Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

June 8, 2012

Sin city

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:53 pm

June 08, 2012

Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Abhay Deol, Kalki Koechlin, Farooque Shaikh, Supriya Pathak, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Pitobash, Tilottama Shome

Director: Dibakar Banerjee

Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai is a crisp, take-no-prisoners drama about seeking justice in the complex landscape of the Indian democracy. The film benefits from the compelling performances of its cast and the director’s sharp eye for detail while narrating a simplistic, and at times predictable story that traces the inevitable nexus between Indian politics and crime.

In the fictional small town of Bharat Nagar that’s poised to become the next Shanghai, a respected left wing activist, Dr Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee), is mowed down by a pick-up truck after addressing a rally against a major redevelopment project that will render hundreds of poor families homeless.

When Ahmedi’s student Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) and his wife Aruna (Tilottama Shome) demand a probe into this hit-and-run that the police is quick to dismiss as a drunk-driving accident, the chief minister (Supriya Pathak) orders an enquiry commission to get to the bottom of the truth. Even as IAS officer Krishnan (Abhay Deol), who’s assigned to lead the enquiry, takes his job more seriously than his superiors had intended for him to, local videographer Jogi Parmar (Emraan Hashmi) stumbles onto some valuable evidence that could directly implicate the political bigwigs.

Based on the novel Z by Greek author Vassillis Vasilikov (its 1969 film adaptation by Costa-Gavras won two Academy Awards), Shanghai is rich in irony from the moment in, as it sets about exposing the reality behind the ‘India Shining’ dream. With nicely etched characters, a realistic shooting style, and a dollop of humor, Banerjee sucks you into his narrative, seldom letting the pace slip in the film’s less-than-two-hours running time.

As always, it’s the little moments that stand out in his films…a tense meeting of the enquiry commission is disturbed when a football, followed by a young child chasing after it, enters through the window. Moments later, following a heated exchange, the two principals slip on a wet-floor outside the meeting room. Earlier in the film, at the height of an uncomfortable confrontation in a hospital, a no-nonsense nurse casually strolls in, reprimands the offenders for hollering in the premises, then walks out just as unexpectedly as she entered. Even in the most intense situations, Banerjee gives us something to smile about.

There are disturbingly real moments too that feel uncomfortably familiar… a policeman’s apathy towards a wife confronting her husband’s corpse, or a criminal’s confidence at escaping the hand of the law because of his ‘connection’ with a powerful politico. If something’s missing in this film, it’s a sense of suspense, the pressure-cooker urgency that this kind of ‘thriller’ needed.

Good thing then that the actors hit all the right notes. In smaller parts, Supriya Pathak as the all-powerful madam-CM, and Farooque Shaikh as the seasoned, ever-practical bureaucrat are a joy to watch. Prosenjit Chatterjee as the uncompromising rabble-rouser is nicely cast, while Kalki Koechlin plays it grim from start to finish, teetering dangerously close to one-note.

But Shanghai belongs to its male leads: Abhay Deol, despite his wobbly Tamil accent, is terrific as a man temporarily conflicted between doing the right thing, and doing what’s right for him. His chameleon-like volte face from a polite, bullied man to a fellow fully composed and confident is one of the film’s best scenes. As for Emraan Hashmi, he steals the film as the gauche, stain-toothed pornographer with a selfless heart. It’s easily the film’s most winning performance, and Hashmi doesn’t once miss his mark.

The grand revelation in the end is a tad underwhelming, and the big evidence far too conveniently acquired. Yet, Shanghai is consistently watchable despite these lapses. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai. It’s a good film from one of Hindi cinema’s most exciting filmmakers…it’s just not great.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


  1. Do change the stars – it’s 3 and half or 3 out of five below ?? .. I am presuming you will stick to the stars at the top!

    Comment by tanuj — June 9, 2012 @ 12:04 am

  2. Awesome movie to watch…But just dont be in a hang over of roudy rathod.Fully agree with mr.masand

    Comment by Shanghai — June 9, 2012 @ 12:09 am

  3. Agree. Good but not great.
    There seems to be some confusion with the ratings. The text says 3 stars while the picture shows 3.5 stars.

    Comment by Anand — June 9, 2012 @ 1:47 am

  4. The film worked very well for me. Specially the minimal background score which I think was the masterstroke. It simply engages you in its world and you don’t care much about its simplistic plot but ya it should not have been promoted as a thriller. Also liked how Dibakar didn’t take a clear stand on the issue.

