Shanghai movie review: Good, but not great!!!!

Every person living in a city like Mumbai must be very familiar with the sound of the ‘dhol’. It is that sound which we equate with the slums mainly during festivals. The politicians know that one way to highly impress these oppressed and rather naïve people is to sponsor and organize big celebrations of each and every festival wherein the slum dwellers forget for the time being the huge burdens of worry on their shoulders. And for most of these filthy rich politicians, sponsoring such events is absolutely no big deal. Rather these days, in the times of the absurd Real Estate boom, they might consider such sponsorship to be what in accounting terms is known as Preliminary Expenditure, which though being an expense is considered to be a sort of an investment for a project before its inception as it will bear fruit for years to come. The project here is the rehabilitation of the slum land into huge luxury residential towers or commercial parks. The money given as compensation to the slumdwellers to evacuate their houses is miniscule to the hundreds of crores that the builder-politician lobby mints. The slumdwellers are mainly opposed to such project but they are forced to comply because of the political pressure. These whole re-development projects are thus nothing but big scams.

Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai explores the dirty politics in this complex world of redevelopment where the ‘dhol’ seems to be playing all the time.  The movie is adapted from the greek novel ‘Z’ by Vassilis Vassilikos and Dibakar must be lauded for adapting it into a topic which is so relevant and peculiar to today’s urban India.

Though a murder takes place very early in the film Shanghai is not a murder mystery as we have a pretty clear idea of the murderer. It is instead a political thriller, a genre very rarely touched in Indian cinema. In the film, Dr.Ahmedi(Prosenjit), a social activist, arrives at Bharat Nagar which is a town facing displacement of thousands despite their opposition for turning their land into a swanky huge business park. Ahmedi wishes to give a voice to the slumdwellers opposition much to the anger and disappointment of the ruling coalition parties. The permission to Ahmedi’s speech is cancelled. But he fearlessly goes ahead with the speech. A violent protest is organized against it. After the speech, when things seem to be under control, suddenly a vehicle runs over Ahmedi seriously injuring him.

The police try to frame the case as a drunk-driving accident but to the persistence of Ahmedi’s estranged wife (Tilottama Shome) and his student-cum-lover Shalini(Kalki Koechlin) and also the public outcry that follows the fishy incident, the government forms a committee headed by an IAS officer T.A. Krishnan(Abhay Deol) to probe whether there the police forces were guilty of any negligence. But the determined IAS Officer in his probe unravels certain dirty truths with help of Shalini and cocky videographer Jogi(Emraan Hashmi) about the incident which leaves the political world shaken.

Dibakar Banerjee and Urmi Juvekar have for the most part been successful in writing a gripping script. The characters, especially that of Abhay Deol and Emraan Hashmi are very well sketched. It was certainly a masterstroke to cast Emraan Hashmi in the role of the shady videographer. The writers have bravely included the only kissing scene in the film without involving Emraan. His character portrays a wide range of emotions and I must say that Emraan lives up to the task, quite surprisingly. His choice of this role might have upset a few fans but with this performance he must have surely gained many more. Bengali star Prosenjit leaves quite a mark despite a short role. Abhay Deol’s Tamil accent might not be convincing but he otherwise plays the mild-mannered and shrewd IAS officer very well. Kalki Koechlin puts up a spirited performance as the bold and feisty young admirer of Ahmedi. But her character seems flawed. There is some unnecessary information given about her character which adds very little to the film. Also there is never an explanation given for her complexion though it is discussed in the film.

A big plus about Shanghai is the attention given to details. In one of the scenes in Shalini’s house we get a glimpse of a mosquito repellent installed in her house in the background. It is an absolute must in most Indian houses, but somehow no director before has thought of having a mosquito repellent in a house. There is wonderful detailing in the characters as well like that of the Tam-Brahm IAS officer conducting his prayer with help of his laptop or Jogi who also indulges in porn filmmaking finding the actual task of shooting a porn film to be drab. There are many scenes filled with such lovely moments right throughout the film.

Nikos Andritsakis camerawork is exciting. Such ingenious use of table-lamps as a source of light is probably a first in Hindi cinema. There also seems to be a sincere thought-process in some scenes in which mirrors have been marvelously used. Also exceptional in one scene in the room where the inquiry takes place is the unconventional use of focus. The camera in that shot is focused on the police officer being questioned but in the out of focus background you can clearly make out the presence of Shalini(Kalki Koechlin) in her chair from her strikingly fair complexion.

