Rating: 4.5/5 stars (Four-and-a-half stars)
Star cast: Abhay Deol, Emraan Hashmi, Kalki Koechlin, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Farooq Sheikh, Pitobash Tripathy, Supriya Pathak, Anant Jog.
What’s Good: The engaging script; superlative performances; direction.
What’s Bad: The screenplay is of the kind which might not appeal to the lay viewers.
Verdict: Shanghai is a classy, entertaining fare.
Watch or Not?: Definitely watch Shanghai for the superb performances.
PVR Pictures, DBP and NFDC’s Shanghai is a political thriller set in Bharat Nagar, a fictitious town in India.
IAS officer T.A. Krishnan (Abhay Deol) is the vice-chairman of IBP, a business infrastructure project that is to be executed in the small town of Bharat Nagar. As Krishnan is in the good books of the chief minister of the state, Madamji (Supriya Pathak), and her principal secretary, Kaul (Farooq Sheikh), he is scheduled to be promoted to a higher post. IBP is the brainchild of the CM and her coalition partner. The politicians, whose party workers have a strong hold in Bharat Nagar, are projecting IBP as their pet development project in the state.
Shalini Sahay (Kalki Koechlin) is a young, US-educated daughter of a tainted army officer. She is a part of a group of activists who are opposing the massive displacement of people that IBP entails. Dr. Ahemadi (Prosenjit Chatterjee), Shalini’s former teacher and the leader of the anti-IBP movement, arrives in Bharat Nagar to give a public speech to oppose the infrastructure project. In spite of a death threat, demonstrations by political workers and a reluctant district administration and police, Dr. Ahemadi delivers his speech. But soon after, he is grievously injured when he is hit by a running tempo.
The driver of the tempo, Jaggu (Anant Jog), is apprehended by the police. The other accomplice in the crime, Bhaggu (Pitobash Tripathy), manages to get away. Jogi Parmar (Emraan Hashmi), a local videographer and his boss, who are making recordings for the political party, capture some footage of the moments preceding the mishap.
After a media furore over the incident, Krishnan is asked to head an investigation into the Dr. Ahemadi accident. Kaul makes it amply clear to him that he is just required to be seen doing justice, without going into details of what really happened.
Shalini fights to nail the culprits. Jogi, who is initially reluctant to help Shalini, is forced by circumstances to reconsider his position. Krishnan, on the other hand, is faced with a dilemma when he is presented with incontrovertible evidence which shows that the politicians were involved in the attack. In the meantime, the situation in Bharat Nagar becomes worse and curfew is imposed.
What does Krishnan do? Where does Shalini’s search lead her? What about Jogi? Who ordered the killing of Dr. Ahemadi? What happens to the infrastructure project in Bharat Nagar? The rest of the drama and the climax answer these questions.
Shanghai Review: Script Analysis
The screenplay of Shanghai, based on the novel Z by Vassilis Vassilikos, is engaging from the word go. The screenplay writers (Urmi Juvekar and Dibakar Banerjee) have ensured that the viewer is pulled into the murky world of political machinations. The characters are wonderfully etched; their interpersonal relations beautifully evolve as the drama progresses.
While the viewer is engrossed in the story, he identifies with the moral dilemmas that various characters face. What the script doesn’t allow them to do is to take sides, and in that it holds a mirror to the contemporary situation of the Indian state. More than this, the screenplay works at the plot level. Incidents that take place in the second half not only shock the audience but also makes them await the epilogue. The climax doesn’t disappoint. The dialogues are first-rate.
The only minus point in the narrative is the fact that it doesn’t ask the audience to be mute spectators to the drama unfolding on the screen. Instead, it seeks them to, at times, put the bits and pieces together. The lay viewer, who is not necessarily used to watching such films, might find parts of Shanghai a little difficult to comprehend.
Shanghai Review: Star Performances
Abhay Deol is simply superlative as the straightforward IAS officer. His South Indian accent is so well-done that it is impossible to imagine him as not being the character of Krishnan. Emraan Hashmi is boisterous as Jogi Parmar, the sleazy but well-meaning videographer. His look is also commendably authentic. He does a wonderful job. Kalki Koechlin emotes beautifully. Farooq Sheikh, as Kaul, is a delight. Prosenjit Chatterjee is very natural and believable as Dr. Ahemadi. Pitobash Tripathy (as Bhaggu) does a fine job. Supriya Pathak (as the chief minister) is very good in a short appearance. Anant Jog as Jaggu is natural. Kiran Karmarkar (as the CM’s coalition partner) looks like the quintessential politician. Tillotama Shome (as Mrs. Ahemadi) and others offer adequate support.
Shanghai Review: Direction, Music & Technical Aspects
Dibakar Banerjee’s direction is excellent. He spins a drama that is both, entertaining and thought-provoking. His portrayal of the milieu of Bharat Nagar and his understated narrative style deserve kudos. Michael McCarthy’s background score is appropriate. Music, composed by Vishal-Shekhar, is very good. The lyrics, by Dibakar Banerjee, Anvita Dutt Guptan, Kumaar, Neelesh Misra and Vishal Dadlani, are meaningful. The production design is realistic. Nikos Andritsakis’ cinematography is brilliant. Editing, by Namrata Rao, is sharp.
Shanghai Review: The Last Word
On the whole, Shanghai is a first-class political thriller. It deserves not to be missed.
Shanghai releases on 8 June 2012.