The brilliant coruscating scripts of "Satya" and "Kaun" were among the first to showcase the script-writing prowess of Anurag Kashyap. Moving on to direction, he had the guts and heart to make "Black Friday" ,the release of which was stifled by our useless system. Undaunted,Kashyap soldiered on and went on to display directorial virtuosity in "Dev D". His storytelling hallmarks became clear - hard-hitting shamelessly honest stories given a further cutting edge by stabs of humour and stylish audio-visuals. For his newest venture starring the Wasseypur Mafia, he must have sat down and given special thought about how to make it unique. For starters, among other strong-points, he persuaded Manoj Bajpai- one of the other great artists from the R.G Varma starting-block - to act in "Gangs of Wasseypur". Day after thwarted day, I schemed to see this film despite the fact that it was not releasing in any theatre within 12,000 kilometres of my current home, but by employing the spirit of the film , I, by hook’-n’-crook, managed to eventually watch it.The good news is that Kashyap & Co. are successful in investing truckloads of high-quality innovative hard work into this film. The bad news, I really regret to report, is that a fantastic climax still isn’t quite enough to make this film richly merit 5 stars (I wrote this previous line when I first saw the movie, but with time I had to gladly concede that Kashyap's work is nothing short of outstanding - a one-of-a-kind Hindi movie)
At the start,Kashyap thanks Vikramaditya Motwane (director of the the top-class ’Udaan’), and also whom he christens the "Madurai triumvirate’" of Bala,Ameer Sultan and M.Sasikumar .This group ,he thanks, for "inspiring me to get back to my roots". If this film represents his "roots’, one shudders to think what the entire tree looks like. Pic kicks off quite saucily with a recording of the opening song of a famously cheesy soap opera produced by Ekta Kapoor. This mush,together with hard walls, are all then blasted with bullets by a marauding gang armed with machine guns. An impressive thunderstorm of gunfire continues. The vendetta and back-stabbing is already underway.
A scruffy voice-over then fills us in on how Wasseypur slowly got integrated into Dhanbad (a district formerly of Bengal,which then shifted into the state of Bihar and later to Jharkand) , and about how the British-owned coal-mines eventually got transferred into the hands of the natives. But while the brutal British at least gave housing to the labourers,the savage sons of the soil add to the woes of the workers. Ramadheer Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia- an excellent scriptwriter-director who previously worked with Kashyap in unique TV serials like "Star Best-sellers") who is a coal-mine owner grows in power by corrupting trade unions, faking high production and murdering any opposition to his autocratic take-over. He eventually becomes a political big-shot in Dhanbad and appoints his ineffectual son as an MLA. The Dhanbad-Wasseypur social climate is shown unadorned- women are wantonly abducted off the streets. and police are bullied and coerced into submission by the gangster-politician nexus.
Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlanwat) is a strong-willed capable man whose reckless ambition makes him pay dearly .His son Sardar Khan (embodied in the adult role by Manoj Bajpai) swears revenge against Ramadhir. Sardar is fearless -he doesn’t care about diplomacy as far as men are concerned, and he doesn’t bother with foreplay in the case of his women. With ebullient audacity he physically attacks the goons who stand in his way, builds a small gang who then carry out guerilla attacks against rival groups. In Dhanbad,his enemy is Ramadhir Singh and in Wasseypur a ferocious man by the name of Sultan (of the Qureishi clan,and nephew of a famous bandit) becomes his foe.
In his personal life, the sex-hungry Sardar is in no mood to spare his tired pregnant wife (played by Richa Chadda as a firebrand who tongue-lashes and even attempts to beat up her philandering husband.) Unfazed, Sardar continues his merry promiscuity be it with prostitutes or with an abandoned Hindu woman (Reema Sen, sensuously restrained and so plumped up that I did not recognize her). Switching from multiple nefarious trades to forcibly claiming ownership of the local lakes and their harvested fish, Sardar meanwhile is relentless in ridiculing and attacking the supremacy of Ramadhir Singh. His two sons- Faisal and Sohail, grow up and fall in love, while getting entangled in the unholy web of "give and take" in which their father is enmeshed.
There is no denying the discreet fact that Kashyap has taken the "The Godfather" as a template for multiple facets of G.o.W’s story, but he ensures that the similarities are kept subtle. Even the background score is a smart riff on Nino Rota’s famous composition. While the Puzo-Coppola masterpiece arranged a succession of immaculately constructed scenes and built wave upon wave of regally powerful and poignant drama, G.o.W does not possess similarly cohesive force. But when it works, it dizzyingly soars. A lesser director would have struggled to achieve what Kashyap has accomplished by layering at least a dozen different story-segments that come close to fulfilling his vision. With assiduous flair , dollops of imagination and a sparkling sense of humour (much of which is thoroughly vulgar- the gluteal and anal regions are the butt of repeated jokes ) the director gives this small-town milieu a sprawling modern sense of dynamism and complexity. The opening despite all its booming violence could have been more arresting, but the elite ending amply compensates for this. Clever scene placement (the editor has superbly done all the hard-work) ensures that the end-wallop is preserved while the less gripping epilogue is tucked into the opening salvo.
