Movie Review: Shanghai (Hindi) 157

To those who may be wondering why this film is tilted ‘Shanghai, jog back your memory to times when politicians promised to transform Mumbai into Shanghai. Set in a fictional Bharat-nagar which is effectively a metaphor for any large Indian city, the movie is a take on how common lives get affected due to the politician-builder nexus with all ills brushed under the carpet in the name of modernization.

International Business Park’ is a mega redevelopment project that seeks to displace slums in Bharat-nagar blessed by the Chief Minister (Supriya Pathak). When a leftist Dr Ahmedi (Prasenjit Chatterjee) stands up for slum dwellers, he is quickly eliminated in a planned murder attempt which is made to look like an accident.

When Mrs Ahmedi (Tillotama Shome) demands a probe, a Bureaucrat TA Krishnan (Abhay Deol) is appointed to look into it. Trouble brews when he digs deeper than what is expected from him. Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) and a videographer Jogi Parmar (Emraan Hashmi) play key roles with Pitobash delivering a great performance at Jaggu.

The film is an adaptation of the novel “Z” by Greek writer-diplomat Vassilis Vassilikos. In fact, the book formed the base for a 1969 French film also titled ‘Z’ which inter alia bagged two Oscars. Apparently, the film is set in a right-wing military run country and it is about a leftist who gets killed while he plans to speak at an anti-military, nuclear disarmament rally. The developer-angle is more relevant for India though!

In fact, after a spate of comedies, it is nice to see Bollywood showing interest in strong themes or current issues. From the maker of near-realistic flicks like ‘Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye’ and ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’ director Dibakar Banjerjee’s choice of subject is commendable. Also, it was a good choice not to resort to item numbers to sell the film. Instead, he has preferred to focus on its characters and some dramatic tension.

The characters in Shanghai are realistic. You can’t really slot them into the stereotypes such as the altruistic good guys or the abominable bad guys. Instead, they are all regular people with their own agendas with circumstances bring out the best or worst in them. It could be politicians in power, self serving bureaucrats, a student supporting a professor she has an affair with, aimless street goons, etc.

There are just a few drawbacks that deny the film from becoming awesome. Emraan Hashmi’s character could have done with a little more meat. The motivations of the leftist, especially one who travels in a private jet could have been better explained. Abhay Deol’s Tamil accent is inconsistent and the ‘Madrasi’ reference is racist.

The storyline itself could have done with some suspense rather than focus purely on drama. Probably the ending could have been better; but hey, it’s closer to reality. Specifically, there is one bit that beats me; the celebratory mood at Bharat-nagar slums. If they were celebrating the development, then what was the need for the leftist’s intervention? Or, what were they celebrating with fireworks?

Overall, ‘Shanghai’ is a decent watchable film. Nonetheless, don’t expect it to have something that would blow you off your feet. It has some good acting and it deserves some credit for coming up with characters with shades of grey.

Rating 6/10: A hard hitting take on politician-developer nexus!