Very few movies make you sit up and notice a detailed finesse and mastery in direction. Shanghai is one of them. Be it the choice of subject, the storytelling, the cinematography, the edit, the casting, the sound, the art design: every department reflect’s the director, Dibakar Banerjee’s craft and eye for detail.
Based on a book ‘Z’ by Vassilis Vassilikos, cleverly titled Shanghai is a riveting socio political drama that depicts the dangers of India turning into a Shanghai (India Bana Pardes). Dr Ahmedi(Prosenjit Chatterjee), an activist based in New York, arrives in the fictitious township called Bharat Nagar. His aim is to raise awareness amongst the masses against the existing company , India Business Park (IBP) backed by the ruling political party, taking over their land to create malls and skyscrapers. Soon, in a spine chilling incident, he is run over by a van and lands up in a hospital, fighting for his life. His wife raises a protest, asking for an enquiry.
The chief minister(Supriya Pathak),entrusts IAS officer, Krishnan (Abhay Deol) with the responsibility of probing the murder. Ahmedi’s student and lover, Shalini Sahay(Kalki Koechlin)is also hell bent on nailing the people behind the murder. Only one man has access to the evidence: a small time videographer- Jogi (Emraan Hashmi) along with his partner.
The fascinating plot and screenplay (Urmi Juvekar , Dibakar)maintains the edgy tightness and intrigue right till the end. The unfolding of dramatic events as we follow Krishnan’s investigations along with Kalki’s personal involvement with brief glimpses into the professor’s wife’s own unusual reaction, keeps one hooked with its raw intensity.
Hashmi running with a CPU, Deol and Kalki almost slipping on freshly mopped wet floor, rallies’ frightening faces ,slogans and sounds, a basketball innocuously appearing in the midst of a grim enquiry; are wonderful moments to watch out for.
Every single actor right from the van driver and his accomplice to the central actors, bring in rare, real performances. Abhay Deol as a controlled, silent and ambitious Tamilian bureaucrat and Emraan Hashmi with his stained toothy grin, are so true to their characters that after a while, one only sees them as Krishnan and Jogi.
Farooque Sheikh who appears in this film after a long hiatus, makes his presence felt with a remarkable performance as the dubious political wheeler dealer. Supriya Pathak as the clever and calculating chief minister, shows her immense versatility as an actor. Prosenjit as the charismatic social leader, charms with a rare combination of intellect and sex appeal. Pitobash as a small time goon, is noticeably good.
Kalki Koechlin’s kiss has been unduly hyped in the promotional interviews. There is also unnecessary explanations of her white skin in the film along with a brief romantic track with Prosenjit, that has does little for either her character or the story. Despite unconvincing, sullen and highly strung characteristics as dictated by the script , Kalki brings her own intensity and does ample justice to her role.
Above all, the cinematography by Nikos Andritsakis captures the dark and menacing mood with brilliant crowd shots. The first few seconds, one shot -a still overview of the city, is most evocative. The fabulously detailed art design, the sound design and the efficient edit (Namrata Rao) make this film a class apart.
Vishal- Shekhar’s music does very little for the movie, though two songs stand out for their lyrics. ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ written by Dibakar Banerjee has lines like 'Sone ki chidiya, Dengue Malaria, Gud bhi hain Gobar bhi...'(brilliant dance moves by Emraan and Pitobash) and ‘Imported Kamariya written by Anvita Dutt Guptan aptly depicts the movie’s theme.
Dibakar has been making films based on real subjects like Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and Love, Sex and Dhokha. Both the films along with his first film, Khosla ka Ghosla, stand out for their art direction besides the unusual and hard hitting subjects.
Besides the relevant story, Shanghai is worth watching for its superbly crafted treatment and cinematic brilliance.