More than three years ago I had written a post urging Indian film-critics to take up a responsibility. I had appealed to them to recognize good cinema and ‘educate’ the public about that, because the audience will not always be able to identify the merits of certain ‘difficult’ films. I don’t care how many of the critics actually got to read that post of mine, or whether they consciously acted upon my appeal. But last week a film and the reactions it triggered forced me to revisit that post. And finally, I’m pleased with the Indian critics.
[Shanghai is] a serious motion picture that has a voice, that makes you think, that makes a stunning impact. A must watch! – Taran Adarsh
I couldn’t watch ‘Shanghai’ until on the 10th day after its release. I hadn’t read any reviews or had conversation with those who had watched it. But I was aware of the extreme mixed reactions it had generated. The opinions were divided, greatly, between the critics and different sections of the audience. The terms being associated with it were – ‘best Hindi film of the year’ and ‘truly brave’ on one side, and ‘it’s a documentary’ and ‘don’t mention that rubbish film’ on the other. Today I realize it is one of those truly well-made films that fail at the box-office. ‘Udaan’ (2010) had a similar story. The critics loved it but it did not fare well commercially. However, there were certain differences. One, ‘Udaan’ didn’t work because people didn’t watch it. Those who did had a favourable reaction to it. I’m yet to meet someone who hated the movie, unlike 'Shanghai'. Two, it did not lose money despite a poor theatrical revenue. And three, generally speaking, the Critics are praising ‘Shanghai’ much more than they praised ‘Udaan’.
The pleasure of this film is in the details. – Anupama Chopra
I believe the biggest factor governing the reaction from the audience is the accessibility of these films. ‘Udaan’ was more easily accessible because of its inherent emotions – the audience could intimately relate with the characters, could easily love or hate them. The characters of ‘Shanghai’ stay away from the emotional reach of the audience, and its drama affects our intellect more than our feelings. Except ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ I have felt similar ‘coldness’ in the storytelling of all Dibakar Bannerjee films. I really appreciate those films of his, they please me cerebrally; they even make me laugh or smile or send a shiver down my spine, but they never make me choke. As a result, despite admiring his films, I never really care for his characters (except Khosla Ka Ghosla).
The most striking aspect of ‘Shanghai’ is its marvelous use of sound, both ambient and otherwise, to build up dramatic tension. – Saibal Chatterjee
Now, I don’t mind this coldness in his films. But perhaps the rest of the audience does. I enjoy the craft of his films so much that it is pure entertainment for me. But that definitely cannot be an appealing factor for others. Yet, I’m happy that the critics are pointing-out these ‘cinematic’ merits of the film. Technically speaking, this film is so strong that it will keep inspiring me for re-watches only to learn more and more. And like most good films, I know it will grow on me with re-watches.
If something’s missing from this film, it’s a sense of suspense, the pressure-cooker urgency that this kind of ‘thriller’ needed… It’s a good film from one of Hindi cinema’s most exciting film-makers… It’s just not great. – Rajeev Masand.
Masand is a critic I always find myself agreeing with, more than any other, and here I agree with him again. I don’t think ‘Shanghai’ is as good as other critics are making it to be. But I don’t mind that at all. For a film like this to do well, it is important that critics praise it a little more than it deserves. This will attract all those who actually decide about watching a movie by counting the number of stars in the reviews. Films like these should be watched by the audience, for their taste-buds to develop, for their ‘evolution’ into more mature and tolerant ‘consumers’, or our cinema will remain stuck where it is.
… should ‘Shanghai’ be a commercial success [it] can change the course of cinema in India. A hopeful, watershed moment, if there ever was one in the midst of mediocrity… – Karan Anshuman
Unfortunately, this has not happened – the film has failed commercially. And this time, I really feel disappointed in the Indian audience. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. Perhaps the lack of its emotional impact, and its certain predictability, is actually the cause for the lukewarm response. Whatever be the precise truth, it is only with movies like these that we can hope to merge the divide between auteur and genre, art-house and commercial, and ‘critically acclaimed’ and popular. Thanks to Dibakar Bannerjee for making this film and the critics for their response that we can look forward to that day when the big divide between Hindi and World Cinema will be overcome. Only, it will not happen soon.