I remember the first time I saw Costa-Gavras’ Z. It was in the late-1970s, in a theater in South Delhi, nearly 10 years after the film had won two Academy Awards — for best foreign language film and editing.
|Shanghai has all the shades of all the ugly caste and religious politics that exist in India today
I remember being stunned, in complete disbelief that cinema could be so powerful, so relevant — including to India, a country that had witnessed the fascist Emergency rule of Indira Gandhi — at the same time gripping and ultimately entertaining.
In my naïve youthful fashion, I thought through the film and its dramatic presentation of an unjust corrupt system, my world or at least the politics around me would change.
But Z was a French subtitled film playing to extremely small elite filmgoers. I subsequently saw Gavras’ other political thrillers — including State of Siege and Missing, his harsh critiques of US foreign policy in Latin America, and for a while I foolishly believed that the whole world would gain so much from watching these films.
India’s politics evolved in a disastrous manner, from the political assassinations of the 1980s and 1990s, the religious riots, the attack on a gurdwara and the demolition of an old mosque, to the emergence of caste-based political parties, and finally the liberalization policies that created the ultimate ironic slogan that even the mind of George Orwell could not have imagined — India Shining!
The politics made me jaded and I eventually lost hope of art, cinema and literature making any substantial change in the lives of the people of India.
But there were always brief moments of excitement when I found little gems, whether it was in commercial cinema – such as Mani Rathnam’s Bombay, or the independent art-house fares like Firaaq, Nandita Das’ heart breaking tales from Gujarat and a political satire like Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live. Unfortunately, the reach of these films – especially the smaller productions, remained limited.
On Friday I saw Dibakar Banerjee’s much praised Shanghai, the young director’s near audacious homage to Costa-Gavras’s Z, although he acknowledges the original source — Vasilis Vasiliskos’ novel by the name.
Banerjee and his extremely gifted writer Urmi Juvekar have borrowed heavily from the source. There is a lot of Z, in scenes, characters, situations, especially in the first half of the film, and that can be distracting. But in the second half Banerjee creates magic, giving us a hell of a gripping thriller, at a scale that I had not imagined was possible to India.
One can overlook the flaws — the sudden change in Abhay Deol’s character at the end that makes him almost unbelievable, Kalki Koechlin’s peculiar crusader, and an easy resolution.
But there is a lot to marvel in Banerjee’s new film — Emraan Hashmi’s performance, the brilliant ensemble of supporting actors and the minimal use of background score by Mikey McCleary, that makes the tension a lot more believable. A real life chase by goons, would not accompany a background score. That is how real Shanghai feels at times.
The film has the shades of all the ugly caste and religious politics that exist in India today, even an India Shining-like slogan, and politicians and bureaucrats so recognizable that I can see Banerjee winking when he states at the beginning that any resemblance to a person living or dead is purely coincidental.
Gavras on the other had more fun with this statement. Z opens with these words: “Any similarity to real person and events is not coincidental, it is intentional!”
The timing of Shanghai’s release could not have been better, given the state of India’s political affairs. So will the Indian audience get Banerjee’s important message, masked in the form of a thriller? I do not see political revolutions coming through a film like this. That was a different me, at a different time in my life.
But I wonder if there young idealists in parts of India who might find lessons that will make them do one right thing. Shanghai’s reach is most probably going to be the multiplex audience, but I do hope at least a few of them are questioning the India Shining slogan and other contradictions around them.
I liked Aseem Chhabra’s column ‘The parent trap’ (PM, June 3). It brought out the fact that many parents, especially abroad, try to win recognition by pressurising their children to achieve – never mind if there is a price to pay.
Another important point it made was that often parents rush to provide their children with a good education that will help them make a mark in society, but neglect to foster basic human values. How else could a young student, responsible for the death of his roommate, think of going on a drinking spree the day after the victim dies?
- Pesi J Padshah
It is tragic that parents fulfill their unfulfilled dreams through their children and the result is a Dharun Ravi and many more like him. This ‘parent trap’ is not only in the Indian diaspora abroad but in India too.
And the result is youth crimes and suicides. Young minds need guidance and advice to develop. Hopefully after reading this article, at least some parents will think twice before pulling their child into their own thwarted dreams.
- S N Saroja