A smart political thriller

Pic source: Wikipedia

 If made a decade or two ago, Shanghai would have been bracketed in the art film genre and nobody except the film festival audience and a few intellectual types would have seen it. But Indian audience has evolved; if a Rowdy Rathore does blockbuster business, there are houseful shows for Shanghai as well, at least in the multiplexes. And director, Dibakar Banerjee does not disappoint; he has made a political thriller that is realistic and brave. Congratulations to him and Urmi Juvekar for the fantastic screenplay, which is based on the novel ‘Z’ by Greek writer, Vassilis Vassilikos.

The name, Shanghai is an interesting metaphor used by the filmmaker to describe the hollow promises of development by our politicians. Whether it is turning Mumbai into a world class city, modeled after Shanghai or transforming Gurgaon, the goal has not been reached but the so called progress has its costs. Banerjee’s Shanghai delves deep into the murky political games, scams and crimes that take place in the name of development. Set in a fictitious town called Bharat Nagar, the film reflects the political realities our country faces today. You can identify the real life politicians that have inspired Banerjee while writing the political characters in the film – there’s the lady chief minister who is called ‘madamji’ and has ambitions to become the Prime Minister; then there are the coalition troubles; a South Indian Home Minister and more.

Banerjee has also developed his characters really well and with superb casting, has hit the bull’s eye. There are layers to his characters and the director leaves hints for the audience to figure out more. For instance, Prosenjit Chatterjee plays a political activist named, Dr. Ahmadi; he is a bestselling author, who stays in the US but is passionate about the cause of the poor in India. He travels by a private jet (funded by whom?) to Bharat Nagar; does a photo-op with a Bollywood actress in town for his rival camp and his wife (the fabulous Tillotama Shome of Monsoon Wedding fame) is not convinced of his style of activism. He gives his life for the cause and is given god-like stature but there is more to the character that is left to be imagined. Similarly, the character of T. A. Krishnan, an IAS officer who is in charge of investigating the attack on Dr. Ahmadi is fascinating. Played superbly by Abhay Deol, Krishnan is a devout family man, who is torn between his ambitions and the right thing to do. While Emraan Hashmi has a crowd pleasing role, for me Abhay Deol steals the show with his perfect South Indian accent, mannerisms and restrained performance. Emraan on the other hand plays Joginder, a videographer who makes porn to supplement his income as a freelance media representative. He helps Shalini Sahay (Kalki Koechlin), a close aide of Dr. Ahmadi to unravel the real story behind the attack. Hashmi is good and has proved that he is much more than his serial-kisser image. Kalki also handles the character of an activist well who appears to be more in love with her teacher than his cause. Then there are small yet impactful roles played by Farooq Sheikh, Pitobash Tripathy and Supriya Pathak.

There is tension in each scene of the film and the director successfully maintains it till the end. The songs however could have been used well as background music instead of suddenly appearing in the film. Music by Vishal Shekhar is fine and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ song captures the essence of the film with words like ‘Gud bhi hai gobar bhi, Bharat mata ki jai’ (There is jaggery as well as dung in the country, hail Mother India) (lyrics: Dibakar Banerjee). Editing by Namrata Rao is perfect and cinematography by Nikos Andritsakis good, except the patchy difference in the way ‘Imported Kamariya’ song is shot and the rest of the film (it looks like a separate music video inserted in the film as a second thought).

Shanghai is amongst the best Hindi films I’ve seen in the recent times. Do watch it.


Peepli Live

Good film, better promotion…

Pic: Aamir Khan Productions

Whattay debut bhaiyyaAnusha Rizvi’s first directorial venture, Peepli Live is bahut badhiya! Congratulations to producer, Aamir Khan for backing a project like this and to the promotions team for making it a big success. By attributing the film’s box-office success to promotions (read marketing and public relations), I am not taking away from its good content but just highlighting the contribution it makes to help a film. A few weeks ago, a brilliant film released called ‘Udaan’; unfortunately there were not many people in the cinema halls due to in-sufficient promotional support. Similarly, Shyam Benegal’sWell Done Abba’ also didn’t set the cash registers ringing despite being a good film. In Peepli Live’s case, everything worked out well; after doing the festival rounds, the buzz around the film was kept alive till it got a wide scale release this weekend. I hope that after Peepli Live’s success, producers and corporate houses will put their money behind good content and not only big star cast led duds.

