller, the thriller is barely there as we know from scene 1 whether it was an accident or murder, there is hardly anything found by Emraan and Kalki(except in the last 20 mts) with their initial tape hardly being any evidence and we as sensible audience can all along second guess that something is eventually going to point to the CM and her team. This combined with the fact that there are also barely any truly jump out of your seat scenes for you to wow at, with the exception of the Abhay-Farooq confrontation in the end, give you a pretty disappointed and yearning feeling given the great backdrop and ensemble cast at disposal. Moreover, given that its a such a small town and Emraan is directly in the line of fire, it is pretty filmy for such a realistic film that he and Kalki can roam around between their homes and her maid’s home(in the heart of Bharatnagar) pretty effortlessly. The truly best moments of the film are the fleeting appearances of Prosenjit, Supriya Pathak and the rock solid Farooq Sheikh. Even with the little footage they get their roles both on paper and in execution are just fantastic.
All in all, ‘Shanghai’ in the end restricts itself to a gritty, realistic, watchable film with few good moments and occasional sparks of brilliance when it could have been so much more. Dont shower it with praise just because the intent is good(its not a short story, its a film for gods sake), your friend said he loved it, or every critic and his grandmother gave it 4 stars. Judge it on its scene by scene engagement value, how it score against its great potential and its performance against its so called ability to shock you out of your existence. 2.5 stars for the movie, 0.5 generous stars for the realism and a strict penalty of 0.25 points for overhyping and wholesale PR manipulation. 2.75 , no more.