The ApunKaChoice movie review of Shanghai. Dibakar Banerjee’s new film Shanghai is laden with delectable irony and simmering drama, but at its heart is a story that leaves one decidedly unmoved.
Mera Bharat Mahaan. The truck bearing this proud slogan mows down a social activist even as the political bigwigs relish the gyrations of a pretty firang to the raunchy number ‘Imported Kamariya’ at the shindig of the political party with the amusing name: India Bane Pardes (IBP). Earlier, the same activist (Prosenjit Chatterjee) gets media attention at the airport only because he walks up to a gorgeous bimbo of an actress who staggers in her high-heels and talks affectedly of doing films about a London girl in love with India. The irony is subtle but can’t skip your notice. A politico (Farooque Sheikh) slogs on a treadmill but has a crony with juice and eatables waiting by the side. He digs into the piping hot halwa and talks about papering over the scandalous findings of an inquiry commission headed by a no-nonsense and no-pushover IAS officer (Abhay Deol).
The idea that these politicos led by their roly-poly CM (Supriya Pathak) are pushing to the people of Bharat Nagar is of converting their maze of a grimy town into an International Business Park (IBP, again) by first acquiring their land, then pushing them to the suburbs, and erecting skyscrapers for the well heeled, all in the name of pragati and progress. Only the unrelenting social activist (Prosenjit) and his students are the party poopers. So the stones are hurled, hockey sticks swung by the coalition partners until the raging protest is silenced with the mowing down of the activist by two men who happen to be themselves just pawns in the hands of the powers higher up.
In this vortex of political skulduggery are sucked two characters, a local videographer (Emraan Hashmi) and the slain activist’s student and secret admirer (Kalki Koechlin). Even as the IAS officer (Abhay Deol) goes about unravelling the truth, the videographer finds a clinching evidence that directly implicates the political bigwigs.
Loosely based on Greek author Vassilis Vassilikos' novel 'Z', Shanghai works on many levels. It’s disturbingly real, incredibly ironic and has all the characters well chalked out. But the film is too bloody dark and grim, with hardly a glimmer of humour, save for Emraan Hashmi’s stained teeth which you sincerely hope all the actresses he’s smooched in Bollywood to see. The film’s pace slackens at times, and Kalki’s overwrought character is laden with more tension than one could relate to. No wonder she has this stony, wide-eyed expression of utter bewilderment all over her face in most frames. Emraan Hashmi, playing the videographer moonlighting as a porn filmmaker, comes up with a restrained and finely nuanced performance. His snaggle teeth, paunch and scruffy dresses add to the look of the character, but what stands out eventually is the character’s gaucheness, vulnerability, fear, and the eventual shoring up of courage.
Prosenjit as the genial activist is well cast, but Supriya Pathak seems to be scraping for right and convincing expression at the crunch meeting with the IAS officer. Which brings us to Abhay Deol, whose understated portrayal of a sharp, observant, polite, but unrelenting truth-digger is the best of the performances in the film. Particularly impressive is the chameleonic change in the character at the fag end, as he, with composed confidence, makes his boss shift loyalties over an uneaten paneer tikka.
From the sidelines, Farooque Sheikh and Pitobash come up with fine acts.
All in all, Shanghai is a film that makes a social statement without being cynical. It’s a well-crafted, well-written movie that sets you thinking. But it doesn’t hit you where it hurts the most.