‘Shanghai’ movie review: A caustic, incisive political thriller!

Ananya Bhattacharya

Dibakar Banerjee and his incisive take on Indian politics hits people below the belt, and hits hard, with the caustically cutting political thriller called ‘Shanghai’. The director has dived whole hog into the dirty game called politics, and has crafted to perfection a staggeringly brilliant offering. The flawless acting of the spectacular cast is another feather in the hat of the filmmaker; and with ‘Shanghai’, Banerjee has catapulted himself to the league of directors who enjoy an enviable status in the territory.

When Dr. Ahemadi (Prosenjit Chatterji) is brutally mowed down by a truck, the aftermath of the incident compels Bharatnagar to metamorphose into a boiling cauldron. While the overarching presence of the IBP (India Bane Pardes/ International Business Park) project provides the downtrodden of Bharatnagar with a glimpse of their much-anticipated Utopia, the ‘dengue, malaria’ that plagues ‘Bharat mata’ is a reality that the director has magically woven into the film.

The juxtaposition of the heavenly promises and the gruesome truth fits into the film perfectly, and Dibakar Banerjee’s adaptation of Vassilis Vassilikos’ ‘Z’ is one that mirrors the turbulence of our times only too transparently. The film holds in front of us an untarnished, un-photoshopped image of the ‘Bharat’ that Bharatnagar depicts.

As the idealistic, politically charged Shalini, Kalki Koechlin takes her image of a consummate actress several notches higher. She fights and she kisses with an aggressive passion that perhaps no one else could have done. Prosenjit in the role of Dr. Ahemadi could have been used a bit more – somewhere, his acting skills don’t make that much of an impact. Despite being the rallying point of all action and all reaction in the film, Prosenjit hardly enjoys considerable screen space.

Emraan Hashmi as Jogi delivers his hitherto best performance ever since his career in the Hindi film industry came into existence. But the young, dynamic, bespectacled and smart IAS officer Krishnan steals the show. Abhay Deol’s performance as the Officer who refuses to be played around like a marionette in the hands of the Chief Minister, and the way he goes forth in his endeavour to avenge the assassination of Dr. Ahemadi once he finds out the actual culprits, is stunning – through and through.

The lyrics of each of the songs that feature in the film are sharp – exceedingly so – and leave their imprint on the mind. The songs have words that had been ordered to be banned in several parts of the country, but Dibakar Banerjee, by releasing his film unscathed, has proved a point. That banning a certain song or imposing an embargo upon a certain film is not going to help the country and the sickening malaise called dirty politics.

Despite the depiction of the darkness and depressing reality, ‘Shanghai’ while on the one hand has a weak ray of the hope of redemption in the portrayals of the likes of Shalini and Krishnan, on the other has the vertiginous truth at the helm of which are power-thirsty, corrupted-to-the-core politicians. The staggering seething sarcasm rings loud and clear in the entire movie – the politicians who seek to create a Shanghai out of a place like Bharatnagar, do so at the cost of so many lives. Like Dr. Ahemadi says in his speech at the beginning, the same people on the pyre of whose houses the malls would be built would be seen working as guards to it.

The film deliberately lacks a clear denouement. The end is left a tad open, and the viewer is left satisfied – but not completely so. ‘Shanghai’ brings together a splendidly scripted plot, consummate acting and incisive irony – a film that just doesn’t deserve being missed!

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