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.