Shanghai’s stark opening sets the mood of the political thriller that consumes you for the next couple of hours. That it stays with you long after the film is over, is due to director Dibakar Banerjee’s skills and Emraan Hashmi’s stellar performance.
The story traces corruption in India at its regressive best, masquerading in the garb of economic progress. The film is set in a small, nameless town in India – the cars, autos and signage do not allow it to be any particular city or state, which is an intentional move on the part of the director, Dibakar Banerjee. It could be Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra — any part of India really. The accents of the characters in the town reflect the various regions of the country that they belong to, so it is one big confluence of the nation’s diversity that is woven into the screenplay. The very fact that this could be any part of India is as factual as it is frightening, especially given the increasing levels of corruption nationwide.
A New York based social activist, Dr Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) comes down to India to campaign against the monstrous International Business Park, a realty enterprise dream of the ruling Chief Minister of the state played by Supriya Pathak, that is going to render the residents of Bharat Nagar homeless. He is the house guest of one of his students in the city, Shalini Sahay (Kalki Koechlin), and subtle nuances earlier on tell you what lies under that relationship.
The story moves on to the protest by Dr Ahmedi against the IBP alongwith his supporters, resulting in a gruesome outcome. Dr Ahmedi is almost bumped off by miscreants at the protest. The plot then moves its focus on to Shalini, who takes it upon herself to look for the people responsible for the accident. She runs into Joginder Parmar (Emraan Hashmi) a porn videographer in the area, who speaks English in a way only his kind would comprehend. An odd rapport strikes up between them. The circle to look for the offenders increases, with T A Krishnan (Abhay Deol) an IAS officer working closely on the IBP with the CM also inadvertently stepping in to speed up justice.
Shanghai is a film that echoes the times we are living in, in an India that seems to thrive on corruption and is driven by selfish greed, with no effort being made towards any constructive change whatsoever. The director, Dibakar, has captured that essence extremely well and it reflects in all aspects of the film – the cinematography, the characters, the language and the ensemble cast portraying the decaying system in the country. Even though the pace of the film is languid, clever lines like “You are who to the accidented man” and “Jeena haraam lagta hai par marne se bhi darr lagta hai” add some punch to the screenplay. But the story does not fall short of engaging its audience in any way.
The camera work by Nikos Andritsakis is magnificent, lending itself to the narrative beautifully. From the colors to the blood and gore to the song picturisations, his work is par excellence.
Priyanka Chopra seems to have “made it” as far as pop culture goes, as there are a couple of references made on her beauty and stardom in the film. It could be that the director and scriptwriter want to sign her on for their next film with such obvious sycophancy, but I think it’s the former.
Emraan Hashmi is simply the best – in a character unknown to his fans and audiences till now – a sharp contrast from his lover boy and gangster hits. He is beguiling as the pot-bellied, 30-year-old Rajput struggling to make a life, resorting to the easy way out as a porn videographer. His countenance, carriage and body language – they’re all in sync with his portrayal of Jogi and with barely a few dialogue scenes in the film, he makes an impression that is hard to miss.
Abhay Deol is almost there in his role as an IAS officer, but he doesn’t quite nail the Southern accent. It slips up and down in his dialogue delivery and that’s a deterrent in his overall portrayal.
Farooque Shaikh’s appearance in the film makes you want to see him playing more parts – he is such a natural actor.
Kalki Koechlin serves the purpose of the foreigner girl. In the beginning of the film, when her domestic servant, Gauri, tells her something sinister, it is a tad odd, but it explains itself towards the climax. The music by Vishal-Shekhar is raw and melodious, especially the Bharat Mata Ki Jai song.
Shanghai is a realistic representation of “modern” India on film.