BY RUBY CHINGU
RATING: 8/10 | Directed by: Dibakar Banerjee | Written by: Urmi Juvekar, Dibakar Banerjee, Rutvik Oza
Shanghai is not a happy film. Not everyone may find it enjoyable. However, if one is a fan of a good political drama, some sort of a people-against-system tale, then this film is a delectable feast.
The premise of Shanghai is fairly simple. It revolved an enquiry into the accident of a noted anti-government activist, Dr Ahmed that led him into a state of comatose. Set in a small but politically active (fictional) town of Bharat Nagar, the story is narrated to us through the perspective of three main characters – Krishnan (Abhay Deol), a senior civil servant in charge of the enquiry, Shalini (Kalki Koechlin), a young activist and lover of Dr Ahmedi and Jogi (Emraan Hashimi), a video shop assistant with a lewd reputation. Even though they belonged to different sides, all three characters had the same purpose of uncovering the truth – was Mr Ahmedi’s accident was indeed an accident or a planned murder?
What makes the film compelling (aside from the brilliant and sharp performances by the actors) is the honest realistic way it protrayed the helpness of the society against a corrupt and inefficient system (of government). Shanghai is not trying to be a political thriller – it is a drama film that deals with human corruption.
Trying to discover the truth behind the accident, our neatly dressed officer, Krishnan has to go to great lengths, despite having the backing of the Chief Minister. Things were further complicated when the suspects involved in the accident are the members of a political party in alliance with the ruling party. He wanted to do his job well – and was even criticized for it. Being a man of integrity in such an unappreciative system can be very daunting. Being the head of the enquiry, he was attacked from all sides – the police were unwilling to cooperate with him, the local political parties were threatened to harm him and the townspeople were unwilling to spill anything in fear of retaliation. Except for the eagerness of a few (Dr Ahmedi’s supporters, including Shalini), he was left with literally no support to achieve his goal. Every second I spent watching this film, I lamented on how helpless the characters are in trying to fight for justice when people do not really care about it at all.
My admiration to Abhay Deol is not a secret. I’ve worshiped him since I saw him in Dev.D. He is one of those serious actors that does not really enjoy all this glitzy glamorous side of films. He told an interviewer once that he cannot stand having an item song in his film (which is weird, cause I think he did dance for one in another film). He often plays VERY unconventional (and rarely likable) characters that one does not really see in mainstream Hindi films. In Shangai, he does not disappoint. Shedding his urban boyish image, he stepped into the shoes of a calm and collected government official, something he has not done before. Abhay is used to playing really intense characters. However, in this film, he had to display the intense emotions in a very moderate manner, like how a normal middle-aged man would. And he did it superbly. Though I do miss his cheeky smiles now and then.
The star of the film, for me, is Kalki Koechlin as Shalini. Witnessing the horrifying accident of her mentor/lover right before her eyes, she was in a fight for justice. Due to her foreign looks, many deemed her as an outsider when she was obviously a daughter of a convicted General who had been living in the town since forever. She was a nobody, an activist nobody really noticed. If Krishnan had it difficult, Shalini had it wayyyy worse. There were fears and traumas on her face. Willing to do anything to obtain evidence to gain justice for Dr Ahmedi, her mentor, she was willing to go to great lengths. In my opinion, Shalini is the most intense character here and Kalki played it convincingly. She expressed her emotion with her facial expressions, conveying much without saying anything.
Jogi came into the picture as the photographer on duty at the place where Dr Ahmedi’s accident happened. Doubling as a porn filmmaker at night, he did not really give a shit about the political incidents around him. He was quite the useless bum who lived off the earnings of his uncle, who owned the video shop. Only after his uncle’s death (presumably murdered by the political goons) that he responded Shalini’s plead to help her. It was an unlikely path for him.
May I just say – I think Kalki and Emraan have an amazing chemistry. They are not lovers in this film – far from that – but basically two people who were brought together to fight a common enemy that had taken from them the most important person in their lives. Nevertheless, they look so hot together – in a weird way, because I don’t think they were supposed to look hot together, since their characters are not a couple. Get what I mean? Yeah, anyway, I am not sure if the chemistry was intended by the director or not but damn, it was enjoyable to see. The unlikely pair, the pair with different facial features, the pair with astoundingly different personality traits etc etc you get what I mean. He’s a low-life pornographist, she’s a righteous activist.There could not be two people more different than each other. Yet, somehow, Kalki and Emraan made me wish that they would act in another film together, again (they did in Ek Thi Diyaan) but I want them specifically as LOVERS.I can totally imagine them as being completely in love with each other.