Producers: Ajay Bijli, Sanjeev K Bijli, Dibakar Banerjee, Priya Sreedharan
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Abhay Deol, Kalki Koechlin, Farooque Sheikh, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Supriya Pathak Kapur, Pitobash Tripathy
Shanghai holds out the promise of drama and angst. But the film boasts of none of them. The tempo switches before the story even begins to unfold in right earnest. But the momentum picks up once more with the introduction of subliminal elements (read Abhay Deol) and the government’s involvement in local goings-on.
Based on Vassilis Vassilikos’s book Z, Shanghai revolves around the assassination of a political activist Dr Ahemadi (Prosenjit Chatterjee), who crusades against an upcoming infrastructure project in Bharat Nagar. Of course, the project has the support of the ruling political party. Those in power – including a woman chief minister (Supriya Pathak Kapur), her principal secretary (Farooque Sheikh) and a local politician (Kiran Karmarkar) who is part of the ruling coalition – are determined to stop the anti-displacement campaigner in his tracks.
The assassination is officially declared a hit-and-run. But Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) believes it as a cold-blooded conspiracy. The activists are enraged and Ahemadi’s wife goes on national TV and declares the incident a premeditated attack. This forces the government to set up a routine inquiry.
Meanwhile, a local porn filmmaker Jogi Parmar (Emraan Hashmi) claims to have proof that will bring justice and bring down the ruling government. A high-ranking bureaucrat Krishnan (Abhay Deol) is appointed to investigate the case.
Considering Banerjee’s track record, you expect him to come up with something insightful and new – perhaps a novel take on a social issue – or to surprise you with the way he’s treated the story. Instead, the film shifts focus from the murder issue to being a crusade against a political party.
Such a missed opportunity! With a title like Shanghai, Banerjee along with writer Urmi Juvekar could have portrayed the agony of the locals with regard to the political involvement in a land acquisition issue. The only hint of angst comes through in a sprinkling of scenes with Prosenjit Chatterjee addressing the audience and a few heated exchanges here and there.
Another minus is that, barring Kalki Koechlin’s character, none of the other characters is well defined. Hashmi has a sudden outburst to define good versus evil. His character shifts focuses with every successive scene that involves him. Ditto Abhay Deol’s character. Prosenjit Chatterjee is a pivotal character. But he’s not portrayed as powerful enough to warrant so much government interference.
In other words, you have a hero who is incapable of solving a problem and a villain who is not powerful enough to pose a serious threat. This is not the first time a filmmaker has portrayed positive and negative elements as weak. And this is the biggest drawback of the film.
Unlike his earlier films like Khosla Ka Ghosla, LSD: Love, Sex Aur Dhokha and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! Banerjee is not in his element this time. As for music, though there’s no scope for it, Vishal Shekhar comes up with an average score. Cinematography is fine. Editing could have been better.
Performance-wise Emraan Hashmi looks very different from his usual characters. It is a refreshing change to see him showcase his talent. Abhay Deol surprises you with his diction and he’s superb. Kalki Koechlin is fantastic. Prosenjit Chatterjee is a major attraction in the film. He plays his part with panache. Supriya Pathak Kapur has very little to do. Farooque Sheikh makes her presence felt. Pitobash Tripathy is good. The others lend adequate support.
Verdict: Despite good promotion and presence of Emraan Hashmi, the film has taken a weak opening at the ticket counter and will prove to be a losing proposition.