A Subaltern Guide To Filmmaking (a Dissent on Shanghai)


I had gone to watch Shanghai in Chembur with the residents of Bheem Chhayya, Chedda Nagar, Annabhau Sathe Nagar, and Sion Koliwada, with the same people who’d stand before bulldozers, who’d organize protest after protest, who’d be beaten by the police – to whom state repression and structural violence is an almost everyday reality, to whom the word ‘Shanghai’ itself has been oppressive to the bone, shattering home after home, with the memory of the 80,000 homes that disappeared one day alone in Mumbai, not far away from their memory.

After the film, when I ask if the film deals with the issues of the working classes and the protestors who face the brunt of state violence, of ‘development’ and bulldozers: The answer is a unanimous no.

They felt that it wasn’t just that there was absolutely no tension in the beginning, tension characteristic to state-people conflict in development projects – protests, evictions, police firings, the day to day violence of state functionaries, especially the police. It wasn’t just that the character of Dr.Ahmedi was as uninspiring as a doorknob, or that there were no working class organizers or ‘andolan saathis’, who are predominately responsible for strengthening every people’s movement and struggle, and who’re the first to be brutally attacked or killed. Or that there was no mention of how the mainstream media is co-opted into the fantasy of Shanghai, or that the daily trials and vulnerabilities of working class (except one character) and informal labourers is absolutely invisible. The filmmakers of Shanghai, are guilty of having done exactly what the state would want to do to resistance and people’s movements in the slums – they bulldozed them out of the film.

Development projects, have a very political purpose, not only to hand over prime real estate land to private parties, but to remove every possible centre of dissent and political activity that is always incipient in the slums and working class neighbourhoods. The film, by portraying only the hypocrisies and the futilities of a middle and upper class characters, whose so-called good intentions and attempts for justice are constantly thwarted by ‘the system’, betray the one place where inspiration is found: the protest in the people’s movement, when the hungry go on hunger strike.

Thus, all of those who once stood before bulldozers, would not send anyone to go watch the film. A sentiment repeated by all of them – from Annabhau Sathe Nagar to Sion Koliwada.

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11 Responses to “A Subaltern Guide To Filmmaking (a Dissent on Shanghai)”

  1. Thanks for pointing this out Qalandar. I haven’t seen the film yet but this is an important piece. And it gets to something crucial. When you attempt something serious the stakes are also higher. Not in the trite sense of presenting a gripping narrative or what have you but in this more critical one of being rigorous. Isn’t it a huge failure if a film that stays largely within the confines of a realistic mode fails on its single most important issue? Which is that its representations are simply not considered authentic and even distortions by those it represents?!


  2. An important piece. Part of the problem is that with this being an adaptation one needed to be more careful in mapping a very specific set of concerns rather than simply using more or less the same framework of a generally corrupt state. In any case it’s good to hear a differing and more thoughtful perspective on the film. I can’t say I found it a very strong film but it’s also not entirely dismissible.


  3. alex adams Says:

    thanx–will read this after viewing the film..
    ps–love both dibakar and kashyap, but the ‘compulsive unbiased unattached’ in me wonders how much of anurag kashyaps profuse endorsement of dibakars film as indias best, s to do with stuff like casting kalki as the lead here..
    The other ‘fraternal’ reasons of supporting ones own types are actually not bad…


  4. alex adams Says:

    talking of kalki–
    After the cat fights between actresses, now we hear stories of them becoming friends.

    And the latest in town being between Nargis Fakhri and Kalki Koechlin. They were seen hanging out at a recent event in Singapore.

    Says a source, “As they were staying in the same hotel, they also caught up for breakfast together. Though they knew of each other, this was actually the first time they met in Singapore. Nargis enjoyed chatting with Kalki and both seemed to be having a great time.” Ho hum!

    These sugary tales of girl-bonding makes us go to sleep. First Kareena Kapoor bonds with Priyanka Chopra and now Nargis and Kalki. Who’s next, we wonder?


