Paper Heroes to Reel Characters- Shanghai!

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Abhay Deol and Emraan Hashmi have gone through a complete metamorphosis in Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai. So much that both Abhay and Emraan are almost unrecognizable in the roles. Those who have seen them on the sets have not been able to recognize them in their get up.

Writer-director Dibakar Banerjee admits that when he was writing the script of Shanghai, that it was none other than Abhay Deol that came to his imagination for Krishnan’s character. He couldn’t imagine anyone else.

Then when he started writing Jogi’s sketch he remembered Emraan Hashmi from Footpath (2003). “I had recognized his talents in the film. He was completely approachable and capable of living his character on screen,” says Dibakar. But now that Emraan was a star Dibakar was a bit worried about Emraan agreeing to doing something so different. “Fortunately it took just five minutes for Emraan to say he was ready,” says Dibakar.

What followed says Dibakar was the process of brining the sketches to life which proved to be a grueling task. “From moustaches to ear piercing, dark circles, lightly shaded, paan-stained and yellowed teeth, tattoos painted on brown, sunbrunt arms.. Then the ribbed body turned slack with a protruding paunch as Emraan went on an eating binge. Jogi slowly emerged from my sketches.

Jogi: Emraan Hashmi
“Jogi,” explains Dibakar, “is a street-smart nobody from Jodhpur. Once a stud who landed small-time modeling assignment, he had slowly gone to seed, but there’s still a trace of the stud in him. It’s there in the jeans, worn well below the bulging belly, the sking tight shirts he wears. Emraan still can’t get over it,” laughs Dibakar.
“All in all Jogi is still sexy in a dirty, grimy kind of way, with stale, dry sweat patches under his arms. Many times I’d holler for the sweat patches to be attached every time Emraan stepped on the sets,” adds Dibakar.

While Dibakar can’t stop singing praises of his characters in the film, Emraan Hashmi says, “It was challenging and I took it up even if it meant losing the body I’d worked for.” Adding, “While shooting my scenes I would often look into the mirror and ask Dibakar, ‘Couldn’t you have made me look worse? And Dibakar would laugh”.

“We also got a local to record the lingo and fill us in on Jogi’s background. What would a small town wheeler-dealer who shoots marriage videos and porn movies do in the evening? Eat chicken and fish maybe? This kind of research and 10 odd workshops demolished me as an actor and brought Jogi to life,” says Emraan.

“Emraan was startling and every time he sauntered onto the sets, with his different walk I would watch the unit silently for reactions. This was the Jogi I’d dreamt of, it gave me gooseflesh to see him for real, ” Dibarkar goes on to say.

Adding, “I remember Emraan coming for some patchwork shots six months after we had wrapped up Shanghai, his face lean, his body taunt, his gait his own looking at him, it was impossible to relate him to the Jogi from my film.”

Krishnan: Abhay Deol

About the character Abhay says, “It was not easy playing Krishna. Dibakar almost grilled us not only on the looks, but the posture and the gait and everything. I play a Tamil Brahmin in the film, and being as IAS officer posted in Maharashtra, I needed to perfect a lingo that was largely clean Hindi with more Marathi than Tamil words, but spoke with a subtle south Indian accent, I worked with a diction coach for 10 days. He also accompanied me on the sets. I even learnt the Tamil alphabets” says Abhay.

Dibakar’s instructions were clear right from the start. “The look was that of a beauracrat…Buttoned up shirts and ties, glasses and a moustache that wasn’t like the one I’d worn in Manorama-Six Feet Under. The end result: unrecognizable – such characters give you a different high,” adds Abhay.

“Abhay was just as amazing. Towards the climax, Krishnan has a long interaction with a key character. Abhay has been rehearsing for the scene since 6pm. When we have started rolling at 1 am, sitting at the monitor with my production designer, I had tears in my eyes,” admits Dibakar. “The ‘yay’ guy I knew was gone. In his place was my IAS officer with a stooped shoulder walk, moustache, glasses and a butter-wont melt expression on his face. The buttoned-up shirts, ties and trousers came with the costume, but the slight Tamil accent was all Abhay’s. He had put his conditions even before he shot. He made me sit in the make up van for 30 minutes with his diction coach and rehearse his lines. The efforts have paid off”, says the director. “It was unbelieveable watching the North Indian Jat boy turning into a Tam-Brahm bureaucrat!” adds Dibakar.

Check out these exclusive sketches:

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