    Comment by Varun Varghese — June 9, 2012 @ 2:34 am

  5. my god!!..lol..”its good but its not that great!!!”…that’s wht i texted to all my friend last night after watching this!!..reading the last lines of ur review…nd see how we agree!!..actually after 4 star revies from both the-mass’s nd class’s critics..i was kinda xpecting too much from this…

    Comment by Jignesh — June 9, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

  6. To Rajeev Masand sir,
    SHANGHAI- my review( for cnn-ibn (re)viewers’)…..the film engulfs u frm da strt n takes u into da badlands of Bharatnagar, u easily relate 2 it, all da chaos is accompanied by ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ which seems to fill in more excitement…the film goes on to be more chaotic nevertheless. All the actors do a fab job, Prosenjit was okay, Pitobash Tripathy did what was needed by his character, Kalki waz a bit irritating but didn’t actually cross the line- Abhay Deol as expected waz bloody gud in da madrasi avatar- however a bit shaky, Emraan hashmi was THE man who grabbed all the attention and appreciation with his comedy bits and toothlessness. So, here’s da scorecard….
    plot-4/5 wid current relevance with all corruption, chaos, sycophancy etc.—–screenplay-3.5/5 was different and preferrable, but the lay audience will strive to relate to it—–direction-4/5 cutting edge——acting-4.5/5 damn gud- except kalki ofcourse—–music-2.5/5 aptly less, desi but mild—–1+ to the concept….2- fr bad sound…..2- fr bad effects…..2- fr confusing its genre with a political thriller, murder mystery or an ordinary art adaptation…..1+ fr finishing of scenes (gud try)…..1+ fr choosing this topic…..2+ fr Supriya Pathak and Farooq Sheikh….1+ fr the brave Dibakar Banerji’s offbeat thinking…..2+ fr EMRAAN HASHMI super cool acting…..i think SHANGHAI is a MUST WATCH as a break frm masala films…….RATING- 4/5…….alas Rowdy Rathore will spoil its earnings….all these lead performers prove Akshay Kumar a complete disappointment in acting….it’s a film with consistent Entertainment and a whole bunch of bang on performances. RATING- 4/5

    Comment by Vikram Grewal — June 9, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

  7. shit! this time rajeev’s review isn’t “different” from that of others.. he too urges one to watch the movie, instead of dissing a movie (widely appreciated by other critics), as is the norm.. 😉

    Comment by jigardoshi20991 — June 9, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

  8. Agree with you sir on most of the points.
    Read my review: http://thepuccacritic.blogspot.in/2012/06/shanghai.html

    Comment by Anup Pandey — June 9, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

  9. what a fantastic review man,…………..1 ich number………exactly upto d point………

    Comment by swapnil — June 9, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

  10. surprised, why no body has commented for this review, where there are so many comments for Rowdy Rathore 🙂

    Rajeev, this time u r bang on target.Even ur review is apt to the detail.
    May be you should stop reviewing masala flicks.

    End of the movie i just felt it is a very good attempt.But it would have been a great movie with a display of little bit opinion

    Comment by Srini — June 9, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

  11. Rajeev,

    I do not completely agree with you, the directer could have done a much much better job. Although the actors have done a complete justice to their job, if the director would have defined the charters a little bit more would have helped the movie do better. The screenplay was the other weak link of the movie, All in all a good story wasted. Not a vakue for money….may be a 2 Star defines it a better.


    Comment by Vikram P — June 9, 2012 @ 11:56 pm

  12. Between all the great films I have watched, there has always been one thing common— the awe-inspiring final act, the last 30 or so minutes which just sweep me off and make me realize that I have just finished watching a great film. Such times don’t come often but when they come, I make it a point to note them down for they remind me about the day which I felt was a day well spent because I got to see a “great” film.

    Today was one such day. “Shanghai”, directed by the extraordinarily talented Dibakar Banerjee is such a taut and crisp political thriller that it never leaves you a moment to really ponder over what is going on. Based on the novel “Z” by the Greek writer Vassilis Vassilikos, Shanghai is based in the fictional city of Bharat Nagar run by the leading party IBP. Due to some complications resulted by the provocations of the leader of an opposition party, somebody supposedly murders him. The rest of the film is based on finding out that who is actually the real culprit. The plot at first does not seems very complicated and if you look over it carefully, the story is not very hard to predict. But what makes this movie an instant classic is not really the screenplay but the genius touch of its director. Every frame, every scene shows the mark of brilliance and of somebody who is a master at his craft. I feel a bit embarrassed to declare that is the first Dibakar Banerjee film I have seen and I know its really shameful but I don’t think that now anything can prevent me from catching up all his previous films.

    The music works fine and the background score in the last 10 minutes of the film is simply EPIC. Also working positively in the film’s department are its superb sets and most importantly its brilliant acting ensemble. Abhay Deol shines in an understated restraint performance and Emraan Hashmi, the actor, finally shows us that he is a sincere actor and if given the right role and the right direction, he even has the ability to outshine every one else in the film, which he absolutely does in this one. All the supporting cast was swell but I would like to pick up Farooque Shaikh and Supriya Pathak, both of whom don’t have much screen time but for whatever little time they are, they are outstanding. Sadly, that can’t be said about Kalki Koechlin, who gets all the screen time in the world, but delivers the same shocked-girl-doesn’t-knows-where-she-is kind of one note performance.

