For an ad-film maker, serious film making does not come easy. Or let me rephrase that, according to popular belief, the abundance of a sense of humor in ad-film makers makes them graduate naturally to comedy and Dibakar Banerjee has been a big contributor to this belief with his previous films. While Dibakar Bannerjee has treated sensitive issues and real life stories with a touch of humor till now, he makes an out an out politico-drama with Shanghai. (Excuse me for not using the word thriller with the description of the genre of the film.) Based on the novel Z, Shanghai is a film that is based in an unnamed city in an unnamed state of India where, as it is in the rest of India, politics is the dirtiest and darkest of ditches. Dibakar treads on the sensitive line of morality and sense of duty in his characters who battle the scum of politicians and bureaucracy and sugar-coated threats to their lives and careers.
A fictional town in India is on the path of progress when a part of the town, Bharatnagar, is set to be converted into a business park, called the IBP (International Business Park), backed by the CM of the state and other powerful politicos. On the eve of the launch of this project, a celebrated social activist, Dr. Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) is run over by a speeding truck after delivering a speech opposing the IBP project. While Ahmedi lands in the hospital, the Vice Chairman of IBP, IAS officer T.A. Krishnan (Abhay Deol) is appointed to lead the CM’s enquiry commission into the matter of the alleged accident of Dr. Ahmedi. Krishnan crosses path with a Ahmedi’s ex-student Shalini Sahai (Kalki Koechlin) and a videographer (and part time pornographer) Jogi Parmar (Emraan Hashmi) during the course of his investigation. Jogi’s boss finds some evidence against the CM in the accident of Ahmedi. As Krishnan dig deeper into the case, he finds himself caught in a web of corrupt policemen and politicians all dancing to the tunes of the CM herself. The rest of the story revolves around how the three protagonists follow the path of truth against all odds.
Dibakar Bannerjee departs from his usual humoristic style and embraces reality with a pinch of salt. What is best about the film is that all the actors deliver fine performances and look perfectly fit for their characters. The most surprising element is Emraan Hashmi, it’s his only second film that I have watched and I was glad to see the stained-tooth desi videographer, with a visible paunch, rather than a serial kisser. Abhay Deol fumbles with his South Indian accent, at times, but looks good in his part as an IAS officer bound to his career and as usual delivers a fine performance. Kalki, hits the right chord too. Her diction of Hindi is getting better with every film and she has a strong screen presence to add to her character each time. Prasenjit Chatterjee delivers an earnest performance with his role as Dr. Ahmedi but the one person who steals the show here, is Farooq Sheikh as Kaul, the Principal Secretary to the CM. Also, not to forget, the spot on performance by Pitobash Tripathy as Bhagu, a goon, working for the party.
What I felt missing in the film was a concrete conclusion after a very strong climax. Also, a few sub-plots have been left unconcluded, I feel. Also, though the film runs for just over 2 hours, yet the film is slow at times. The music is good and well paced and adds a lot of intensity to the beautiful cinematography in the limited scope of a small city. Watch it to face reality, watch it for the fine performances but above all, watch it for the sheer honesty with which the film is made. Undoubtedly, it is one of the best political drama’s so far.
My Rating: 3.25/5