Saturday, June 9, 2012

Shanghai delivers gut-busting cinematic panache, expectedly

Real life does not have a background score underscoring the moment. No one understands this better than Dibakar Banerjee, the director of Shanghai.

Dibakar Banerjee is easily posit amongst the top 5 best feature film directors in India today, heralding an awe-inspiring track record of delivering three distinctively outstanding products that rest coyly in his oeuvre, namely Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Luck Lucky Oye and Love, Sex Aur Dhokha. One must feel the pressure when you venture out to craft your next movie that cannot possibly let your fans down after such national award winning streak under his belt. Shanghai. Personally, I have waited for this movie for more than a year or so, almost since when it was announced. The unusual star cast (Abhay Deol, Emraan Hashmi and Kalki Koechlin) along with Banerjee at the helm of reins made me believe that this would be something that is searingly honest. Shamelessly and animatedly, I have often declared Shanghai as my most expected Hindi movie of the year and secretly, I wanted it to be better than anything else I see this year. Dibakar has a rare sense of outplaying his screenplay where proceedings dont look separated from the real world at all. Banerjee evokes higher reverence because he does not let his cinema turn into just artsy objects, but nurtures them to be fairly mainstream while driving his point home. Seeing the prophetic progression in Dibakar's cinema, I had concluded two things. One, there is no other director who blends real and reel life with such ruthless grace. Two, a cinema lover cant help but pin his expectations at the pinnacle of the skies for Shanghai. I was in smiling jitters as I walked into the theater. Will it soar above those skies or succumb below due to clipped wings?

Yes, it does. Shanghai is gut-busting cinema that lands a hard elbow in your jaw. Adapted from from the Greek novel Z, by Vassilis Vassilikos, the film fits the original plot stridently into a socket of India's current scenario with such ease that you never feel that the book had a wholly different situation to deal with. The screenplay by Urmi Juvekar and Dibakar Banerjee makes it completely relevant to our times do come up with a drool-worthy political thriller cum satire for the Indian canvas. Dibakar's vision as a director is alarming and remarkable. He presents a run-of-the-mill or kinda been-there-done-that story with such panache that leaves you benumbed. He is laconic in his treatment of words but gracious with his visuals. It takes a while for you to get a grip on the on-goings before you begin to follow everything perfectly and once you do, you cant help but smile as the master plays out his cards, which dont lay out everything but secretly comment on everything. The plot is simple but the characters fairly intricate. A small town at the face of delusional development, done at the cost of the precious lives of the commoners, plagued by the stinking politics of the powerful leaders from the region. Its the little touches of detailing that take Shanghai to an all together different level of awesomeness, crammed with smashing character graphs for everyone appearing on screen. Many movies in the recent past have shown corruption in politics and bureaucracy but Dibakar evokes jest at the blasphemous irony of the whole system, the compulsive conformance of the people who run it, the callous indifference of the people it governs and the shocking futility of a common man's life. Dibakar packs in Shanghai with a breathless pace and unspools the story in an awry manner that promises at least two big surprises. He decrees it with his neat intelligence and expects you to have some too, could be too much to ask for in today’s scenario? As he takes 114 minutes to amaze you, there are many sequences that simply stand out. The beginning sequence with Pitobash putting black paint on a guy's face, the first day of the case hearing with the basketball coming into the room and the characters slipping on their way out, Abhay conducting his prayers with the chants playing on a laptop as he is attacked, Emraan's escape from his partner's house when he goes back there, the cathartic sequence before the intermission that strikes the selfishness of Hashmi's character in his balls, Kalki's rash breakout towards the end as well as the spirited finale - Banerjee weaves all of these and many other wondrous moments deftly. He uses his item song in two parts halting it in between for a grave twist coming early in the story but smoothly allows it to come back on after, just to point out that while there may be a brittle situation at hand, there are people who definitely dont care about it next door in the dire state of Bharat Nagar, the playground for the unfolding drama in Shanghai. This, by far, was the most defining moment of the movie for me. The undercurrent of notoriety and the breeze of satirical humor is retained, by efficient direction, even in the most tense of scenes. Some serious class out there, that. Shanghai turns out to be largely courageous, throttling you with jolts of harsh truth, keeping you constantly engaged despite a fairly straightforward basic plot and evocatively tugging your senses towards contemplation.

