Before I get into the full review of Shanghai, lets look at a small list of short film descriptions:
1) Following the murder of a prominent leftist, an investigator tries to uncover the truth while government officials attempt to cover up their roles.
2) When an idealistic writer disappears during the Right Wing military coup in 1973 Chile, his wife and American businessman father try to find him.
3) On IMDB, we see this description: Prime leader of a campaign against a big government project is killed in what appears to be a road accident. An officer is ordered to probe the incident and the veils of falsehood begin to drop. Netflix describes the film: A young woman, a porn filmmaker and a bureaucrat join forces to uncover government corruption after a prominent activist is killed on the eve of the launch of an International Business Park designed to turn a small Indian town into the next Shanghai.
The first is for the 1969 film Z directed by Costa-Gavras. This film won 2 Oscars. The second is the 1982 film called Missing which was also directed by Costa-Gavras. This film won 1 Oscar, and was nominated for three others. Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek starred. Number 3 is Shanghai which was directed by Dibakar Banerjee and opened rather recently in June of 2012. Banerjee also co-wrote the screenplay with Urmi Juvekar and they adopted their story from the novel Z written by Vasilis Vasilikos which was the source for the Costa-Gavras film.
So straightaway we know what kind of film Shanghai will be. You’ve got to like the pedigree. And if you’re still not sure of what kind of film Shanghai is, here is a description voiced by the director himself: This is a red-blooded, full-on thriller. It’s a who-done-it? I’s a chase. It’s a mystery. It’s a drama. It’s all those things rolled into one.
Okay – a few basics: In a particular city in India, an outfit called IBP (International Business Park) has decided to copy the business plan which was extremely successful in Shanghai, China. Pudong, which is across the Huangpo River from the historic center of Shanghai was once a little developed agricultural area. Farmland and countryside would be an apt description. In 1993, the Chinese government set this area up as a Special Economic Zone. Then the plan was put into play: Acquire land and buy up the properties on the land. Call it urban renewal, relocate the dispossessed residents, apply bulldozers, then start new construction of skyscrapers, parks, high-rise apartments, shopping malls, and the necessary infrastructure. Pudong now has a population of over 5 million people, and since 2000, the population has increased by nearly 2 million.
So the idea was to do the same thing in Bharatnagar. Only nothing was done on the up and up. People were given little or no choice. Take the meager money, be relocated far from the city. That’s it. If you didn’t want to move – you’d be forcefully dispossessed. Announcements were made in limited number, the bidding resulted in just one bid, and government insiders got in on the ground floor. A good deal for IBP, and for the politicians they had in their pockets. But the way it was handled did not go unnoticed.
Enter Dr. Ahmedi (above – played by Prasenjit Chatterjee) , a social activist. He decides to come to town, give a speech, name names: in short shine a bright spotlight on the dirty deals that surrounded the entire project. The hall hired for his speech backs out and cancels. His permit to speak at a large public gathering is revoked. So Dr. Ahmedi decides to speak ad hoc in the streets, and does so. Only violence rears its ugly head.
Was it an accident or was it a pre-meditated act of murder?
Our main players are:
T.A. Krishnan – he’s (above and below) actually a high-ranking official of IBP. He’s brought in to investigate the case.
Jogi Parminder – a local videographer (actually he’s a pornographer)
Shalini Sahay – a supporter of Ahmedi as well as a former student of Ahmedi, and likely, she was Ahmedi’s lover as well.
In smaller roles we have the State Chief Minister which is akin to a State Governor here in the USA, her closest adviser, the Chief of Police, and, and a few goons hired by IBP. Well, Krishnan was asked to investigate. He was given the task because on the surface he appeared to be no one special. Just like Tom Cruise as Lt JG Daniel Kaffee in A Few Good Men. The local police try to stonewall him. He’s been granted special powers by the Chief Minister, but still he finds he’s not getting very far. As the investigation proceeds, Krishnan is approaching some critical truths, so (to attempt to buy him off) he’s promoted and asked to take a plum job in Stockholm, Sweden – but he prefers to finish the investigation.
His job, is to work the investigation like one would deal with the layers of the onion. So as he does so, the veils of secrecy, are slowly peeled back, and what we discover is not pretty. In this regard, we know going in how the film will turn out.
But, the pleasure of the film is not how it ends but rather in how the story plays out for us. Krishnan is played Abhey Deol. He’s a corporate executive, but he’s not colorful or flamboyant. For all outward appearances – he’s dull, not particularly clever, and he lacks motivation. But what they overlooked in his appointment is his grit and determination along with a previously unseen steely resolve. He’s going to go after the truth – even at the cost of his own career and future.
Speaking of steely resolve, those terms also apply to Shalini Sahay. She is played by Kalki Koechlin. And what a magnificent performance we get. She’s tough as nails, and she won’t back down to anyone. Koechlin will astound you with the intensity and fierce determination she brings to the role. It isn’t what she says – in fact – just from her silences – we get the strength of her intensity. She truly gives a remarkable performance.
On the other hand, we have Emraan Hashmi as Jogi Parminder – the small time local videographer. He’s sleazy, he’s dirty, his teeth are stained, and his motivation is not that he comes from a moral high ground – instead he’s driven by money. Hashmi nails this role beautifully. Your skin will almost itch as you watch him. You won’t like him in the least, but the character as portrayed by Hasmi is riveting.
The film is just 114 minutes long. While there’s plenty of music – there’s only one music/dance sequence that seems misplaced. It seems that Dr. Ahmedi arrives in town via a chartered private jet and in the company of a starlet who will sing and dance. This doesn’t add much to the film, if anything it detracts – but this comes quite early on, it is only a one time event, and in truth, you won’t remember it being of any value or import as we get deeper into the story.
Of course, as with any film that has positives, there are some negatives. Though the overall script is crisp and sharp – the first half of the film takes its time, you could say ‘slow’ in establishing the characters and situations. The pace is some times annoying. But once the characters are introduced, the pace quickens up nicely, and you will have to remain focused to keep things in perspective. But with the second half of the film – things get quite tense and very exciting and truly earns the director’s description that the film is a full-on thriller.
You will delight in the great cinematography as the colors and night scenes establish a high level of excellence. The cinematographer has done a superb job in shots with low lighting. You will also note how well the director and cinematographer handled the crowd scenes.
Yes, India is beautiful and chaotic and this film essentially takes us right into the heart of this chaos. What ever dark thoughts you might have about political figures and criminals as not so strange bedfellows is more than confirmed. The film played in a number of theaters in the USA but some how went unnoticed. While it has long since left the theaters, it is available via Netflix streaming service, or you can purchase the DVD through Amazon; so it is still accessible.
Yes, it will take you to a places you won’t know or recognize. You’ll likely be unfamiliar with the actors. But this is definitely a film with a strong impact. The story might be set in a fictional Indian city, but despite that – chaos, corruption, and venality can be found any place on the globe, so you won’t be completely in uncharted waters. Political thrillers are a genre that often produces film of exceptional quality AND THIS IS ONE OF THEM. Recommended and I’m giving Shanghai a four point two five rating. Below is a trailer with English subtitles.