Shanghai: A reflection of two Indias

Two nations coexist in our country – Bharat and India. While India is touted as a shining nation, the Bharat still remains an abandoned country. In the same vein, two industries coexist in Indian films – Commercial films and Art films.

While directors like Manmohan Desai, David Dhavan, Yash Chopra, Karan Johar and Rohit Shetty rule the roost in the ‘commercial film’ domain, filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Tigmanshu Dhulia, and Dibankar Bannerjee lead the pack of the ‘Art films’.

So, while Bollywood woos the masses of ‘Bharat’, Hindi Cinema touches the classes of ‘India’. Like the director Dibankar Bannerjee stated in one of his interviews that Shanghai is a film about common people of ‘Bharat’. The film Shanghai borders between
the two Indias, almost walking on a tight rope.

It balances the ‘imported kamariya’ and the power-packed performance by Kalki Koechlin, the ‘image makeover’ of Emran Hashmi and restrained histrionics of Abhay Deol, the ‘sleepwalking’ Prosanjeet Chatterjee and the affable Farooq Shaikh. The ‘under-utilized’ Supriya Pathak and the deft acting skills of Pitobash.

Now before you scroll this page to check the number of stars we’ve given as rating to Shanghai, we’d like to warn you that this isn’t a review of Shanghai. Films like Shanghai need no ratings or recommendations. It belongs to the genre of cinema which you either choose to watch or opt to ignore. We’re embarking upon the two industries coexisting in our film industry – Commercial films and Art films.

The social networking sites are replete with status updates like – “Shanghai is a film not meant for masses but classes”, “A good film but people won’t understand”, “I liked the second half but Shanghai is strictly for art film lovers”.

Well, what makes a film ‘Art-film’, ‘For the classes’ and what makes it ‘Commercial film’ ‘for the masses’? Would you call films like ‘Chakh De
India’, ‘Omkara’, ‘Swades’, ‘Guru’, ‘Dev D’, ‘Jab We Met’, ‘Band Baja Baarat’, ‘The Dirty Picture’, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, ‘Kahani’, ‘Vicky Donor’ – art films or commercial?

Before you tag them, let’s not forget they were all successful commercially. Nevertheless, they never belonged to the ‘100 crore grosser’ movies that you term as ‘commercial films’ the ones to be watched with your brains left at home.

The complex characters of Kabir Khan, Langda Tyaagi, Mohan Bhargav, Gurukant Desai, Dev, Geet, Bittu & Shruti, Silk, Pan Singh Tomar, V(b)idya, Vicky were by no means any potboiler filmmaker’s cup of tea (which doesn’t mean they’re inferior). The directors of these films delved into the labyrinthine lanes of human emotions and emerged as trailblazers.

Films like ‘Udaan’, ‘Gulaal’, ‘Khosla ka ghosla’, ‘Oye Lucky Lucky Oye’, ‘LSD’, ‘Rocket Singh- Salesman of the year’, ‘Kabul Express’, ‘Do dooni chaar’,
and ‘Dhobi Ghaat’ were branded as art films probably because they didn’t do well at the box office. Hence, we’re back to the drawing board with the dilemma – To brand or not to brand films with labels like ‘Commercial’ or ‘Art’ film.

Shanghai, with its non-linear narrative reiterates the fact that there is nothing called ‘Art film’ or ‘Commercial film’, but just films – a medium of expression in varied languages. This is precisely the reason what makes Shanghai an important film as it blurs the lines between ‘art films’ and ‘commercial films’. After all, each genre has a language of its own. It would hence be unfair to call one intelligent film and the other an insult to
intelligence.

It’s purely a matter of choice whether one wants to watch an escapist cinema or an indulgent one. Actor Farooq Shaikh had once quoted, “Jise aap commercial films kehte ho woh fast food jaise hain…jinhe kabhi-kabaar khaa lena chahiye lekin unse sehat nahi banti. (Films that you call commercial cinema are like fast food, which are often great to indulge in, but they won’t offer you good health).

Veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah once said, ‘Films cannot change a nation. The only thing it can change is hairstyle.” So it’s high time we stop taking serious films seriously. After all, films reflect the mindset of a nation. With a twin nation like ours, we ought to have a
twin approach of making films.

So before we call Shanghai an art film or commercial, let’s hope that more of such films would be made in future – for both the Indias to transform it into a Shanghai of excellent filmmaking.

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