Gangs of Wasseypur: A Review
Gangs of Wasseypur – Dir: Anurag Kashyap: *ing: Manoj Bajpai, Richa Chadda, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Jaideep Ahlawat, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vineet Singh
There will be blood. Lots of it.
The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic behemoth has loomed large over the world of cinema for exactly four decades now, 2012 marking the fortieth year since its release. In the interim, many have attempted to duplicate its ‘formula’ (never mind that it actually didn’t have one, at least not one that can be qualified), but few, if any, have managed to match its scale and the breathtaking intensity of its dramatic arc. Many have duped themselves into believing that all it takes is a family of smooth-talking, gun-toting, kitty-stroking Italian-Americans, but the movie landscape is littered with enough resulting turds to tell us that that is not the case. Indian cinema too has taken a number of stabs at doing its own version of the crime-family epic, such as Sarkar Raj and most recently with Rajneeti, a brash but vapid film that preferred to go for bombast over nuance or believability.
So it was up to Mumbai’s resident bad-boy maverick Anurag Kashyap to have a go at it. With his earlier highly acclaimed films like That Girl In Yellow Boots, and Dev. D in particular, he was apparently just dilly-dallying with quasi-surreal character dramas, because it is only now, it seems, with GOW that he has unleashed his full, unfettered creative force anew, in a film so unrelentingly visceral that it frightens and exhilarates at the same time. He has also left behind the comfort zone of Mumbai urbana for the rough hewn backdrop of the interiors of Jharkhand state.
The landscape of GOW is a sprawling one in terms of characters, timeline, as well as duration. Make no mistake, Kashyap takes his time to establish the prologue to the main body of the story, and it’s a smart, bold move. We’re not used to this kind of detailing in most Hindi cinema but here it is crucial to our investment in the subsequent events because the set-up helps to steep us in the diegesis, its sights and sounds, its people and the intricate web of revenge, deceit and violence that connects them all. It takes off in pre-Partition Wasseypur, a small crime-infested area that is passed off to Bihar from Bengal (and eventually to Jharkhand), where coal miner Shahid Khan (Ahlawat) is murdered for plotting against his boss/local don Ramadhir Singh (Dhulia). Khan’s son Sardar (Bajpai), a child at the time, grows up swearing revenge for his father’s death and sets about establishing himself as the new criminal menace in his nemesis’s turf. His wife Naghma (Chadda) a proud but pragmatic woman, tolerates his work and his infidelities as she tries to raise his sons Daanish (Singh) and the wiry Faizal (Siddiqui) practically singlehandedly. Meanwhile, political rivalries among the various criminal clans continue to escalate…
Beautifully photographed by Rajeev Ravi in dusty, ochre tones that capture the sparse physical and moral landscape at play, GOW also has a wonderfully evocative background score by Sneha Khanwalkar. And Kashyap and company defy one of the basic, most sacred of Bollywood’s cinematic conventions by dwelling unflinchingly on the gaping holes in the moral fabric of these individuals, all the more intriguing because none of these characters, barring Naghma and the two Khan scions, are particularly likeable, and yet they are utterly riveting, barely-concealed psychoses and all. The filmmaker’s eye for dramatic detail coupled with expert pacing makes GOW one of those films where you never feel the narrative lagging; it takes you with it on a fascinating show-and-tell roller coaster journey of people on the fringes of society who are free from societal values and norms but enslaved to the code of bloodlines and vengeance of their own making.
With part two of the saga also out now, Anurag Kashyap has created a modern classic of the crime genre in Gangs of Wasseypur, one which is not likely to be bettered for some time to come.
Cult: Bandit Queen (1994) – Shekhar Kapur directed this disturbing account of the life of notorious dacoit Phoolan Devi.
Current: Shanghai – This political thriller about the government-big business nexus in small-town India features a brilliant, standout performance by Emraan Hashmi.
Coming Attraction: Sold (2013) – Kashyap is producing this harrowing drama about human trafficking, with first-time feature director Jeffrey D. Brown at the helm.