  5. Fascinating take on the parallels between “Shanghai” & Karachi


    Watching Shanghai today brought it with a sense of familiarity: this is a story I’ve seen before, felt before. By the end of the film, I felt like I had seen the past two years of work flash by.

    Target killers? Check. Reluctant police officers? Check. State complicity? Check. Urban sprawl and threats of forced resettlement? Check.

    Combine Shanghai with one of the best books I read last year – Siddharta Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned – and its your guide to what is exactly wrong with Karachi.

    While Islamabad – and the Islamabad-centric news media filled with egotistic talking heads – is obsessed with yet another issue that has little to no practical consequence for the hundreds of millions of people in Pakistan, the state has happily abdicated its responsibility in every area in Karachi. I’m sure you didn’t notice. There was no tender issued.

    Here you go: security – contracted out to private guards, chowkidars and strongmen and that family member who scrounged around for a weapons license, religion – handed to the neighbourhood imam and the head of the religious-political party of each sect, health – run by private clinics and hospitals, rescue services – Edhi and Chhipa, water – the tanker owners, development – the AKDN, housing – private developers, planning – paper-pushing advisors, justice and dispute resolution – the neighbourhood vigilantes, the well-connected politico, the SHO, riots – party workers, strongmen and a group of people fed a plate of biryani.

    Everything in this city is a golden egg, an opportunity to scam someone out of more money, to help one group at the cost of another. The city is heralded as the country’s financial capital, but it is really the country’s opportunist capital. The city is flogged again and again – for money, for gaining political mileage, for showing who is in control after all. Land? Who lived there before? Who cares? They can be shuttled off somewhere. Rape? What does it matter? She must be lying. So must be her medico-legal officer. Riots? Let’s kill a few more people.

    “Dekho halaat phir kharab honge. Yeh election tak baar baar hota rahe ga taake logon ko lage ke sheher control se baahir hai.”


    Arey mangta hai humein chanda bhi
    Humein sooraj bhi
    Bolo kya do ge?
    Dhandha ye agar chanda nahi, donation sahi
    Bolo kya do ge?

    “The extortion slip featured a drawing of a bullet and said that the doctor’s life would be priced at Rs38, which is the cost of a bullet.”

    “Mai to chai bechta hoon. Mai maheenay ke chaar sau rupay kahan se doon?”

    Like that moment in Shanghai when Emraan Hashmi starts dancing in glorious abandon – a day’s work done and does it matter that the man he’s dancing with is going to be the reason he’ll be running through the streets with a CPU, banging at a bureaucrat’s door for justice (who has just been mocked for trying to pull off a Robin Hood act) – Karachi dances this tune everyday. It isn’t that those who are elected don’t care, there’s a reason there has been development, whether that was done with a holistic view is another question altogether. But the fact is that they don’t need to care. They can easily just get by.

    And that is what Karachi is surviving on. Everyone is getting by, but the dance is turning angrier with each day. Those who loved a ruling political dynasty now smear black paint over their faces on posters they once proudly kissed and look over into a reporter’s notebook to make sure they’ve listed their list of complaints: kutta, haramzada, beghairat, humein bech daala. Hai hai. And those who would never speak ill of the powerful now openly blame them for their lives being in ruins. But it doesn’t matter. They will soon be coddled, told that what happened was a mistake, that they tried their best, and be given more Robin Hood-like characters to look up to.

    Who doesn’t love a target killing year? Or a dengue year? Or a floods year? After all, this is nothing but an opportunity to plant a big flag and say ‘we helped, don’t you remember, now vote for us.’

    Who doesn’t love an election year. Naach magan, kaat mutton, roz humein khana.


  6. If you don’t like Kalki, I don’t like you: Dibakar


    Dibakar Banerjee talks straight with Subhash K Jha about the response to Shanghai…

    Shanghai has opened to some of the best reviews since Raj Kumar Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai. your reaction to the reviews?

    I am stunned. I did not expect this.

