On a candid note, Shanghai is a story that one has witnessed several times before in cinema. What makes it a decent watch then is Dibakar Banerjee’s offbeat take on the subject and impeccable understanding of the milieu.
Adapted from Vasilis Vasilikos’s novel ‘Z’ (which was even made into a French film by the same name in 1969), Shanghai is the story of a socialist professor and activist Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) who is opposing an upcoming infrastructure project in Bharat Nagar that is backed by the ruling political party.
At a rally, Ahmedi is run over by a speeding van. While the police pass off the episode as a drunken accident, Ahmedi’s adherent Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) knows it was a premeditated murder. A high ranking bureaucrat Krishnan (Abhay Deol) is appointed to investigate the case. And a local videographer Jogi (Emraan Hashmi) claims to have evidence on the mishap.
There is too less that you know about Ahmedi so his impetus behind the activism seems half-baked. There is too much that you are informed about Shalini including her father’s 40-crore scam but nothing of that adds to the narrative. The two male leads are more convincing characters comparatively. Jogi, in the past, had the option of fighting with his folks or running away from home and he chose the latter.
He doesn’t want to do the same this time. Krishnan dreams of a secure future in Stockholm which depends on his choice between conscience and corruption.At the outset, Shanghai is essentially not designed as a murder mystery. Right from the opening scene, the audience is aware of the killer, and the identity of the perpetrator is as much predictable.
So the film primarily works as a social drama over a thriller with the three protagonists trying to fight against the system in their own possible ways. Krishnan’s investigation takes the bureaucratic route and gets confusing at times with the complex state-of-affairs and the intricate hierarchy of the system. On the other hand, Jogi and Shalini explore the matter on a layman level and have a relatively easy connect with the viewer.
But after playing as a straightforward drama throughout, it’s somewhat surprising that the film aspires to build on some (foreseeable) suspense in the concluding reels. Beyond the predictability, Dibakar does try to perk up the staid climax where Krishnan shrewdly arm-twists a politician (Farooq Sheikh) which results into falling of the government. And despite the potential for a melodramatic and mass-appealing confrontation, the director keeps this face-off subtle and skillful.
Dibakar Banerjee aptly adapts to the grammar of the bureaucratic background that strengthens the political drama. Whether it’s the uncouth city, unruly party-men or Emraan Hashmi’s untamed street dance – every scene in the dirty narrative is just picture perfect. The random cuts and extreme facial close-ups disturb you at times until you get accustomed to them.
Shanghai almost redefines Emraan Hashmi from his typical Bhatt-camp lover-boy image. From his mannerisms, attitude to wild dance – there’s a new Emraan that you get to see in Shanghai. Abhay Deol, as the South Indian, doesn’t fall prey of the usual tendency to overdo the accent. He’s just perfect and is skillfully restrained in his act. Kalki Koechlin shows the right measure of intensity in her impressive act.
Prosenjit Chatterjee is good but doesn’t get much scope in a short-lived character. How one wishes to see more of the talented actor. Pitobash’s character is precisely an extension to what he played in Shor in the City and the actor is getting typecast. Anant Jog is retrained as compared to his recent over-the-top acts in Singham and Rowdy Rathore. Farooq Sheikh is splendid as the scheming politician. Tillotama Shome and Kiran Karmarkar are good in their respective roles.
Dibakar Banerjee has consistently raised the bar with each of his releases. Though he doesn’t outshine himself this time, Shanghai is a compelling watch!