'Shanghai' is not a film that can be dismissed. It is just that when compared with the kind of high expectations that one had from it, it falls a little short. Yes, it is realistic and shot in real time format which are definitely the strengths here. However with a tighter grip over the proceedings, lesser questions that remain unanswered and a narrative that meanders between being a little abstract to simply fantastic, 'Shanghai' could have been THE movie to watch this season.
To begin with, the entire selling point around Prosenjit's murder being shown from 11 different points of view has turned out to be one huge bluff. That's because there are just three views shown and one wonders where the remaining eight went. Moreover, this 'views' angle is not even integral to the film's plot. Ditto for Emraan's background as a porn filmmaker. It doesn't add either to his character or the film's plot which means at the end of the day what works is Emraan Hashmi and his unique persona more than anything else.
What definitely works is Abhay Deol's placement in the film's plot and while his changing stance from being reluctant to submissive and finally idealistic may seem to be carrying a touch of heroism to it, you still go with him as an audience as he does provide some fine moments. As for Kalki, there may be some layers to her background which were there on paper but not quite translated on screen. Yes, it is understood that she wants to bring the killers (of Prosenjit) to task but her involvement in the entire saga despite such risks being involved of information makes one wonder if there is something more to her than we know.
One has to give it to Dibakar though that at certain points in the film, this 'different' story telling had its fabulous moments as well. Emraan's subtle attraction towards Kalki, his stance to stay away from all the trouble, Abhay's involvement in the power game, the scenes where he goes through the enquiries, his interaction with the Chief Minister (Supriya Pathak) and then the final scene with Farooq Sheikh, each of these episodes/sequences do catch your attention and make you believe that here is a filmmaker who had his heart in the right place.
However it is the very subject matter and its core that proves to be the undoing of 'Shanghai'. Yes, the original source (the book 'Z') may have been cult in its own time and may have proven to be an engaging and hard hitting read. However in current times it hardly surprises you. Three decades back it was explored in Amitabh Bachchan's political drama 'Inquilab' and not very long back, Ram Gopal Varma had based his 'Sarkar Raj' on the same theme (village/small town redevelopment) far more effectively and entertainingly. Unfortunately that doesn't quite happen in case of 'Shanghai'.
Still, what saves the film to a reasonable extent are the performances. Emraan Hashmi is extremely loveable, especially in the first hour when his child like persona is well demonstrated. It's a new actor that you see here and hats off to his and Dibakar's conviction that an altogether different persona is seen. Abhay Deol is fantastic and proves once again why his name is taken with such respect in the industry. Kalki is decent though one expected more meat in her character. Prosenjit is hardly there. Farooq Sheikh is plain natural and is actually one of the characters that entertains most. Pithobash Tripathy could have been utilised better while Supriya Pathak is superb in her solo scene.
Touted to be one of the most intriguing political thrillers on side of the century, 'Shanghai' turns out to be an okay watch which could have been much better had there been more such sequences that belonged to 'not seen before' variety. At times, the narrative may be a tad different but the basic storyline doesn't quite arrest your attention in entirety. Now that's sad indeed because the film promised so much more.