Watching 'Shanghai' is revisiting your daily local newspaper, full of scams, conspiracies and crime stories. In short, the film is a slice of today's India.
Adapted from 'Z', a 1966 novel by Vassilis Vassilikos, Dibakar Banerjeer brilliantly exposes the reality behind the irony of India Shining.
The scenes are verbatim daily newspaper briefs.
Set in present day nondescript shanty called Bharatnagar, it sees Dr. Ahmedi (Prosenjeet Chatterjee), a US-based professor and activist, visiting Bharatnagar to enlighten its inhabitants about 'pragati' (progress).
He opposes the transformation of the shanty town into a zany township, a la Shanghai. But he is murdered by the opposition who try to pass off his death as an accident.
After that the story moves ahead with Shalini Sahay (Kalki Koechlin), Ahmedi's besotted student and daughter of an ex-army general who is involved in a scam, IAS Officer T.A. Krishnan (Abhay Deol), videographer Joginder Parmar (Emraan Hashmi), Ahmedia's wife Aruna (Tillotama Shome), chief minister (Supriya Patak) and her PA (Farooque Sheikh).
While the film grips you, it's the system that gets to you.
'Why did you do commit the murder, when you knew it is wrong,' Shalini asks the murderer.
Another dialogue - 'Jeene se haraam lagta hai. Par marne se darr bhi lagta hai...' clearly shows the hunger for survival. It's a sorry state of affairs, where the common denominator is the victim.
There is a simplistic nature to the narrative and archetype.
The performance of every character is realistic and matter-of-fact. Emraan impresses with his rustic portrayal, quite different from his usual flamboyant characters. Abhay Deol, as the IAS Officer, bowls over the audience with his grit and, of course, unmistakable Tamil accent. Kalki slips effortlessly into the character, yet again, revealing her versatility.
However, what you take home is not the memories of a character well-performed, but the story.
The film is frighteningly true.
What adds to the flavour is excellent cinematography by Nikos Andritsakis and the marvellous use of sound, both ambient and otherwise, to build up the tension in the political drama.
The controversial song 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' and the item number 'Imported Kamariyaa' are well-picturised and the latter is on the way to become the next favourite numbers at all 'basti' celebrations.
Despite its simplistic and down-to-earth locations, 'Shanghai' has a nice hard-boiled vibe and a sense of semi-exotic danger. Definitely gives you a lot to ponder about.
Don't miss this one.
Rating: *** 1/2