Political thrillers are not easy to film. As a film-maker, you run the risk of treading the predictable path and may find it uneasy to effectively conclude the story. Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti comes to my mind as a recent political thriller that delved into the rather ‘known’ territory and culminated into a typical masala Bollywood entertainer. However, Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai is no such run-of-the-mill stuff as it absorbs you slowly but surely into its brilliant narrative. Also, the political bickering and conspiracies aside, the film leaves behind a very lucid and somewhat disturbing image of Modern India and its notions of ‘development’.
Shanghai is the story of Modern City Dreams being sold to a restive small town of Bharatnagar. The ambitious IBP (International Business Park) project has the backing of state’s political elite, right from the Chief Minister to the main coalition party or the ‘Morcha’. Standing in between Bharatnagar and its dream to become Shanghai, is renowned activist Dr. Ahmadi (played by Prosenjit), who is making the locals aware about the ‘reality’ of such development planks where the natives are ultimately the biggest losers. Clearly, Ahmedi becomes too big a thorn for the ruling coalition in the approaching election season and so the politicos decide to get rid of him. A speeding truck runs over Ahmedi, almost mowing him down and what follows next is a series of systematic administrative, bureaucratic and police cover ups to ensure that the incident just looks like another accident.
Abhay Deol plays the forthright, restrained and no non-sense senior IAS officer Krishnan, who is first the vice-chairman of the IBP project but after Ahmadi’s accident heads the govt. appointed enquiry commission to probe the incident. The actor is simply brilliant as a high-rank govt.-loyal, yet righteous IAS officer. He gets into the skin of the character which demands remarkable restrain and poise, as there are practically no give aways through body language and facial expressions. Krishnan works like a robot, is fully dedicated, shows no signs of emotion even in the midst of most tensed situations. Towards the end, Deol’s character shocks you by its sheer wit and resolve and emerges as the main cog in the wheel for the culmination of the entire thriller.
Emraan Hashmi plays Jogi, the local porn filmmaker who likes to call himself a ‘journalist’. If Deol’s character is ice-cold as far as emotions are concerned, Hashmi, perhaps for the first time in his career, rides on the wave of body language and facial expressions to come up with an impressive performance. The kisser boy is replaced by an average looking man with dirty teeth, tanned body and a pouch.
Kalki Koechlin plays Shalini, the student cum lover of Dr. Ahmadi who bravely fights for justice in a town where everyone seems to be pitted against her and the anti-IBP activists. She emotes perfectly, delivers a very few dialogues and comes across as a very feisty and fearless character. Film's support cast, specially veteran Farooq Sheikh and Pitobosh Tripathi are complete naturals. Sheikh shows glimpses of his brilliant self towards the climax without delivering any heavy duty dialogue. He just holds a paneer tikka in his hand, and you are impressed!
Yes, Shanghai is a performance-driven film but it also boasts of a very meticulously planned and well-executed narrative. Dibakar Banerjee is director with a difference, almost like that master-chef who knows to cook nearly all the cuisines of the world. 'Khosla ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Love Sex Aur Dhokha and now Shanghai are all very different films albeit with the commonality of 'difference'. You call him torchbearer of Avante Garde or the New Indian Wave or whatever, but Banerjee is definitely wonderfully diverse and sensitive. Here, he adapts Greek writer Vassilis Vassilikos's book 'Z' in a very Indianized manner and deals with socio-political issues in Shanghai with brutal sincerity. Importantly, he does not look for a heroic, good-wins-over-evil kind of climax. Like the entire length of film, even Shanghai's climax depicts reality and rationality. Film's background score and camera complement the grim and disturbing mood of the film. Music by Vishal-Shekhar is passable with only 'Bharat Mata Ki' leaving some kind of impact on ears.
Deceptive pace of story may trouble you, specially in the first hour, and a few may find it difficult to completely understand the proceedings. By intermission, you will start debating in your head- "whether this is mainstream or off-beat cinema?". But I believe this is simply good cinema.
Shanghai tries to show India the mirror. The balloons of 'pragati' are punctured and a very raw, stinging and nearly naked reality is presented. Watch 'Shanghai' if you are ready to be provoked and surprised in a rather passive manner. It may take a bit of time to sink in but the film will make you think, and appreciate the goodness of cinema. Recommended!
Rating- ***1/2 (Very Good)