……is the common name for the largest city by population of the People’s Republic of China and possibly the bravest film based on contemporary India.

We live in a country which has been lauded for its history, culture and unity within diversity….many years ago of course! The modern day India is fragmented and the very diversity that made us unique is the root cause of strife and chaos. Majority of the electorate is either brainwashed or won over by muscle power and/or money and we land up with governance that cares nought for the country. 

The story of the film is simple and pretty common in today’s India. A huge modern township is proposed in Bharat Nagar – a city somewhere in our country. A large parcel of land is required for the project thanks to which hundreds of slum dwellers are being rehabilitated somewhere far away. Some of them go willingly and some are reticent, but that is really no obstacle for a huge corporate machinery backed by political will. The new Bharat Nagar is pitched and sold as Shanghai – the dream city. The average man does not realize the murkiness and corruption behind the glittering facade that is painted by those who will benefit from the development. 

Early in the film we see a shot of an aam aadmi chatting with another of his ilk. In a few minutes you realize there is a plot being hatched and the first man is convincing the other man, his uncle for the use of his small truck. The uncle is clearly unwilling but finally gives in. Cut to political activist Professor Ahmadi who comes to Bharat Nagar to unify the slum dwellers and urge them not to give up their homes. A brutal road accident leaves him hospitalized in a critical condition. Ahmedi’s ex student and part time lover Shalini is convinced that this is premeditated and not a random act but does not know how to prove it. A small time photographer (and part time pronographer!) Jogi claims to have proof that could help Shalini prove her point. T.A Krishnan, an IAS officer and bureaucrat is deputed by the government to investigate the entire matter and report back to his boss, Mr. Kaul. Mrs. Ahmedi arrives on the scene to be by her husband and eventually assumes a much larger role. The quagmire of Indian politics and games people play for power and money have been depicted very well through the narrative. 

The casting is mostly apt and some brilliant performances carry the film through splendidly. Abhay Deol shines as TA Krishnan – the soft spoken bureaucrat. You may (or may not!) know that he had initially refused the film because he felt he could not do justice to the character! The surprise package was Emraan Hashmi who is fabulous as the seedy, slight pot bellied photographer Jogi. Farooq Shaikh in a small role of Kaul is as engaging as ever. Prosenjit Chatterjee as Professor Ahmedi did not work for me because of the sheer lack of charisma. I could not believe him to be a sought after professor in NYU and a fire brand activist! Kalki is irritating through the film as she gives her character no depth, no layers and no dimension other than the one where she barks at everyone. I was trying very hard to remember the girl who impressed me in Dev D but could spot her nowhere. In contrast, a pleasant watch is Tilotama Shome as Mrs. Ahmedi. She does not have much screen time but manages to hold attention when she is there. Supriya Pathak as the Chief Minister is good but occupies screen space more due to sheer size than her performance! However, for me the star of the show is clearly Pitobash Tripathy who plays Bhaggu – the aam aadmi, supported beautifully by Anant Jog playing his uncle – Jaggu. 

The one thing that struck home most through the film, is the plight of the common man who is used, abused and eventually discarded when he starts asking questions. There are millions of Jaggus and Bhaggus around us, nameless, and faceless. Rebels without a cause, they add to the muscle power of political parties without realizing they are expendable. As our population, poverty and rate of illiteracy increases, the Jaggus and Bhaggus will also multiply. Is there a solution? Can we awaken as a country and take charge of our own destiny? Shanghai does not have all the answers but does leave us with a faint ray of hope. 

 

Copyright © Tara Verma July 2012

All Rights Reserved

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