Coming back to the film, Peepli Live is a satire on the issue of farmers’ suicide. The film effectively captures the government’s apathy towards this serious issue and media, especially broadcast media’s opportunist behaviour. The film is smartly written (Rizvi) and well performed by the actors, mostly theatre artistes and newcomers.

Peepli Live is about a poor farmer named Natha who decides to commit suicide so that his family can benefit through a government compensation scheme. Natha’s half-hearted decision gives an opportunity to our ‘exclusive’ hungry media to cover a suicide ‘live’, right before the elections. Keeping the issue in focus, Rizvi’s smart writing ensures that the film doesn’t drag like a documentary but presents the whole situation in a light manner. Sharp dialogue and compelling performances by the cast make the film hilarious and disturbing in equal parts. Omkar Das Manikpuri as Natha and Raghuvir Yadav as Budhia (Natha’s brother) are good but the real winners are the caustic women in Natha’s household, his wife Dhania (Shalini Vatsa) and the venom spewing mother, Amma (Farookh Zafar).

Music by Indian Ocean also deserves a special mention; not your typical filmy score, the music goes well with the mood of the film and is quite enjoyable. Shankar Raman’s cinematography is simple and doesn’t glamourise the real look and feel of the film. Editing (Hemanti Sarkar) could’ve been a bit tighter in the second half as the film gets a bit repetitive.

Overall, Peepli Live is a good film that entertains and at the same time questions us about our ignorance of the real issues affecting our nation. Ironically, the media coverage around the film matches the madness shown in the film itself; check out some of the stories I came across in the last few days:

  • Natha wants to meet Katrina Kaif
  • Not Katrina, Natha now wants to meet Deepika Padukone
  • Natha gets gifts for Deepika and Katrina
  • Property prices go up in Peepli
  • Aamir unable to go to Peepli due to security concerns
  • Aamir did not interfere during the making of the film; only visited the sets once, etc

My rating: * * * ½ Three and a half stars on five

– Shrey Khetarpal

Well Done Abba


 Well Done Benegal…

Pic: Reliance Big Pictures; Source: Wikipedia


Shyam Benegal was never known for comedies but for meaningful cinema that was labeled art-house and alienated mainstream audience. Films such as Ankur, Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, Mandi, Mammo, Sardari Begum and others may have been extremely good but not money spinners at the box office. Even Zubeidaa featuring Karisma Kapoor, which was almost a mainstream Bollywood flick, pleased only the niche Benegal audience and not the masses.  However, with the evolution of the multiplex audience, Benegal has started dabbling with a genre that he hasn’t attempted before – comedy. Well, actually it is satire and he touches upon a lot of relevant issues through his latest films like Welcome to Sajjanpur and Well Done Abba. This new Benegal brand of cinema is extremely refreshing when all we get today are sexist and vulgar jokes in the name of comedies.

Well Done Abba is set in a village called Chikatpalli, somewhere near Hyderabad and focuses on a number of issues such as corruption, water shortage, illiteracy, emancipation of women, amongst others. Boman Irani plays Armaan Ali who is concerned about his daughter, Muskaan Ali’s (Minisha Lamba) marriage and wants to get a baori (well) dug in his fields under a new scheme by the government. The film traces Armaan’s journey as he struggles with the corrupt government machinery and later his battle against the same, which is master-minded by his fiery daughter.

Boman Irani is simply outstanding in the film and proves that the character and the actor playing it are more important than the star. Minisha Lamba is the film’s surprise package and is extremely confident even with the Hyderabadi accent. Other supporting actors like Samir Dattani, Ila Arun and Ravi Kissen are good but fine actors like Rajit Kapoor and Sonali Kulkarni are not given substantial roles.

The film’s strength is its simplicity and situational comedy while its length is its weakness (nearly two and a half hours). The first half of the film moves slowly establishing each of the numerous characters and the film picks up post interval. The editing could have been much better to make the film crisp and more impactful. Music by Shantanu Moitra is nothing great and the songs were not required at all; why couldn’t they just stick to only background score?

Overall, Well Done Abba is a delightfully refreshing film but requires a little patience due to its length.

My Rating: * * * ½ Three and a half stars on five

Shrey Khetarpal