Films | Shanghai – Movie Review

Shanghai – Movie Review

Posted by FATEMA H.KAGALWALA on June 8, 2012 | No Comments

PRODUCER – Ajay Bijli, Dibakar Banerjee, Priya Sreedharan, Sanjeev K Bijli
DIRECTOR – Dibakar Banerjee
WRITER – Urmi Juvekar, Dibakar Banerjee (Adapted from the novel “Z” by Vassilis Vassilikos
CAST – Abhay Deol, Kalki Koechlin, Emraan Hashmi, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Tillotama Shome
MUSIC – Vishal Shekhar

The discourse on reality is a dicey thing. It vacillates between romanticism and cynicism with the reality lying somewhere in between. Dibakar Banerjee’s discourse is soaked in sharp satire, telling a tale of a mythical city that is so real it hurts to watch.

Adapted from the Greek novel “Z” by Vassilis Vassilikos, Shanghai is a political satire constructed as a thriller. The plot revolves around the attempted murder of the activist Prof Ahmedi (a charismatic Prosenjit Chatterjee) campaigning against slum land acquisition for the setting up of a giant business park (yes, evoking the not-so-distant memories of Singur, Atchutapuram and Nandigram). Fighting this move is campaigner Prof Ahmedi and Shalini (Kalki Koechlin), daughter of an ex-military man accused of a huge fraud. During one of the rallies Prof Ahmedi is attacked and Shalini sets out on the trail to justice. She inadvertently enlists the help of Jogi (Emraan Hashmi), a small-time videographer-cum-pornographer. Fighting another battle elsewhere is T. A. Krishnan (Abhay Deol), smart and sincere IAS officer heading a CM-initiated enquiry that seems to be more than it meets the eye.

Banerjee turns the bare basics of the book’s plot, which deals with the assassination of a democratic Greek politician by leaders of Greece’s dictatorship, to suit an Indian milieu. That he chooses to call it Shanghai, immediately references Mumbai, but much like Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade, the film is set in a fictionalised place that is too well-sketched to be imagination yet universal enough to be representative of any urban space of India. For this he puts his cast to great effect, a strong point in his films always. So even if an uncomfortable Kalki and subdued Abhay Deo; do not quite make the cut, we revel in the serious talent on display in the likes of Farooque Sheikh, Anant Jog, Pitobash Tripathy and other secondary cast. Emraan Hashmi’s complete make-over is as authentic as is his investment in his semi-sleazeball but good-at-heart character.

Sketched with infinitesimal detailing, the film seems like a textbook in visual storytelling. If he milks sound and visuals to the maximum, he also invests it with a subtle symbolism that makes for an enriching viewing we seldom experience. When we watch Shalini slip on a wet floor outside Krishnan’s interrogation room we pass it be as detailing but then when Krishnan, soon after, misses his footing too we know we are being told of the slippery surface both are treading on. Banerjee pieces together scenes for emotional effect and hence the jump cut from a harsh murder to a sleazy item song at a posh political gathering does its bit to repulse effectively. Namrata Rao, puts her intuitive understanding of fluidity and disconnection giving us yet another brilliantly film after Kahaani. The only department that does not measure up is the mediocre music by Vishal Shekhar.

But the pith of the film is in its tone and execution. An understated satire, Shanghai brings to fore the immense originality of thought and perspective of the director, who in one sweep, gives us a political thriller, a snarky comment on our contemporary times yet informing it with the argument of the complexity of our times. He juggles the themes of corruption, progress, urbanisation, justice and truth and layers it with the question of perception and perspective. The surprise he throws at us in the end informs this question leaving us dumbfounded at the multitude of layers he explores and the reality that stares at us.

The world of Shanghai is dark and ominous, much like the world we live in. But Banerjee does not invest a righteous or a jaded cynical tone. He presents reality shrouded in all its complexities with thought and narrative as original as it comes, a sore rarity in our times.

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