Tag Archives: Dibakar Banerjee

Urban Jungle {Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai}


Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai (2012) is a peep into the mess of urbanism, the static everyday and it manages to tell a tale of vast proportions. A tale of our cities and its underwired nexuses. You may say this is an old story. Well all stories are. The builder-politician-bureaucrat underhand dealings were well etched even in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1981). What is different in Shanghai is the presence of the ubiquitous digital video camera. I felt the camera continuing its quiet but prominent presence from LSD (2010) into Shanghai. Like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, the underdogs piece together information and re-connect a crime to its perpetrator through images. Much into the film, Kalki’s character Shalini tells the shady but trustworthy Emraan Hashmi’s Jogi “You can do anything to me if you want, but I need that footage.” Yes, it is the footage that counts. The mainstream media in the film is relegated to the television screen. What we see on ground is the migrant from Jodhpur’s digital video store where cheap green curtains form the chroma backdrop for a politician’s advertisement to a couple’s loving proclamations. It is here in a cubby hole on the second floor of a dilapidated building that images are made, copied, renewed, re-processed and saved. There are millions of stores like this in our cities and in our small towns where images are played with. It is here that Banerjee provides the power to fight against a system that remains the same, as much as it changes.

There is time to breathe here. To look carefully at every frame and notice the little details that the filmmaker fills it with. This could have easily been made into a classic political thriller of a ride with quick cuts, pacy action or preaching dialogues. But it is not. And that is its strength. It quietly creeps onto your skin and grows on you as the story unfolds. For me, Dibakar takes conventional material but gives it an unconventional twist. For the enquiry sequence by Abhay Deol’s IAS T.S Krishnan, we watch an ordinary empty room with peeling walls being converted into a enquiry room of a major murder – a woman sweeps the floor, a water cooler whirs, a basketball falls inside, and both Shalini and Krishnan slip on the wet floor outside. The action is almost real-time, but not slow. Every character is slippery and dual. There are nuances which can probably be read and re-read on multiple viewings. This is an urban dystopia unlike that of Satya (1998), where the underworld ruled the netherlands of Mumbai. This is a new dystopia stemming from SEZ’s, displacement and party hooliganism on the streets. The city and film have always had a relationship and in Shanghai, we see a story oft heard and told. But it does so in a rejuvenating way which can only be a good thing for Indian cinema.


Keep The Cameras Rolling {LSD: Love Sex aur Dhokha}

I had read an interview recently of the actor Peter Greenaway in The Guardian, where he states that every religion is concerned with death, while art is concerned with life – which is essentially all about sex. How far you agree with him, need not matter here….but Dibakar Banerjee’s LSD (2010) does have sex at its central theme. And some other truths about life.

When I use the word truth, I use it in the sense, that the director or storywriter, would like to present his/her observations of the world around us through their story. It brings to my mind the ever present debate of cinema being an escape from reality or as Slavoj Zizek says, being even more real than reality itself and representing the ultimate truth about life. Think of the most unreal Bollywood film, or television soap..and it will still show you the truth…culturally and socially relevant themes, positive or regressive, made intentionally or unintentionally by the filmmakers.

But is truth stranger than fiction? And how far is the ‘reality’ shown on television really real? That is the underlying message for me in LSD. Cameras are rolling all the time, be it for a student filmmaker (his institute has a very sardonic name that I can’t recall right now), a Hindi TV news sting journalist or a CCTV camera follower in a supermarket. And we in the audience watch their camera footage, through the director’s camera.

True to his style, each one of Banerjee’s characters are so very well etched and rooted. His actors anonymity lends even more credibility to the story. Equally, it is socially relevant to our times, our vouyeristic age of technology coupled with mass media outlets, and their eventual corruption and lies. It is relevant to our social setup, wherein, a father is ready to let his daughter act in a film where she runs away to marry whom she chooses to….but his role as the patriach doesn’t budge outside in the reality away from the film sets. The women are strong, but are duped by their male counterparts be it in a family, a supermarket or a casting couch. The only woman who calls the shots here is the one at the head of a television news channel! It is gritty, funny, sardonic and sad….

For the only two people in this story who apparently love each other, face the worst of what reality can do.

I think LSD is a very important film for Hindi cinema…not just because it is termed as radical (that it talks about sex and is graphic, or uses digital techniques, does away with famous actors etc.) but because it is clever in sending across a message through humour, that what you see is not what you always get. The third eye here or the camera – reveals reality…which can be hyperreal as in the case of reality TV….or it can be an escape from a reality which is essentially cruel to its characters….or there is the reality….of Dibakar Banerjee’s camera itself.

I digress but I can’t help but end with a quote from Michael Haneke: “Film is 24 lies per second at the service of truth, or at the service of the attempt to find the truth.”