Okay, so there are no towering ‘erections’ here – like in the famed Chinese city of the same name. Of course, it’s ‘election’ (now how does the Orient pronounce that?) time and promises abound. The age-old joke, “I will make a Paris/ Shanghai/ London/ New York out of this city if elected!” is still swallowed by a gulping ‘erectorate’ (oops, electorate)! And that is the intense premise of Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai. It’s gut-wrenching, it’s ‘Made in India‘, unadulterated, 100% desi maal. Hardly sasta, but tikau. Nothing imported. The story pulsates in the heartland of India. Rising from the bed of desi politics, stained with the blood of hatred, guilt and treachery.
Chaos unfolds in small-town Bharatnagar, rallying around an upcoming election, lofty promises and ambitious plans of making this township (where air-coolers and kachua chaap are a rare sight) a dream- city. A faction of Bharatnagaris are suspicious about the government’s ‘clean-up-act’ with plans of a majestic IBP (International Business Park); with high-rise buildings, malls and other urban frills and fantasies. While the rest blindly support power thirsty netas, only serving their selfish ambitions, and proudly calling it ‘pragati‘. Wow! That’s India rising, alright.
Prominent social activist, Dr. Ahmedi (Prosenjit) flies into the scene (by chartered flight), with bravado, balls and bhaashans – to save the citizens from exploitation and illegitimate political passions. Alas, he’s mowed down by a speeding tempo. High-ranking IAS officer, T.A. Krishnan (Abhay Deol) is pressurized by his boss (Farooq Sheikh) to murder his morality, drop his investigation and give this supposed drunken ‘hit and run’ case a clean-chit. Whereas activist Shalini Sahay (Kalki) is treated like a foreigner amongst the brown-skinned and on a mission to prove this is not an accident, but attempted murder. While politics makes strange bedfellows, Jogi (Emraan Hashmi), makes porn-partners, as a part-time videographer of adult movies. But risque soon turns into risky business when he ends up with real video evidence that can expose this conspiracy. Hereon, the politics only gets murkier, ruthless and bloodier. And Bharatnagar turns into a bedroom of more morchas, murder and corrupted moralities.
Finally, Emraan Hashmi has let go. Also of hot scenes, hot babes and Himesh-isms. Dibakar can take a bow for that. With crude body language, a pot belly, stained teeth and mawali moves, he perfectly looks the part and pulls off an act he should be proud of.
Abhay Deol thoroughly impresses with his cold, restrained and authoritative performance. Add to that a subtle Tamil accent. He doesn’t lose grip of his character for even a fleeting moment.
Kalki has few dialogues that probably prompt her panicked expressions throughout. With a character sketch that hints at an ambiguous past; she doesn’t reveal much – in performance or otherwise. Prosenjit, in a brief role leaves an impact. Farooq Sheikh adds gravitas to this gritty drama. Pitobash Tripathi as a herd-following morchawaala, Bhagu, stands out.
Director, Dibakar Banerjee’s adaptation of Greek writer Vassilis Vassilikos’s book ‘Z’ is impressively Indianized. The story-telling is embossed with naked realism, rawness and brutal honesty. Be it blood stained bodies, close-ups of blackened faces, or ugliness (of body and soul) – he bares it with gut, grit and gore. But it’s not the first time we’ve seen the struggling aam aadmi made scapegoats by mantris who go back to plush seats in their power hubs. It’s not the first time chapters on humanity and morality are shamelessly ripped from political text books. The story is predictable (expect for a few scenes), and the revelations that follow, don’t send shockwaves or make your bellies churn.
Yet, reality stings. Sometimes more than the ‘dengue and malaria’ in our very own hinterland.
A prominent social activist is run over by a tempo, driven by political motive; subsequently, devious plans are made to cover up this ruthless crime of power and dirty politics.
Tip Off :-
Whether Shanghai is off-beat or mainstream is debatable, but if you thrive on rustic realistic cinema, however heavy-duty – this is your pick.