Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dibakar's Shanghai : Too Clever By Half!

Dibakar Banerjee's Shanghai

There are no saints anymore. Everyone has begun to succumb to the seductions of power, lust or greed for money. The contemporary Indian life has become a mélange of grey shades of morality. Who is without sin amongst us, to become the first, to throw a stone? None. The complicity is too deep. Seemingly so. Dibakar's latest movie Shanghai attempts to bring out this grave reality of 21st century India. With his earlier film Love Sex aur Dhoka, Dibakar Banerjee had set the bar high. In LSD, Dibakar could successfully blend creativity with intelligence and had been fairly successful in making the first Indian diegetic  movie, based on the precepts of the counter-cultural movement in Cinema, the Dogme-95. But his latest movie Shanghai does not appear to be as artistically convincing as LSD, though it is definitely an interesting take on the complex, post-modern reality of Indian life. 

Dibakar, along with co-writer Urmi Juvekar, have spun an Indianised story to create Shanghai, by adapting the Greek political novel Z written by Vassilis Vassilikos in 1967. The novel Z was subsequently immortalised into a cult French film by the same name, by the legendary Greek director Costa-Gavras in 1969. Roger Ebert, the first film critic to win a Pulitzer, had reviewed the movie Z thus : Z is a film of our time. It is about how even moral victories are corrupted. It will make you weep and will make you angry. It will tear your guts out... Costas-Gavras has told the story in a style that is almost unbearably exciting. Z is at the same a political cry of rage and a brilliant suspense thriller. It even ends in a chase : Not through the streets, but through a maze of facts, alibis and official corruption. Truly, Z was a fascinating as well as a disturbing film. It was my wonderful senior and a connoisseur of world cinema, Mr.S.P.Swain, who gave me its DVD and made me to watch it for the first time long ago at Bangalore. It is even more startling to note that Gavras was just 36 years of age when he had directed that masterpiece!

The story of Shanghai revolves around the debate upon the inevitable dilemmas of modernity : urbanisation and development. And how it shapes up into multiple hues of grey amidst the wily politicians, the career bureaucrats, the shady social activists and the subaltern underdogs. In the process, the moral fabric of everyone gets corrupted and compromised in some form or the other. The varied forms of duplicity and hypocrisy galore into each and every pore of all those who participate in the game - the beneficiaries as well as the deprived. From each according to his ability, to each according to his greed! No one is spared from getting possessed by the haunting ghosts of modernity. The tale of Shanghai is about the politics of development of a new Business Park in an imaginary Indian town. For which land has to be acquired from the locals comprising of the poor peasants, the slum dwellers and the land mafia who are being out-manoeuvred by the business, political and bureaucratic classes of India. An equally manipulative social activist enters to mediate the game and gets dramatically eliminated, thereby unfolding the contours and textures of the movie that follows.

Shanghai is the leitmotif of post-liberal fantasy of every CPM card-holder in India. As Shanghai is not only the largest city by population in the world, but also the showpiece of the booming economy of the People's Republic of China. A small fishing port at the mouth of the Yangtze river, it had slowly emerged over the centuries into the Paris of the East, predominantly as a result of the liberal reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping, who is considered to be the prime architect of the socialist market economy in China. The Shanghai Disney Resort Project which will be the biggest of all Disney projects in the world, is now under construction in the city of Shanghai with the sanction of the Chinese government and is expected to become functional by 2016. Environmental hazards, displacement of local fishing communities and emigration of natives out of Shanghai keep happening on an increased scale. One such illustrious emigrant of Shanghai is Wong Kar-Wai, whose splendid movie In The Mood For Love narrates the story of such a displaced Shanghainese community in Hong-Kong and the nostalgia for their lost city. No wonder that the irony behind the metaphor of Shanghai, has captivated Dibakar Banerjee, the Delhi-born and brought-up Bengali art-cum-ad-film-maker, who has incidentally made a cute commercial for Coca-Cola and some not-so-cute promos for Channel V and MTV.

Dibakar has reasonably well captured the specters of modernity in all its splendor and glory, its pathos and agony, its melodrama and melancholy. There are no value judgements passed, except the expression of cynicism and angst, with an overpowering sense of impotency and helplessness. The rage, though muted, has flown with incessant ease all through the movie. The taut screenplay and the powerful cinematography, along with the brilliant performances of almost all actors have made the movie shine with flashes of brilliance. Except that, the unfortunate role given to one of my most favourite lasses, next to Nandita Das and Kôngkôna Shen Shôrma, the eclectic  Kalki Koechlin, can only be described as tragic. But the movie Shanghai, which openly draws its inspiration from Z, ends up becoming a tad silly, in comparison to the masterpiece of Gavras which had come more than four decades ago. The narratives embedded in Dibakar's Shanghai fail to create the desired impact which it strives so hard for. The pastiche of meticulously crafted screenplay, visually powerful cinematography and perceptive performances of actors do not thread its way through. Instead it gets more and more desperate towards the end. Inspite of its too clever attempts to portray the darker and meaner shades of the urban underbelly of Indian democracy, it fails to get blended into a wonderfully woven work of cinema. Leave alone Z, it does not even reach the artistic heights which, Anusha Rizvi's Peepli (Live) or Abhinay Deo's Delhi Belly on one side, and Anurag Kashyap's Dev.D or Dibakar's very own LSD on the other, could achieve so seemlessly well. The film Shanghai lacks the vision and the beauty of a great work of artistic cinema. Don't get smug and rest upon you own laurels, dear Dibakar!

Movie Rating : 6 out of 10

1 comment:

  1. red earth and pouring rain.June 16, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    To have the better comparison of both "Z" of Costa Gavras and "Shanghai" of Dibakar Banerjee, I watched both on successive days. It was more necessary as both films were based on same Greek novel"Z".

    'Z' film is taken in realistic method of filming. It was closer to Documentary style. It suites perfectly to the subject of the film. Hits hard into one's face especially to the serving bureaucrats and persons from compromising middle class society. At the end, it made me extremely guilty for my mistakes/compromises. Also for the unending criminality caused by the fellow beings. Film was very good till the final minutes. But the final sequence, detailing the Army takeover of the Government and ban of Tolstoy, Becket, Dostoyevsky, music, democracy, etc., raises the film to the epic. Rarely, one gets disturbed to such an extent as by seeing this film.

    Shanghai is good in many respects. But the problem, probably, is in the method of story telling. This serious film should have been told in more realistic manner. Somewhere, its details are attached weakly to the ground realities. The shrewdness shown by the Krishnan at the end, Professor's wife becoming Politician, sweeping changes in the lives of the main characters towards the last, are the weak areas.

    But, certain visuals are haunting to the core. Kalki offering her body to the videographer, her coming close to porno videographer, known character responsible for the death of Professor, scene of foot ball jumping into the enquiry room, are touchingly portrayed. The acting of male actors esp. serial kisser is surprisingly good.

    But, this is any time better than 'Peeply live'(melodramatic stuff). director has not compromised with any thing because of association with big studio. Very nice attempt even though it is not completely successful.