Justice delayed is justice denied - one of the many powerful truths that Shanghai exudes, without any character or voice over proclaiming the words. It is in such between the line moments, strong performances and precise storytelling that the film stays in the mind, much after the blood red end credits have rolled out.
Based on Z, a novel by Greek writer Vassilis Vassilikos, Shanghai tells the story of Bharati Nagar, somewhere in small-town India that the ruling coalition party is keen to develop into a mega city. The thorn in the flesh is activist Prof. Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee, very apt) who leads the protest. In a flash, Ahmedi is mowed down by a vehicle and goes into a coma. His student and lover Shalini (Kalki Koechlin, a victim of weak characterization) is sure that the accident was a planned murder. The other two strands are Joginder, (Emraan Hashmi, a steal) a pornographer who is in possession of some damning evidence of the incident and Krishnan (Abhay Deol, good act), the serious-faced bureaucrat who heads the government enquiry.
The striking cinematography and sound design complement the storytelling, which seldom loses its hold. The mobile, steady camera captures all that is necessary, cutting out the wide frame except for the opening bird-view scene. The playing of street songs, bursting crackers, the revolutions of the ceiling fan, the invisible ticking clock, are elements that add to the deftness.
The prime mover is finally the story, contemporary, gritty and searing. That fighting for truth is not as simple in the real world as it is for commercial super-punch heroes of Dabangg, Singham and Rowdy Rathore, the contrast just can’t be ignored. Masks, insensitivity, the casualness with which dead bodies are dealt with, the cobwebs of bureaucracy and its dodgy luxury, all hit hard.
Director Dibakar Banerjee’s trademark light moments are all there - a basketball bounces into an alleged murder investigation, a woman bites savagely at a hand, and footwear oozes tension. The brilliant stuff – how the hunter becomes the hunted, even as elected governments make a mockery of democracy with an eerie ease, and finally the most damning – how time is used as a device to create chaos and stagnancy to any attempt to arrive at a solution. Just that idea, allowing time to pass by and thus memory to fade, is the most telling aspect.
The weakest link of this otherwise stunning movie is the misplaced angst and wild anger of Shalini. We can only reason a mad, possessive love and the devastation in her loss for such behaviour. Also, the attempt at not stereotyping a south Indian accent in Krishnan’s character comes across as forced. The resultant accent has aloofness. These are but minor hurdles in what is a highly recommended political drama.
Right OnA bulldozer is set to ram a wall, and we see in the driver’s vision, a man set to be run over. End credits.