Shanghai is jointly produced by PVR Pictures and Dibakar Banerjee Productions and is not budgeted at a very exorbitant price, similar to most of his other films. Yet, you can safely leave it to Dibakar to make the most of his resources. Apart from a taut screenplay, he manages to make a transcendental nuance by extracting some laudable cinematography and heady background score to aid his visuals. The most grave moments are devoid of dialogues, background score etc and the very next moment, he delves into a loud and boisterous street side celebration of local goons, who laugh their way through the mutiny. The smile on the face of one of the characters as he rides through a riot-stricken street and the deafening silence surrounding it is a pure genius. Nikos Andritsakis's Cinematography is breathtaking and captivating as the camera doesn’t pan much but focuses on the intensity exhaled by the characters by use of good close-ups and some handheld work. This, along with an efficient Sound Design by Pritam Das and Mikey McCleary creates a sense of urgency that a thriller should have. Namrata Rao's editing leaves no scope for complain as she continues her streak of earnest work. Music by Vishal-Shekhar is not great, but suits the limited requirement well. Bharat Mata Ki Jai is a winner and Hashmi dances his heart out to that, incorporated into the narrative with voracious fervor. The Production Design by Vandana Kataria is striking and sets up the tone aptly for the director to paint the canvas.

A few days ago, I had whimsically wished that I wanted Emraan Hashmi to perform better than Abhay Deol in Shanghai. I think he heard it. In this ensemble cast, his performance stands out over and above all of others, towering like a mammoth monster of reverence sneering away, with his dirty and badly shaped two front teeth, at every sallow non-believer who had reneged at him over the years. I have always believed in his talent as an acotr, at least for the past 4 years, and in Shanghai, he masters the varied shades of this convoluted character with an acting range that can send India's best actors a run for their money. Yes, he is that good as the lewd part-time porn filmmaker and journalist who is forced to submit his selfishness when he is unwillingly mulled over the circumstances. After a thousand smooches later, Emraan Hashmi has arrived. Abhay Deol suits up for an uptight character of a successful bureaucrat that is torn between his priorities, delivering a emphatic performance that would add one more to his long list of it. The finale sequence involving him validates his choice for this character as he knocks you out with his straight faced dialogue delivery. Kalki Koechlin reprises a mashup of many other roles she has done but mints it with a fresh rendition. She is consistently first-rate as the lead of the film. Prosenjit Chatterjee, the Bengali superstar, is indispensable in a short role. The fact that most of the characters have grey shades to them makes them more challenging to play but the casting for Shanghai has been phenomenally helpful in putting this to order. Farooque Shaikh, as the right hand of the Chief Minister, shines brightly and makes a small role much more noticeable with his wide acting prowess. Pitobash Tripathy is a firework on screen. There is barely an actor who can match the non-stop barrage of energy he puts in every scene, every dance and every dialogue. Supriya Pathak Kapur still has the niche ability to make a difference in just two scenes she actually appears for. Tillotama Shome, as Prosenjit's wife, is allright in a small role.

Shanghai may not have the most unusual plot and the innovation in style by Banerjee may not appeal to everyone out there, but its execution definitely packs in a lot more that would make you fall for it and ultimately elevate you to a pedestal of fandom for Dibakar Banerjee. Despite being directed by an acclaimed director and possessing a set of fairly popular actors, Shanghai has missed out on the aggrandizing hype that it should have got as it got closer to release, unfortunately. Gauging a film's success only by the trends on twitter, its a shame that it did not trend for the whole day as it opened to averagely filled houses while the condescendingly shameful Rowdy Rathore making its way to glory. Yes, this is the Indian audience and they suck at coming out for good movies. Like Kahaani, even Shanghai yearns for buttressing from the word of mouth of the people watching it and industry experts and I hope it gets it in copious amounts, before it dives into obscurity. The fans of Emraan Hashmi have made the crappiest of his movies huge hits but those squandering fools need to come out for him now when he has done something that should get him all the awards that exist. Nevertheless, irrespective of the response, Dibakar Banerjee still remains unperturbed at the top spot amongst Indian filmmakers owing to his excellent craft.

I vehemently urge you to go watch Shanghai in a theatre, and take everyone possible with you! Good cinema needs help!

Rating - 4/5

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