    “Shanghai” deserves a viewing, not only because its an important film and of course shows a side of our country which people living in cities don’t get to see that often, but this film needs to be watched because its a really well-made film. Important, relevant and great, doesn’t really comes together very often, does it? Well, in the case of Shanghai, it has and should not be overlooked at any cost!!

    My Rating: 4/5

    Comment by Himanshu Malik — June 9, 2012 @ 11:57 pm

  13. hii sir i do respect ur review about shanghai, but let me confirm one thing i watched this movie jus becozz i love dibakar benarjee”S movie but this movie fails to impress the audience …i watched this movie first day first show…and it was easy to get the tickets becozz half of the auidience were absent….they were still in craze of mr rowdy…. and those were present in the hall half of them were sleeping nd half of them were trying to get wht the movie is gonna present…..u critics criticizesss movies like rowdy… jus becoz u know itzzz just not a movie itzz a money making machine….. shanghai nd rowdy r two different sides of cinema but at the same tym people watch movie 4 the entertainment they watch movie so that they get back 4m wht they spend………there r so much tension already in human lyf….movies r made to release tension not to increase……….mr mashand plzzz atleast be practical nd think globly not jus u did nt like the movie it doesn”T mean that itzz a bad movie …………nd stop giving reviews becozz ur review is totally one sided…………..
    story writter 4 myself only…………

    Comment by shashank saket — June 10, 2012 @ 10:58 am

  14. This is my take on Shanghai http://rrachna.com/2012/06/10/movie-reviewshanghai/

    Comment by Ashwath — June 10, 2012 @ 11:32 am

  15. A movie that demanded a little more nail bites and edge of the seat scene. Its always a pleasure to watch movies devoid of chiffon sarees, Abhay Deol pulled the role very convincingly. Coming from an IAS family, its not hard for me to imagine the dilemma he is under whether to run to Stockholm or stick around and put things in perspective. Well crafted, and very very realistic. Long time, no see….finally we see cinema not another movie post Vidya’s remarkable feat.

    Comment by Gunja — June 11, 2012 @ 8:53 am

  16. http://bhavdeepsinghchadha.blogspot.in/2012/06/shanghai-movie-review.html

    Comment by Bhavdeep Singh Chadha — June 13, 2012 @ 1:37 am

  17. 3.5 stars surely not gonna miss this one !!

    Comment by nikhil — June 13, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

  18. For a change you are on target this time.. only thing you should give credit to either dialogue writer or Abhay Deol for his pronunciation with tamil ascent is really worth his efforts. Emaran Hashmi has acted very well in this movie…the visuals gives us more details then the story. The ending was left to viewers to conclude in whichever way one wanted to .. that is how the actual scenario is in today’ s political and bureaucratic nexus…
    the basic set up is apt in today’s scenario in any state.
    Hopefully movies like this brings the required changes in people’s mindset to question the certain decision’s of the Govt’s be it at state or central…

    Comment by venkat — June 13, 2012 @ 11:03 pm

  19. Let’s face it Mr Masand. There isn’t an Indian film that you are going to give 5 out of 5. The movie was great according to the films that are being made in Bollywood this days. Stop craving for more you know you won’t get it. I hope you understand and get the fact in your greedy head.

    Comment by Jo — June 14, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

  20. My review of Shanghai http://cinemathatmatters.wordpress.com/

    Comment by Saurabh Tiwari — June 15, 2012 @ 12:53 am

  21. Couldnt agree more with your verdict!

    Comment by adip — June 16, 2012 @ 6:47 pm

  22. A third class movie..

    Comment by Sagar — June 19, 2012 @ 12:34 am

  23. very poor movie!
    worst i have ever seen.

    Comment by sagar — June 19, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

  24. well shanghai was not at all a movie i must say which is ” audience friendly ” …… the back bone of the movie is just the actors ….. the director dibakar banerjee which is no doubt one of my favorite director wants the audience to sit and not enjoy the movie but put pressure on the mind and think ” WHAT IS GOING ON “…one has to use his brain without any cause to understand , NO background of anything is given in the movie .. even movie like KILL BILL etc ends with the story or bakcground but this one had nothing ….. . i know all movie are not just made for entertainment and this one is a PERFECT EXAMPLE . all u can understand is POLITICS and thus WHICH is not A NEW TOPIC …… the actors were at there best specially abhay deol with his south Indian accent ….. i wish the narration would have been better …. in my point the film deserves 3 out of 5 …. 2 for the actors and 1 for director for perfectly assigning the roles ……

    Comment by ashim — June 23, 2012 @ 11:44 am

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