Dibakar Banerjee has set a benchmark for quality in film-making. His topics are intense, which elicits shock and awe. KHOSLA KA GHOSLA and LOVE SEX AUR DHOKA did just that. SHANGHAI is his latest proof of how to enamor the viewer with a realistic plot shot within the framework of the buzz, grime and crime of everyday life. There is no refinement in the quality of the lighting. A deliberate move to give the film an 'I can identify with it' element. It has that feel of oneness with the viewers, which helps them traverse with the characters to their various woes.
However, the downer is that it is not the SHANGHAI the promos promised. All the same, that again is a smart promo draw in the audience and then deliver your punch. But it is a political thriller nonetheless, one that gives you a ringside view of the 'game players'.
The plot here is restricted to a Chief Minister (Supriya Pathak Kapur, who gets just five minutes of screen time) and her cadres who will not take anything spoken against the ruling IBP government lightly. For them, it is an iron rule. Moving around the periphery of the Chief Minister's Office are central characters that define the movie. My only grouse with Banerjee is that considering it had the platform to include the whole city, he restricts the plot to just a few individuals. The ramification of encompassing the entire city rather than just focusing on the intense 'inside story' within the government would have been a huge bonus to the viewer.
SHANGHAI revolves around the accident of a social activist Dr Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee). In the city (Banerjee has not made it known which city) for a speech campaign against IBP, the ruling party, Ahmedi is first warned through his student Shalini (Kalki Koechlin), then his permission to speak has been withdrawn. Finally he is mowed down amidst police bandobast. To all present, it appears an 'open and shut' case of drunk driving. But Shalini knows there is a bigger conspiracy behind the accident. There's also Joginder (Emraan Hashmi a porn film-maker) who seems to have damning evidence that will bring the government to its knees.
Within the government, the case is given to T A Krishnan (Abhay Deol), vice-chairman of IBP. His boss Kaul (Farooq Sheikh) nonchalant about the incident; he is certain that Krishnan should seal the file. But Krishnan dedicatedly follows every shred of evidence to its destructive end.
SHANGHAI also dwells on how the poor are remote-controlled into doing exactly what the people in power want them to. Jobless, they become ruthless when given a dose of power by the higher-ups, to usurp the peace of the city. Pitobash Tripathy as Bhagu gives a flattering impersonation of how the uneducated/unemployed are used and abused.
Banerjee engages the viewer throughout, taking him on a journey to decipher the motives of the government and the 'inquiry commission', which most know what they stand for. But amongst the bad and ugly in the film there is also the good within the system that actually shocks. What is even more shocking is that Banerjee boldly exposes the real killer but also smartly hides the fact. Something no filmmaker has had the gumption to do. That I think is Banerjee's trump card in SHANGHAI; he has banked on his ability to deceive!
Abhay Deol is sedate, matter-of-fact and unperturbed. He is also a game player. A totally different role to what one has seen him on screen so far. He fits in like a true bureaucrat. Pitobash compels you to reach out to the screen and choke him. An overpowering performance, yet understated. Emraan Hashmi has done a Vidya Balan. He has worn trousers two sizes smaller that allows his belly to protrude keeping his character in mind. He impresses with his sensitivity to the role he portrays. Though the CM is given just five minutes, Banerjee makes smart use of her posters to have her imposing figure hanging over the movie.
The celebratory street songs are catchy and have an urban charm to it. The lezim beats are a huge hit almost like a war cry imploring the sleepy city to awaken.
Banerjee's passion for film-making is now a given. Like Tigmanshu Dhulia, he has defined his own brand of cinema, one that will find its own audience.