Comedy involving spurious guns and "fatal" hospitals, the organ-’n’-blood world of butchers some of whom also happen to be hardcore gangsters, naughty colours of fantasizing romance by successive generations and feisty independent-minded women all fit into the busy but smooth matrix which flows through this film. Sardar is honourless when it comes to marital fidelity but his virile sense of humour, aggressive challenges against enemies and loyalty to his own gang ensures that he gets a fair amount of audience "connection". The story of his sons is given good coverage -a traumatic childhood event the aftermath of which is expertly sketched, a two-part snazzily filmed Banaras "job",and their fledgling love-lives.
Manoj Bajpai’s career-graph may be considered a synechdoche for that of the whole Hindi film industry- phases of greatness interspersed by larger wastelands of unrealized potential.After singularly great performances in ’Kaun’,’Shool,’Satya’, and excellent turns in ’Zubeida’ & ’Road’, Bajpai’s fall-out with R.G Varma cast a shadow over his career.In G.o.W however,he returns to grand form. Whether it is his dare-devil homicidal attack against a larger man in a bylane (cf. Vito Corleone vs Fanucci), smooth cracking of endless dirty jokes, lovingly mollifying his hysterical mistress, coolly insulting his powerful enemy with outrageous cheekiness via a loudspeaker, or revealing a animal-like survival instinct despite being blown out of his wits, Manoj Bajpai ,essaying Sardar Khan, proves that he is the Baadshah not just of Wasseypur but also of the Bombay filmdom.
The casting of Jaideep Ahlawat as Shahid Khan is especially notable for the way his face bears partial resemblance to that of Bajpai who later plays his adult son,and his last scene is filmed with deadly style. I am not entirely convinced of the acting chops of Tigmanshu Dhulia. He is good in handling ''''restrained'''' acting, dialogue and body language, but when to it comes to full-throttle or flamboyant performance, his face does not show enough intensity of emotion. Kashyap has erred in expecting this debut actor to carry off this major role. Apart from getting to perform a nicely corny goggle-sporting disco-dance on the streets,Nawazuddin Siddique (as Sohail) logs in a performance of sufficient gravitas, both as a maturing criminal and tender-hearted lover.
Cinematographer Rajeev Ravi infuses flair into a seemingly conservative approach. While a large part of the film revolves around mofussil dingy spaces and bylanes ,Ravi finds multifarious ways to jazz it up- one of the opening sequences involving the orgy of gunfire shows multiple sparks which stud and scintillate in the dark,thus mirroring the acoustic staccato. In another scene where Bajpai and an associate butcher a man in closed rooms,there is a tumbling sense of urgency in the way the camera is whipped away from one scene and is directed into another room.A uber-class canvas shows a man walking past a Benaras balcony while the urban gorge on the other side is a saturated bustle of town-life all bathed in sepia-monochrome.The ending scene is a triumph of orgiastically tilted angles.
The first part of the climax is a direct transfer from a sequence in ’Godfather’-I knew that Kashyap is too gifted a film-maker to cadge material in this manner, but what puzzled me was the directness of the nod to Coppola’s film. Kashyap indeed reveals himself to be a sly wolf- little did I suspect that he’d choose this deceptive juncture to spring the ace he has up his sleeve. In the aftermath of that afore-mentioned homage, he resurrects his own inspired version of a miraculous event and thus saves the best for the last. Tilting up the camera later to signify a movement against the hard sun of reality beating down, the ending sequence additionally connotes a switch of succour from modern automobile to desi cycle-cart.The background music here,formed by the ’’swansong’’, is outstanding -it is naughty,mightily inspired and supremely stylish. The way it fuses modern beats with Indian folksy lyrics is a thing of wicked beauty: composer Sneha Khanwalkar thus registers one of the new lights of modern Indian music. I remembered ’’Pulp Fiction’’ for the way the humour rises phoenix-like from the ruins. This is one of the best endings I have seen in Indian ,or for that matter, any cinema.
Watch this film in a theatre of cheering hooligans. Gangs of Wasseypur Part I was not meant as a one-off film,and I suspect that is why this 150 minute Part 1 does not fully measure up to the sky-high expectations I had. Perhaps the Cannes folks had it best as they got to see the full 5 hour behemoth that Kashyap intended this film to be. But most of the Cannes audience, inspite of the subtitles, would not have got the full kick of the lines ’’Jiya ho Bihar ke Lala, jiya tu hazaar sala’’ which is placed at an exactly appropriate juncture in the film, like the master-move of a chess champion. It is with such-like placatory thoughts that I wait for Part II.
Update: Part II is a film that loses steam grievously - you may watch it only if you are determined to see the conclusion of this anarchic saga, but I find myself returning time and again to the unwieldy but magnificent vision of Part I.
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