<Review by: Anuvrat Bhansali>
Directed by Dibakar Banerjee (based on the novel Z by Vassilis Vassilikos). Starring Abhay Deol, Emraan Hashmi, Kalki Koechlin, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Farooque Sheikh, Supriya Pathak Kapur.
A political drama set in the period of India Shining, Shanghai is a hard-hitting thriller exploring the dark side of the bureaucracy. A compelling tale much true to the current times, it reveals the deep-rooted corruption amongst hierarchies of people who run this country and their misdemeanours, which are often concealed beneath the jargon of growth and development.
Bharat Nagar, a small town close to Delhi is poised to become India’s Shanghai as a part of the re-development project named Indian Business Park or IBP. The coalition government envisions IBP as a progressive step for the town and its citizens but a group of citizens led by Dr. Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) sees the project as the Government’s way to seize the residents’ lands with a promise that will never be fulfilled.
While addressing the residents of Bharat Nagar, Dr. Ahmedi is run over by a tempo truck while the police stand idly by. An enquiry commission is set up by the ruling party, headed by IBP Chairman TA Krishnan (Abhay Deol). While the Police believe it to be a case of hit and run by a drunken tempo driver, Shalini Sahay (Kalki Koechlin), Dr.Ahmadi’s student and supporter knows that it was a homicide. Shalini’s only hope for justice is a local cameraman Joginder Parmar (Emraan Hashmi) who has evidence that will reveal the ugly face of Bharat Nagar and shake up its Shanghai dreams. The onus of justice and the future of Bharat Nagar rest on the integrity of one man, TA Krishnan.
Shanghai is not the kind of boisterous cinema that’s supposed to relieve the five day work stress. It is a special film because it’s brutally honest in its depiction of the existence of a conniving regime and the perplexing stupidity of the common man. What makes it extremely compelling is that it doesn’t preach but articulates how corruption sits right at the top and percolates down the hierarchy. It formulates that the common man is a mere puppet, oblivious and mostly incapable. And even though it doesn’t say anything new or extraordinary, it has a riveting plot that unfolds very slowly while keeping the audience on the edge.
Shanghai is excellent in almost everything. The actors, supporting actors, dialogues, screenplay, cinematography, editing, locations, music; such brilliance given Dibakar Banerjee is just three films old. It might be surprising that such a staid political drama has many funny moments too. For Deol and Hashmi, it’s a performance of a lifetime.
The only thing that could have been improved is its pace. The song – ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ is such a fitting analogy for a contradicting tale of a nation that’s being hollowed down under the garb of development.
It would be common to refer to Shanghai as path-breaking cinema but in no sense whatsoever can it be called alternative cinema. It’s mainstream, set in an era that we all live in, with characters and situations that are true to the present times. Shanghai is a movie experience that is admittedly unapologetic and unpretentious.