Six years ago, the country discovered an honest voice in Dibakar Banerjee with Khosla Ka Ghosla when an unlikely bunch of ordinary middle class people took on an all-powerful land-grabbing mafia to reclaim their plot.
The plot is no different here. It just got bigger. Replace Khosla's Ghosla with Bharatnagar (a microcosm for India, of course) and the land-grabbing mafia with the State-sponsored International Business Park (IBP) and what you get is the uncompromising, taut remake of “Z”, the 1966 novel by Greek writer Vassilis Vassilikos, that sits perfectly fine in a modern Indian context.
Shanghai is the story of a country where high-rise business parks backed by capitalists are replacing housing colonies for the economically weak and any voice of dissent is silenced by the State itself. This is a world run by the morally bankrupt. One where idealists are maligned with scams and duty-conscious government bureaucrats wrestle with conscience before passing every file.
Dibakar presents us with some of the most interesting characters we have seen onscreen in recent times. A videographer who sometimes shoots porn (Emraan Hashmi), a Tamil IAS officer who considers taking on a lucrative foreign assignment to close down a case (Abhay Deol) and a social activist and professor with a weakness for falling in love with his students (Prosenjit Chatterjee). The support cast is terrific too. Pitobash, Farooque Shaikh making a comeback and Kalki Koechlin get author-backed parts written to their strengths. But instead of letting the text tell the story, the filmmaker decides to let the visuals do all the talking. The dialogue, though sharp, is just incidental as the director chooses to enrich the narrative with every faculty available to him.
Actors are cast against the grain (a little too against the tide for Abhay Deol playing a Tamilian), the production design is rich with detail and nuance, the rare background score knows when to drown everything (and when to shut up) and then, there are the stray elements of chaos that creep into the frame to remind you of the country we live in. Be it the stray football entering an official government enquiry, the slippery wet floors or the taps without water. Very rarely do we come across films where even the locations are telling us more about the state of affairs than the dialogue itself.
Cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis takes us through this maze for justice with his painstakingly crafted long takes while the writers of Shanghai, Dibakar Banerjee and Urmi Juvekar, backed by the editor Namrata Rao, seem confident enough to let the pieces of the jigsaw fall in place little by little, and surprise us every few minutes in this tight thriller with a runtime of less than two hours.
The songs by Vishal and Shekhar are sneaked in rather nicely strictly for the set-up and even the ‘item song' has everything to do with the plot.
With not a single dull moment and every department in fine form, this is tour de force filmmaking. Simply one of the best and bravest films you will see this year.
Genre: Political thriller
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Cast: Abhay Deol, Emraan Hashmi, Kalki Koechlin, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Farooque Shaikh, Tillotama Shome, Pitobash
Storyline: As a social activist lies in coma for taking a stand against the State's decision to build a business park by taking over a housing colony, the quest for justice begins
Bottomline: That rare, almost uncompromising political thriller where the subtext and the context are more significant than the text itself. One where the visuals speak louder than words