Shanghai overall turns out to be a crafty and engaging film. It is also certainly an important film for the story which it chooses to tell. But you feel that somewhere the potential of being thrilled remains unfulfilled. Also the movie ends a little abruptly. These negatives with the Kalki Koechlin character just stops the movie from achieving greatness.

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2 thoughts on “Shanghai movie review: Good, but not great!!!!

  1. a counter view perhaps!

    In Shanghai silences speak louder than words and noise. Long pauses
    interrupt sparse and crisp dialogues making a hard hitting statement on
    our system and the way everyone works it to their advantage.

    Prossenjit
    is a social activist raising his voice against IBP, a development
    project that aims to swindle land away from the poort in the name of
    progress. Killed by the powers that be leaving his student Kalki and a
    porn film maker Emraan Hashmi to try and bring out the truth out in the
    open, his death is investigated into by Abhay Deol who plays a
    bureaucrat.

    Based on the novel “Z”, Shanghai adapts the story of
    a political thriller to Mumbai and Bharat nagar echoing almost every
    single issue that the nation is baffling with under the current
    regime-from land grabbing to internal displacement, from corruption to
    cover ups, from suppressing dissent to trying to control truth and
    information-Dibaker Bannerjee touches every single issue while remaining
    truthful to the basic story device of a political thriller.

    As
    is the case in real life, no character is black or white. If the CM
    madam and her crony Farooqq Sheikh are corrupt power hungry monsters who
    can arm twist the system through their position and power, Prossenjit
    and his wife do the same under the garb of social work, using media as a
    tool instead. If Supriya Pathak as the CM colludes with the opposition
    for her personal ambition, Prossenjit is depicted as a womanizer with
    serial affairs with his students. The only clean one ironically turns
    out to be Emraan Hashmi as Jogi, the porn film maker with a conscience.
    Abhay Deol’s brilliant take as the moral bureaucrat (perhaps the first
    non-mocking south Indian character in mainstream Hindi cinema of
    late)finds a way to work the flaws of the system from the inside,
    perhaps a comment on how Anna and gang cannot achieve anything as long
    as they are outside the very system they aim to reform.

    Shanghai
    aims at jolting the audience and conveying a sense of frustration with
    the way things are, a fact amply established by the story telling. The
    social activists death, a pivotal incident in the film, is repeated in
    quick succession to shock and stun, even as a sluggish lazy pace of the
    the story mimics the snail like blob of a system we have to deal with
    every day in the country. As doors close one after the other on the
    investigation into the murder with just a stern “investigation under
    progress” excuse, the film depicts the secretive, primitive and feudal
    nature of governance we have even after independence..

    The other
    great strength of the film is its pitch perfect performances. Abhay,
    Kalki, Supriya, Farooq and Pitobash ar the usual suspects who deliver
    bang on. the surprise package however is Emraan Hashmi who impresses
    with his paunch, stained teeth and immaculate acting. Shanghai will
    definitely change the way audiences perceive this serial kisser.

    The
    makers have also worked the current “system” of bollywood
    intelligently, keeping all the market friendly songs including the now
    mandatory Item number to just the publicity material and mercifully
    relegating all of them to the background in the narrative. An
    intelligently crafted and superbly executed idea, Shanghai is one the
    best films thus far this year. Definitely worth a watch.

  2. Shanghai, Banerjee’s fourth film, is his best. It is a very important film, in addition to being consistent, attractive and extremely satiating. Just a good movie, do you have a powerful tool? A movie can change that perception, one that can make a statement and push envelope.The speed is dangerous. Banerjee and co-author urmi juvekar a tight script, the pen that you have little room to breathe, to move the story faster. Shanghai is the kind of movie where the one-liners come thick and fast, yet the dialogue is not gravity. To sum up, Dibakar Banerjee Shanghai walks thin line between mainstream and meaningful cinema, and does so beautifully. Rare, well-qualified Rs100cr movie? Who cares? The opening weekend box office records and more to the cinema, Shanghai is the perfect example. Look.

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