It’s a rare feat to deliver four solid, strong and well-rounded films consecutively, but director Dibakar Banerjee (Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, LSD) has pulled this off with assured confidence and resoluteness. Adapting Greek writer and diplomat Vassilis Vassilikos’s novel ‘Z’, Shanghai is a mature and nuanced political thriller.
When activist Dr Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) rallying troops against big business, commercialization and exploitation of the marginalized is grievously injured by in a hit-and-run ‘accident’, IAS officer T A Krishnan (Abhay Deol) is put in charge of the inquiry. During his investigations he unearths a deep conspiracy which brings him to the crossroads of a life-changing decision. The puppeteers are a powerful and ambitious woman chief minister (Supriya Pathak), her chief secretary (Farooque Sheikh) and a few local politicians.
Caught in this web is videographer Joginder (Emraan Hashmi) and Dr Ahmedi’s former student Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) who team up to try and prove that the hit was no accident.
Banerjee and co-writer Urvi Juwekar stick close to the milieu and create a pulsating low income society called Bharat Nagar. They brilliantly capture the subtleties of political might versus bureaucracy; kings versus kingmakers; and corporate India, modernization and corruption versus exploitation and planned development. At every moment there is something in the sound-scape to keep you rooted to the setting and mood.
The rhythm of Shanghai never falters, nor do the performances. Deol and Hashmi are especially superb in their respective parts. Hashmi is a total revelation as the sleazy, stained-teethed small town guy with a conscience while Deol gets a correctly etched out character. Koechlin looks stunned throughout, and is the weakest link. Chatterjee, Sheikh and Tillotama Shome (Mrs Ahmedi) add solid support.
There are many good reasons to watch this film – mainly the director’s absolute conviction, his skill and the razor-sharp script (even though the whodunit angle and structure are not new to cinema). The editing, camera and sound design add layers to create Shanghai – a worthy addition to Banerjee’s filmography.