Why should you watch a Bollywood film titled after the most populous city in the People’s Republic of China and can possibly confused with Mikael Hafstrom’s mystery thriller of the same name starring John Cusack, Chow Yun-Fat, Ben Watanabe, and Gong Li? Perhaps because Bollywood's Shanghai, the one directed byrising star Dibakar Banerjee and headlined by Hindi film stars Emraan “The Serial Kisser” Hashmi and Abhay Deol, is a political thriller that is certain to substantially entertain anyone and everyone who watches this film whilst donning their respective thinking caps. An adaptation of Greek author Vassilis Vassilikos’ acclaimed novel Z, Bollywood’s Shanghai also stars Kalki Koechlin and Prosenjit Chatterjee and is certain to be amongst this year’s most qualitative films.
Putting a mirror up to modern day India much like Z did in the 1960s – both as a novel and as the original 1969 on-screen adaption that won the Best Foreign Language Film –did for its Greek counterparts, Shanghai is perhaps Mr. Banerjee’s greatest production yet, as the director skillfully pits the haves and the powerful against the have nots and the powerless. The struggle between the plentiful few and the struggling masses are narrated in a manner that not only paints a vivid picture of twenty-first century India but also does so in a satirical manner. Basically, Shanghai is a well-told tale of the ties between politics and big business, an understood relationship many of us believe to strongly exist despite veiled attempts to claim otherwise.
Of course, a film needs to do more than have an intelligent filmmaker armed with a story commenting on the overwhelming interplay between big business and the government and its impacts on the masses. Execution is everything, and execute is what Mr. Banerjee did. Not only did he bring out stellar acting performance by Messrs. Deol and Hashmi, but he also oversaw some of the finest camera work ever witnessed. The remarkable cinematography truly drives home Shanghai’s true intentions. Even more, the portrayed images allow audiences to visually connect with a story that is rather meaty and substantive. No, Shanghai is not an easy film to follow. Audiences are expected to wear their respective thinking caps. But having beautiful visuals to complement the individual critical analyses of moviegoers certainly is an added bonus and a welcome tool.
And that is what makes Mr. Banerjee such an amazing filmmaker. He takes no short cuts in telling us a story. The characters are not gaudy, the plot is not muddled, and the pacing is not spotty. The ultimate question posed: who truly wields political power? It is a question Mr. Banerjee allows audience members to realize on his or her own. The overarching theme is not overbearing but instead there for the taking, and Mr. Banerjee respectfully gives his audience credit and space to ask the questions that seems so obvious to ask but is oftentimes overlooked. By giving his audiences due credit speaks volumes of Mr. Banerjee’s storytelling abilities and overall talent, especially in a world where studios stick to formula and oftentimes hand-feed audiences what and how to think about what they see on screen.
Beyond the overall commentary, Shanghai has plenty of well-times peaks and valleys portraying India’s color and splendor as well as it dark corruption. There are moments of profound silence that speak volumes of intent and mentality. Ultimately, Shanghai strikes a solid balance of storytelling and entertainment. There are portions of the film that are an absolute pleasure to enjoy and others that make you wonder just how blurred the lines really are between cinematic fiction and actual reality. Neither preachy nor masala, Shanghai may actually be one of India’s most ambitious films in a long time, so much so that it is actually ahead of its time. Indeed, the true influence and measure of Shanghai may not be realized for years.
The story itself centers on a professor (Mr. Chatterjee) who falls victim to a hit-and-run event, spawning his lover (Ms. Koechlin) to believe the incident was no accident but instead a deliberately planned murder. She sets onto a path searching for truth and justice and, whilst on her mission, meets a smorgasbord of interesting characters. There is the IAS officer (Mr. Deol), the pornographer (Mr. Hashmi), the sweet-talker (Farooq Sheikh), and a series of intriguing politicians and executives. Collectively, they tell a story of how seemingly innocent events are not always as they seem and the victims are common, often powerless people.
Well-written, well-shot, well-told, well-acted, Shanghai is a treat of a film and definitely time well-spent.
'Shanghai,' a PVR Pictures release, officially opened on June 8 and is now playing worldwide.
Reasons to like: Cinematogrpahy, Gripping Storytelling, Solid Direction, Strong Acting
Fans will also like: Rajneeti (India), Z (Greece), Internal Affairs (Hong Kong)