Shanghai – Movie Review


Grim. Dark. Awesome.

Shanghai is definitely among the top two movies of the year so far, the other obviously being, Kahaani. Interestingly both films are thrillers, a genre historically not regarded as the most profitable in Bollywood. The success of these two (pretty confident Shanghai would turn out to be one) and the upcoming Aamir starrer Talaash should auger well for the category and we might see a spurt of thrillers in the next couple of years.

Coming back to the awesomeness that was Shanghai, director Dibakar Banerjee (Khosla ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Love Sex aur Dhoka) adapts Vassilis Vassilikos’s novel Z to deliver a stunning movie which manages to pack enough punch to keep you in awe through the 120 minutes and beyond.

The plot involves the assassination of social activist Dr. Ahmadi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) who was opposed to a State Government backed redevelopment project that involved shifting large number of poor families. His ex-student, now staunch follower, Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) stumbles upon evidence provided by the local videographer Jogi Parmar (Emraan Hashmi) against the Government’s efforts to pass the murder as a hit and run case. Abhay Deol (Krishnan) is the upright IAS officer appointed by the Government to head the enquiry commission into the case.

The brilliance of the movie is the manner in which the story is narrated; the director creates a grim environment with minimal background score. Adding dollops of dark humour and creating characters that are real to the core, your attention from the screen will not deviate even for a moment. As someone who appreciates depth, it was an absolute delight to see a Hindi filmmaker having such attention to detail. Right from the mannerisms of the principal characters to the sets created to portray the small town; it is all mapped out to the last detail! Especially, loved the part where the grey shades of even the Kejriwal like, Dr. Ahmadi are shown.

The multiple layers in each scene are easy to be missed but are sheer joy if understood. Sample this, amidst mindless violence, the commission is carrying out its enquiry in a room with walls which has ‘Sanskriti Badhao, Manavta Jagao’ written and to complete the irony, just when the intense meeting is about to explode it gets disturbed by a kid playing ball!

The screenplay is littered with such gems and as the movie rolls you will find yourself connecting the hitherto unexplained dots. This for me, as I have even said in earlier reviews, is a sign of an intelligent film maker making a movie for an intelligent audience.

The music by Vishal Shekhar is decent with ‘Bharat Mata ki jai ’ being the stand out. A special mention to the cinematographer, Nikos Andritsakis, who displays the real Bharat and the curfew scenes if you get the irony, will surely make you go wow.

Shanghai’s script and director are strengthened by the brilliant performances from the leads. Kalki is now turning into a natural at these roles, silently curbing her pain before unleashing it all in the climax. Abhay adds more weight to his claim of being the best actor among the current crop of Deols and by some margin.  Farooq Shaikh and Supriya Pathak also give in noticeable performances. But the film truly belongs to Emraan Hashmi, who pitches in his best performance in a career defining role. Kalki and Abhay could have been easily imagined in their respective roles, but to think of casting Emraan Hashmi as Jogi Parmar was sheer courage and the Director must be thanked whole heartedly for this. The serial kisser’s acting prowess have always been overshadowed by his on screen image, but here he gets an opportunity to sink his teeth into a meaty role and he is fab throughout. Along with the critical acclaim he shall get for Shanghai, hope he manages a few awards as well!

Finally, Dibakar Banerjee has staked his claim to be one of the best young directors around, added to my list of directors whose films should be watched on the day of release. Just goad yourself through the slow first 15 minutes, Shanghai unravels slowly and sucks you right in the drama filled with dark humour.

RGV, please watch and learn, this is how dark movies are made!

Rating: 3.5/5, if you are a tennis fan, make sure you catch it on the late night show today!

Dessert Note (DN, as desserts are served after main course, a dessert note is served after the main article):

Some years ago, there was great clamor to turn Mumbai into Shanghai, the role model modern day city. The then Government had been very vocal about it and Bombay Times would almost every week carry a story on the same. One of the reasons, along with obviously the redevelopment angle in the story, to influence the title perhaps.