Shanghai

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.

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Kahaani

A Paisa Wasool Thriller…

Pic source: Wikipedia

Bollywood is not very good with thrillers, especially nothing beyond the fast cars, snazzy hero types… While the Dons and the Agent Vinods create a lot of buzz and earn the moolah, there are hardly any thrillers that play with your mind and keep you on the edge of your seat. Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani successfully manages to do that and Vidya Balan’s superb performance along with the current ‘India’s darling’ status helps the film to draw in the audience.

A thriller with a pregnant woman as the protagonist is something new for the Indian cinema and it seems the viewers are also growing up along with the filmmakers. A few years ago Sriram Raghavan made an excellent thriller called, Ek Haseena Thi starring Urmila Matondkar. It was a slick film with a fabulous plot and a chilling climax. Whoever saw it loved it but the box-office figures were not very encouraging. Thankfully, with Kahaani it is different and the film has already been declared a hit within four days of its release. So what works for Kahaani? Here’s my list (there are minor spoilers in the post):

An interesting story and a clever screenplay (story: Sujoy Ghosh, Advaita Kala; screenplay: Ghosh, Suresh Nair & Nikhil Vyas): The plot is intriguing, about a pregnant woman (Vidya Bagchi, played by Vidya Balan) who comes to Kolkata looking for her missing husband… the screenplay does full justice to it, with smart and at times misleading scenes and situations. Vidya’s condition immediately draws your support and you join her in her search, just like a young police officer, Rana. You are concerned about her well being and actually get worried when you know something wrong is going to happen next. I also enjoyed the dialogues (Ghosh, Ritesh Shah & Sutapa Sikdar) that were peppered with Bengali lines and terms.

Inspired casting: Kudos to the casting director who managed to put together a stellar cast of Bengali actors who make their characters so real and believable. Parambrata Chatterjee as a young cop who assists Vidya in her search is extremely likeable and sincere. Saswata Chatterjee as Bob Biswas is simply outstanding; full credit to the writers for creating an interesting character like Bob – an insurance agent who is also a contract killer. Other characters including the senior pot-bellied police officer, Mona Lisa Guest House receptionist and the little kids, all have done a fabulous job. Finally, Vidya Balan as the lead; I can’t think of another actress who would have been able to pull off this role except her and Konkona Sen Sharma. Vidya once again does a stellar job and is extremely convincing as a pregnant woman who is determined to find her husband. She is vulnerable and at the same time stronger than any of the other characters.

Kolkata: Those who have been to Kolkata will enjoy the film a bit more than those who haven’t. And those who haven’t may want to visit. Sujoy and his team (Cinematography – Setu; Art Direction – Kaushik Das, Subrata Barik) bring alive the many faces of the city on screen – a buzzing metro with traffic jams and crowded local trains; a sleepy town which still appears to be stuck in the last century and a city soaked in celebrations. I almost cheered at the mention of Park Street’s iconic restaurant, Mocambo and at a glimpse of New Market…

Kahaani starts slow and you get a chance to empathise and connect with Vidya. However, once the action begins, you are in for a roller coaster ride. Vidya’s flashbacks about her husband are irritating as they hamper the pace of the film. The film has many loop-holes and a lot of things are a little hard to digest. However, those can be overlooked for the ultimate effect that is created. Music by Vishal-Shekhar is good and goes very well with the mood of the film.

One thing that I did not like about the film is its ending. The director spends too much time in explaining everything after the final revelation or the main climax. The film soars high but lands with a thud. It would have been more impactful if the end was open to interpretation.

Overall, Kahaani is one of the best Hindi films I have seen in the recent times and I recommend you watch it if you haven’t already.

– Shrey Khetarpal

Ra.One

Pic: Ra.One; Source: Wikipedia

Open letter to Shah Rukh Khan…

Dear Shah Rukh Khan,

Firstly congratulations for the spectacular opening of Ra.One and hope you manage to recover all the money you spent on the film. Not because it is a good film, but because you dared to dream and put your might behind a risky venture. You said it right, if you don’t make mega budget blockbusters in Bollywood, then who will?

Coming to the film, it is a major disappointment but don’t worry the masses in India are used to watching not-so-great or even silly films as long as they have their favourite stars; take the example of the recent Salman starrers, Ready & Bodyguard, and Rajnikanth’s Robot. Also, your film is a lot better than Shirish ‘Fizzle’ Kunder and Farah Khan’s masterpiece, Tees Maar Khan and Bollywood’s last sci-fi outing, Love Story 2050 (how I shudder at the thought of that film!)

You must praise your marketing team that kept the buzz alive around the film for over seven months. They did their job a little too well, as by the end of it, the whole country said, “Please stop, we’ll watch Ra.One”. They deserve a bonus. Others who deserve praise are your special effects team for creating some good sequences; I particularly like the scene where Ra.One regenerates with little Lego like digital cubes (too big to be called pixels). The few action scenes in the film are also nice and I hope the folks at Volkswagen are happy the way their cars were smashed. Kareena Kapoor did her best to look good and sizzle the screen in the Chammak Challo song; I believe that was the brief to her! Her make-up artist went beyond the brief to make her look smashing with blow-dried hair after she is rescued from a train wreck. Your villain, Arjun Rampal deserves a big fat bonus too as he proved to be the best thing about the film. Pity he didn’t get too much screen time.

Now coming to those whose payment you should put on hold. The director, Anubhav Sinha; firstly why did you hire him to lead a 150-crore project? His last film was called Cash, which didn’t earn any cash at the box-office! If it was because he wrote the story, that’s not an acceptable excuse as the story was nothing great with a concept borrowed from Hollywood (yes, we all watched Tron Legacy if not the original Tron). He did even worse with the screenplay where he had three accomplices (Kanika Dhillon, Mushtaq Sheikh & David Benullo); patchy writing peppered with crude jokes and lines that fell flat! You hired an Academy Award winner, Martin Walsh (Chicago) who edited all the wrong things (read action) from the film; part of the blame on the Indian editor, Sanjay Sharma; the film dragged and could’ve been good 20-minutes shorter. If you are thinking of a sequel, please do not work with any of them.

Regarding music, please give a show-cause notice to Vishal-Shekhar as well for doing a half baked job. One hit song does not create a great album but they just managed to save themselves with Chammak Challo, which became a bigger hit because of Akon and Kareena. Raftaarein and Dildara were also good songs but not smash-hits that are expected for a film like this. And what was that Criminal song? Choreographer Ganesh Hegde made it look like a B-grade party number focusing on everyone’s bum! Also, I hope you didn’t pay for any of the special appearances as all of them were disappointing. Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Dutt and Rajnikanth, all were wasted in their cameos. If you did pay, please deduct from Mr. Sinha’s pay package.

Your charm worked in the film and made it watchable but your decision to wear that horrible wig in the first half is beyond me. I understand that you tried to please everyone with this film but that’s not possible. But keep trying different things, some will work and some won’t but that’s how generations will remember you, apart from the guy who brought romance back to Hindi cinema.

Sincerely,

A fan

My rating for the film: ** ½ Two and a half on five