|Kalki Koechlin, Abhay Deol, Emraan Hashmi|
A lot of mediocrity has been made in the name of political thrillers. It usually has the bad politico, the fearless hero, the heroine who needs to get kidnapped and so on.
In Shanghai, inspired by Z, a book by Greek writer Vassilis Vassilikos, the matter is delightfully complicated.
Imagine watching a film, where you might feel sympathetic towards a murderer, and at another point you don’t know the good guy from the bad. Such is life, where people don’t come with black-and-white tags and often it’s difficult to tell the perpetrator from the victim. Co-writer and director Dibakar Banerjee insinuates this unpredictability of human behavior in his film.
Celebrity social activist Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee, fab) arrives in a small-town called Bharat Nagar (note the symbolism of the name signifying that the state of this town represents the state of the country). He is here on a mission. The newly proposed IBP (India Business Park) promoting “progress” is forcibly displacing the local people and Ahmedi is here to protest and educate the locals about the repercussions of this project.
The local political party, a part of the coalition, has enough goondas on its payroll to take care of such activists. The film then explores the rigmarole of an enquiry committee, bureaucratic workings, manipulations, and some surprising developments.
TA Krishna (Abhay Deol) comes to Bharat Nagar as the Enquiry Committee Head. His senior (Farooque Sheikh) encourages him to conduct a superficial finding and to close the case as soon as possible. But Ahmedi’s staunch follower Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) is not one to be satisfied with a superficial enquiry. With her and local video cameraman Joginder (Emraan Hashmi) knowingly/unknowingly embroiled in the case, Krishna realizes this not the open-and-shut case he was expecting it would be.
Dibakar Banerjee masterfully adds in humour in the bleakest scenes. There are the funny bits where a ‘neta’ stands against a green cloth, so that the “junta effect” can be digitally added later.
Joginder’s mobile beeping a number that says ‘DreemGirl’. And of course that unbeatable scene - a ball belonging to the local kids bounces inside the makeshift enquiry committee office silencing a heated argument. Also funny, unintentionally of course, is how the politicians start and end conversations with “Jai Pragati” while propagating lawlessness and force.
The excesses that government “servants” are used to is also superbly portrayed by Banerjee using repetitive shots of endless flow of lavish food and tea, foreign postings, and extravagant parties.
The storytelling is further heightened by an extraordinary background score by Michael McCarthy. Music by Vishal-Shekar is a delight. Dexterous editing by Namrata Rao, especially in the second half, heightens the drama.
While the film is slow in the beginning, the story picks up, and from then on it’s a roller-coaster ride. There are some tracks in the film that needed attention and explaining. We are unclear about Shalini’s father who is mentioned several times. While we know he has been jailed for a fraud, we don’t know anything more, except that he seems to have been arrested with an agenda.
Performances are extraordinary. Emraan Hashmi proves to be the film’s scene-stealer, giving the film comedic relief while being equally effective in the serious portions. Kalki Koechlin gives yet another flawless performance; she has proven to be a masterful performer with tremendous screen presence. Abhay Deol is understated and intense at once. Prosenjit Chaterjee is superlative. Supriya Pathak, Farooq Sheikh, Tillotama Shome, Pitobash and Anant Jog give crackling performances.
Banerjee (Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Love Sex Aur Dhokha) gives us a film that’s as much a biting political thriller as it is a comment on corruption and the concept of development. This is one of those rare films that is as pertinent as it is compelling. Cannot. Be. Missed!
Rating: Four and a half stars