    Sadly the box office figures do not reflect the breathtaking critical response to Shanghai. how do you respond to the masses embracing Rowdy Rathore far more enthusiastically than shanghai.would you say it’s the the triumph of commercialism over a more serious cinematic voice?

    Here are the facts and I’m so so so glad that you asked this question!

    Friday: The film opened better than Kahaani and Paan Singh Tomar – two most impressive surprise hits of the year so far.
    Saturday: 45% jump after the ecstatic reviews.sunday: 30% jump over Saturday with house full afternoon shows. Overall minimum weekend distributor share projections (independent) basis current figures: 15 crores. Satellite sold for 8.5 cr. Total returns so far – 23.5 crores. Overall cost of the film plus marketing – 19 crores. As the above two lines demonstrate – Shanghai is already in the black without any overseas, home video or other rights being counted.

    Kalki Koechlin’s performance has been uniformly panned. She’s accused of being stereotyped as the traumatized woman. Comment.

    (In a raised voice) Ok. This is a challenge for all critics. Two hours after making love to your lover/spouse/partner/secret paramour, you see him or her being hit and mowed down by a truck in front of your eyes. Now smile. No, seriously, smile. Shalini Sahay is traumatized to the extent of becoming unhinged. And it’s because of her relentless quest for revenge that the plot of Shanghai emerges. If Kalki had not had the courage to not play up to the sexual stereotype that we expect from a female lead today we would have been panned for having a slightly muddle- headed plot.

    You sound defensive?

    I’m up to every sort of criticism. I can see hundred more faults in my film than anyone else can but this one about Kalki, I only have scorn for. It’s like saying when a man loses his temper he is being assertive. When a woman does so she’s pm-sing! those who want to see the lead heroine doing precious else but simper please watch something else. Those who want to see a lead actress carrying a film on her shoulders without giving any thought to her sexuality please watch Kalki in Shanghai. And please – please- let’s not confuse Kalki’s character with her acting. It’s because she nails Shalini head -on that she threatens you! its like saying, ” God! the villain was so scary I can’t stand him!”. Well the villain acted well for Christ sake! Kalki acted a contrary person. At loggerheads with the world. But she, only she is the character who is doing things with true courage and no material advantage in mind. she remains my personal triumph as a true character and if you don’t like her, I don’t like you.

    On the other hand critics say it’s a new beginning for Emraan Hashmi. But how would he be encouraged to do more experimental roles when Shanghai doesn’t get the same response as Jannat 2?

    Emraan needs no encouragement from anyone except his own instincts. He acted in Shanghai against many people’s advice. He smiled and told me that many would not like this one to succeed. As the figures are coming in, we know that the laugh is on our side. Emraan will do exactly what he wants. He is already acting with many A-lister directors in really prestigious projects. And if this one does not have the collections of Jannat and Dirty Picture and many others, what does it logically say? That it’s Dibakar who is the x factor who made Shanghai different from Emraan’s other films. So the brickbats are all for me and I accept them with full perverse glee!

    Your brilliant film is an expose on rampant industrialization and globalization. decades ago B R Chopra’s Naya Daur also spoke about the uprooting of rural India by unscrupulous industrialists. are you anti-globaliazation?

    I’m anti-injustice. And also pro-development as long as it is true, intelligent development that is flexible, inclusive and pro weak and not dumbass and short- sighted which it frequently is.


  7. Shanghai was never meant to be a political mobilisation propaganda film


    Dibakar Banerjee tells Aniruddha Guha that his film is a story about the middle class, not a crash course in development politics.


    • rockstar Says:

      mature write up here and really bang on target

      lack of drama, anxiety and tension was one of the bigger culprit and seriously indian critics have to be mature rather than praising anything to skies which is just looking remotely different

      even in characters there is only one who has middle class shade to it


      • rockstar Says:

        just a personal opinion:

        if you are unable to connect with any character as part of audience one knows where things are heading


  8. Did Q/Satyam/Alex..any of you watch Shanghai? If so, could we have some reviews pl.?


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