Shanghai

Shanghai

Cast: Abhay Deol, Emraan Hashmi, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Kalki Koechlin, Pitobash Tripathy, Farooq Shaikh, Tillotama Shome, Supriya Pathak

Director: Dibakar Banerji

Indian Express Ratings:***1/2

Loosely adapted from the novel 'Z' by Vassilis Vasilikov (the '69 film of the same name by Costa Gavras became an instant classic), 'Shanghai' drags you deep into the bowels of a fictional Indian town, where it sets about disemboweling the pretences and the super-structures that protect the rich and the powerful with such a ruthless, clear-eyed sense of purpose that you have nowhere to run, and certainly nowhere to hide.

The film is set in small town Maharashtra, and the Marathi surnames leave you in no doubt about the location, but the nexus that is busy hammering the meek into the ground — the politician, policeman, builder-and-goon — could be, and is, in business across all of India. It is a separate nation state that operates at a level the average John Doe is only dimly aware of : of lone tenders, complicit 'netas' and 'babus', buzzing hotlines from one ministerial desk to another, and vast tracts of land, more valuable than diamonds in this country where the footpath is the default home to those without a roof over their heads.

It is in this roiling, boiling town that noted academic-activist Dr Ahmadi (Chatterjee) arrives, to raise a call against the forces that are working against the poorest of the poor. Awaiting him is his former student Shalini (Koechlin), whose heart is still very much on her sleeve. A public meeting turns into the site of a cold-blooded murder, resulting in the good doctor fetching up in hospital, and Shalini battling shock, turning for help to smutty videographer Jogi (Hashmi) who is witness to the incident, and to Krishnan (Deol), the bureaucrat in charge of the investigation.

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