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TORONTO – Getting Indian director Dibakar Banerjee to talk about making Shanghai, his political drama that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, is like getting a 1970s rock star to recall a drug-induced stupor.
“I haven’t the faintest idea. I made Shanghai in a haze,” the maverick director said after public screenings at TIFF for his take on the small Indian town of Bharat Nagar pouring billions of dollars into shopping malls and other infrastructure backed by a political party and criminals.
“I remember it. I’m not in it now. It’s finished for me. But I remember being in a one-and-a-half years of anger, and sometimes darkness,” Banerjee added.
Inspired by the Greek novel Z, Shanghai offers a fast-paced thriller that mocks political corruption in a post-colonial India enticed by the trapping of modern consumerism.
A political activist, played by Prosenjit Chatterjee, is killed as Bharat Nagar holds elections, and a young woman (Kalki Koechlin) believes a murder has taken place.
Eventually, the young woman, a porn film maker played by Emraan Hashmi and a high ranking bureaucrat (Abhay Deol) blow the lid off an Indian town aspiring to become the next Shanghai.
Banerjee finally does expand on how he side-stepped the usual tropes of a Bollywood masala film to keep his audience engaged as Shanghai builds to a dramatic climax.
“I didn’t want to cut. Whenever there’s a cut, it means I made a mistake, or there has to be a cut,” he explained.
The aim was to create for the audience an immersive experience to resemble the haze the director was in while the cameras rolled on Shanghai.
And to better follow the drama, Banerjee and cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis devised a system where the camera would move between two characters to capture speaker and reactions shots organically.
“If you and I are talking, the camera would be somewhere in between us, and we would not cut. The camera would pan to you, and you will talk,” Banerjee explained.
“And if the camera feels like panning back to me, it will. But if it feels like staying on you and recording your reaction to what I’m saying off camera, I will do that,” he added.
All scenes called for three or four takes, each differing from the other.
And the director would often stand behind Andritsakis during takes to tap him on the shoulder to signal the camera should pan right or left between the characters.
“The rest of it was a haze,” Banerjee finally said of his filming technique for Shanghai.
The Toronto International Film Festival wraps on Sunday.
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