Shanghai: The story of India

June 7, 2012

There are some films that you watch, not because you want (as Vidya Balan claims in ‘The Dirty Picture’) “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment”, but because they are a reflection of the times we live in, and if these movies didn’t get made, these chaotic times wouldn’t be chronicled for eternity.

Dibakar Banerjee certainly seems determined to be that chronicler for India. In his fourth film “Shanghai”, Banerjee keeps the grittiness of “Love, Sex Aur Dhokha” or “Khosla Ka Ghosla“, but gets more ambitious, with his canvas, dealing with murkier issues like urbanisation, development and the politics of today’s India.

In less than two hours, he manages to make a telling comment on the country we live in, the people who govern it, and most importantly, the people we think govern it. After all, as a character in George R R Martin’s epic “Game of Thrones” series says — “power resides where men believe it resides.”

Banerjee sketches his characters with all the skill that he has displayed in the past. Emraan Hashmi is undoubtedly one of the stars of this ensemble cast – stripped of his loverboy image, wearing ill-fitting clothes and flashing a goofy smile, Hashmi shines as Jogi Parmar, a small-time maker of video films who is caught in circumstances he doesn’t always know how to deal with.

Parmar is one of the witnesses to the hit-and-run death of a prominent social worker, Dr Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee), minutes after he addresses a rally opposing a major infrastructure project which will take up slum land. Ahmedi’s associate Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) enlists Jogi’s help to gather evidence that the attack was pre-planned and had the sanction of a coalition partner of the ruling state government.

Owing to pressure and Ahmedi’s stature, the state government sets up a one-man inquiry commission, headed by upcoming bureaucrat Krishnan (Abhay Deol) to investigate the incident. Krishnan soon realises that the commission might be an eyewash and he might be forced to question his values.

Politics is not an easy subject to make a film on, and it is easy to oversimplify or make carictures of characters, but Banerjee treads carefully. The detailing is evident in every scene, and even characters with the smallest roles have some powerful lines. Special mention for Anant Jogue and Tilottama Shome, who don’t have more than three or four scenes each, but are brilliant in each of them. Banerjee paints even the “heroes” of this film in shades of grey, and in doing so creates some memorable characters.

The first half of the film might seem slow, but Banerjee sets it up beautifully and the second half flows smoothly, thanks to the fact that he’s established characters and situations so well. Banerjee manages to make even the most banal of Bollywood’s devices — the item song — into a tool that narrates his story for him.

This might not be a film that breaks box-office records, but Banerjee’s is a voice that must be heard. Don’t miss “Shanghai”.

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