In the beginning of this movie, the cover page of a book written by a character of this movie (Dr. Ahmedi) is shown and the title of the book reads as – Kiski Pragati ? Kiska Desh ? (Whose progress ? Whose nation ?). And that’s what this movie is all about. So many development projects have come and are coming being termed as the ladder to the progress of the nation. But the question is – what do we mean by nation ? Hence the related second question is – whose progress is it going to be ? If this nation does not belong to the poor and the underdog, then whom do these things purport to bring prosperity to ? Aren’t most of these so-called development projects nothing but conspiracies to deprive the commonfolk of whatever little possessed by them and pour further wealth into the already brimming coffers of those occupying key positions in the government and the administration of this ‘great’ country ?
Quite naturally, there are several activists also visible who oppose such projects. Definitely all such activists are not having genuine intentions behind their opposition. The opposition of some of them may be motivated and they may be having their own axes to grind. However, it’s the duty of the victims (or would-be victims) to identify their genuine well-wishers among them and lobby behind them. And such people do take a risk of their own life as well. The powerful ones having vested interest in such projects will definitely like to eliminate the opposing ones. Shanghai (2012) tells the story of one such elimination only.
A social activist – Dr. Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) is opposing a development project – IBP which is likely to dislodge the lower class people of the concerned town – Bhaarat Nagar. When he is going ahead with his mission in the company of his ex-student and admirer – Shaalini (Kalki Koechlin), a truck tramples him. The truck driver is caught but the conspiracy behind this so-called mishap is deep whose strings lead to some very powerful and high profile people in the government. An enquiry commission is set up to look into this mishap due to which Dr. Ahmedi is fighting for his life in the hospital now. This single member commission is headed by an IAS officer Krishnan (Abhay Deol) who comes to know of some evidences linked to this apparently a mishap but actually an attempted murder through a videographer – Joginder (Emraan Haashmi). Some more murders take place which are of expendable people involved in or knowing about the murder conspiracy chalked out at a very high level. However Krishnan with, his wit and conviction, is though not able to reveal the truth before the world or stop the project from materializing but at least able to prevent the conspirators from enjoying the fruit of their conspiracy.A few years ago, there was a slogan – India Shining given by the then ruling coalition (coupled with the slogan of Feelgood) in its bid to return to power but it did not click with the masses who refused to get carried away by such slogans which apparently tried to hide the ugly face of the so-called shining India. Rulers may change, the system remains and still the ruling politicians try to do a Raj Kapoor in Sapno Ka Saudagar (1968) who used to sell dreams to the people. People buy dreams sold by these politicians through their hard-earned, yet little resources and get ultimately trampled alongwith those dreams by the sellers themselves. This is what Dibakar Banerjee shows in Shanghai which seems to have been christened as such because the propagators of the IBP project are publicizing to convert Bhaarat Nagar of India into Shanghai of China. In the climax also, when the stage for the ouster of the chief minister (Supriya Pathak) has been set, her secretary Kaul (Farooq Sheikh) complains to Krishnan (Abhay Deol) –‘Ye CM PM Ban Sakti Thi. Hum Cheen Se Aage Nikal Sakte Thay’ (this chief minister had the potential of becoming the prime minister of India. Under her, we would have surpassed China). This also furnishes a ground to justify the movie’s title.In 2010, I watched Love, Sex aur Dhokha on the recommendation of esteemed cine-reviewer – Aruna T. (moviezombie) but after watching, was compelled to inform her that the movie was too crude. Now after watching Shanghai, I can say that crudeness is Dibakar Banerjee’s style of filmmaking. He cans all kinds of refinement and smoothness and presents the things before the audience as they actually are. He does not try to do a Prakash Jha also who despite showing crude reality in movies like Gangaajal and Apaharan, inserted some smoothness in the narratives through the idealist heroes. Shanghai does not try to refine anything. The ugly face of India is bared before you. It’s up to you whether you have the courage to make eye contact with it. The bureaucratic style of the Indian government as well as the prevailing official systems and procedures have been portrayed on the screen as it is alongwith the activities of the so-called political workers. Hooliganism and bullying is the order of the day in our country because there is no dearth of unemployed youths willing to play hooligans and bullies for the political parties for some bucks. Nobody gives a damn for what is right and what is wrong. The only thing that matters is what fetches money to own pockets. Despite the declaration of adapting a very old novel – Z by a Greek author – Vassilis Vassilikos, the movie is actually a mirror for the contemporary India.
Still this movie is not perfect or 100% honest. I term it as 90% honest as there is some contamination in the honesty of the filmmaker. The revelation shown in the climax is not reliable because the apex level politicians never allow themselves to be caught in some tape / CD. There are many layers between them and the real executors of their plans which never allow them to directly come into picture in such a way that some concrete evidence is left for anybody else to see / hear. Besides, the way Krishnan blackmails the lieutenant of the chief minister – Kaul (Farooq Sheikh) to toe his line and also involves the coalition partner in his mission, is too simplified to be true. And his denying to go abroad on promotion is also too far-fetched as well as the other things that appear on the screen in written form when the movie has ended. This slipperiness of the director has not allowed the movie to become an outstanding movie.
With its tight editing and realistic cinematography and art-direction, the movie is technically impressive. The narrative of the movie does not need any songs. Still songs are there out of which only – Bhaarat Maata Ki Jai impresses.I have always been an admirer of Emraan Haashmi since his debut movie – Footpath (2003) but the Bollywood filmmakers made him typed for the roles with a definite flavour. In a different role, he has got an opportunity to show his mettle and he has done it with finesse. Kalki Koechlin is a good actress but she has also been typecast to play a certain kind of roles only. Shanghai is another example of her typecasting. The supporting cast has done exceedingly well including Supriya Pathak and Farooq Sheikh who have come together after three decades (last time, they had come together in Baazaar – 1982). Farooq Sheikh has done something like his Jee Mantri Ji act (a TV serial that had come many years back, portraying Farooq as a minister). Prosenjit has impressed in the low-footage role of Dr. Ahmedi which is the base of the complete story. The show-stealer is Abhay Deol whose underplay is simply outstanding. He is a highly talented, yet low profile actor who can never act bad. Despite being a script-based movie without any undue weightage for any character, Abhay draws attention as the well-educated and sincere bureaucrat.Shanghai is a high-tension drama sans entertainment (though some humour has been inserted through Farooq Sheikh’s facial expressions in the climax scene). It hits hard instead of entertaining the viewer. Hence, little wonder, it had flopped on the box office. It bares the ugly, true face of ‘progressing’ India on the screen. Will you be interested in seeing it when you have already seen enough of it off the screen ?
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