Taking off from the book Z by Vassilis Vassilikos, Shanghai delves into India’s complex political system, tracing the paths taken by various individuals, as they deal with the same situation in their unique manner.
The plot: Political activist Dr Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) comes to India, in filibustering opposition to the ruling party’s ambitious project IBH (International Business Park). He is warned of a death threat by student Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) but goes ahead with his public speaking which makes him an easy target for what’s passed off as an accident. Shalini believes it’s a murder attempt, Jogi (Emraan Hashmi), a sleazy video filmmaker has evidence supporting her belief and IAS officer TA Krishnan (Abhay Deol) heads a special committee formed to investigate the accident. The trio uncovers the political system, breaking illusions only to be caught in it all over again.
The good: The film passes with flying colors in major departments, making it an interesting watch. The cast contributes majorly to the quality of the film, be it Kalki Koechlin, completely de-glam with her fiery temper and aggression, or Prosenjit Chatterjee in his short, yet pivotal act. Emraan Hashmi, in a refreshing change, doesn’t play the lover boy and looks comfortably at ease in his new act. Abhay Deol treads on thin ice, never letting his character become a Tamilian caricature, yet bringing conviction to his body language.
The narrative (Dibakar Banerjee, Urmi Juvekar), even though slightly complex, effectively maintains the subtle tone of the film, without resorting to melodrama at any point. The humor is effective comic relief, preventing the film from becoming completely heavy. Namrata Rao does well at the edit table, bringing together different setups with ease, without jerks. At 114 minutes, the film sticks to the right length, engaging the viewer all through. Vishal-Shekhar compose a chart-topping album, with ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ standing out. A special mention must be made about the background score (Michael McCarthy), which is never too loud or disturbing but would definitely give the film a feeling of incompleteness in its absence. The film concludes with a well-crafted climax, leaving no questions unanswered.
The bad: Like its predecessor Love, Sex Aur Dhokha, Shanghai isn’t structured as a mass appeal product. There are a couple of points especially in Prosenjit’s scenes where the audio isn’t even clearly audible and certain words get lost in the general confusion of sounds. It is entirely intentional to build the feeling of cacophony, never mind if it drowns a word here and there, making it a departure from ‘normal Hindi cinema’. Shanghai isn’t high on either entertainment or emotions, a quotient our masses mainly thrive on. Also, it isn’t one of those regular films where you can multi-task while watching the film. It demands your attention. Lastly, those who remember Costa Gavras’ Z (based on the same book) will probably feel a wistful disappointment.
Overall: In the Hindi cinema context, Dibakar Banerjee executes a complex story with expertise, proving that his earlier outings were no flukes. Shanghai can easily be termed as a must-watch for those who want to look beyond entertainment in cinema.
– Nikita Periwal