Saturday, June 23, 2012


Release date:
June 22, 2012
Anurag Kashyap
Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadda, Reemma Sen, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Jaideep Ahlawat, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Piyush Mishra, Huma Qureshi

Where Gangs of Wasseypur 1 is good, it is outstanding. Where it is not, it’s a tad tedious, over-crowded and confusing. It’s the film’s good fortune that the tedium comes in the first half whereas the potential for genius shows through in the second, leaving us with a promise of even better things to come.
Director Anurag Kashyap’s film is set in the midst of gang wars in Dhanbad (now in Jharkand). It takes us from pre-Independence India, past the Emergency and onward towards liberalisation, each era duly cinematically referenced, with history unfolding parallel to so many unchanging realities – like the horny hooligans of small-town Wasseypur who do not think twice before blowing up dozens of human beings in bomb blasts yet turn into simpering idiots in the presence of their wives and lovers; like the men who sometimes kill for revenge, money and politics, but sometimes simply because the beast within them seems to bay for blood. 
Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW) comes in two parts, with Part 1 in theatres this week and the next round coming up later in the year. GoW 1 takes us to the disturbingly dark innards of northern India where a man’s wife wrests a promise from him – that he will give up crime – in the name of their unborn child. Having given her his word, Shahid Khan toils in a coal mine to earn an honest living, but turns his back on that new leaf when a supervisor’s heartlessness leads to tragic consequences. He then goes to work as a pehelwan for local mafioso Ramadhir Singh while eyeing Ramadhir’s position, leading to a seemingly unending spiral of vengeance that is handed down through generations. A large part of this film is devoted to Shahid’s son Sardar Khan’s vow that he will make life a living hell for Ramadhir.
If there’s one word to describe GoW, it’s “unrelenting”. Whether in showing us the sexual rabidity of Sardar or the gruesome bloodletting and gang wars, there is no let-up, there are no apologies. Scenes of sex do not go all the way in Hindi films even of the GoW variety, but a wife who had once barged into a brothel to ferret out her wayward husband later casually advises him to find release wherever he wills since she will not have sex with him while she is pregnant. It’s a sad moment, and one that is steeped in the reality of so many women in a country where we refuse to even acknowledge the issue of marital rape.
As for gore … in Gangs of Wasseypur 1 we not only see men being killed, we get glimpses of them being butchered at slaughter houses, and a policeman picks up a stray human finger from a ground soaked in blood. For the most part, the brutality seems neither sensationalist nor designed to scandalise. Instead it is a telling comment on both the numbing of the human mind exposed to excessive violence and the pointlessness of that violence … a recurring theme through so much of Anurag Kashyap’s work, right from the writing of director Ramgopal Varma’s Satya. There are just a few moments of self-indulgence, such as when the camera dwells too long on a man dying in slow motion or when Muslim devotees are shown in ritual self-flagellation inter-cut with an episode in the lives of the main players – we first get one long shot of those believers, then another, then another, and then, just in case we are not fully satiated, the camera cuts to a closer view of their bleeding backs. Why?
By this point, however, I was sufficiently lost in GoW to be in a forgiving mood. It’s a good thing that these superfluous spots of melodrama did not come in the early part of the film though – because that’s the part that demands patience, when we are being introduced to too many characters while also dealing with the fact that Kashyap has cast two actors each to play certain parts to deal with the passage of time. If a film requires undivided attention, that’s okay; if it makes you feel you need a book to note down names and connections, there’s a problem. With too much going on in the first half, it’s hard to completely relate to any of the characters. Post-interval though, GoW settles into a surprisingly comfortable rhythm of humour blended with chilling, ferocious carnage, aided by Sneha Khanwalkar’s catchy songs and their delightfully cheeky lyrics – Kehke loonga, one song goes, most reassuringly.
The casting is excellent. Manoj Bajpayee  is a perfect choice as the vicious-at-work, sleazy-yet-servile-at-home, sexually predatory Sardar Khan. My personal pick of the cast though are Richa Chadda as Sardar’s aggressive yet doting wife, Reemma Sen as the seemingly coy yet sexually assertive other woman, the amazingly versatile Nawazuddin Siddiqui as his druggie son Faisal Khan and director-turned-actor Tigmanshu Dhulia as Ramadhir Singh. In fact, there are so many lovely actors in this film that it’s a pity space does not permit me to name them all.
For me, Paanch remains Anurag Kashyap’s best work in a mostly remarkable filmography. In GoW 1, almost everything I’d want snipped off came in the first half of the film, so what has remained with me is the crackling second half followed by a Nawazuddin-filled trailer for GoW 2. It is not in the league of Paanch, but GoW 1 is still bloody good.
Rating (out of five): ***1/4
CBFC Rating:                       A
Language:                              Hindi

1 comment:

  1. I didn't realize that Ramadhir is actually the director Tigmanshu Dhulia! Well, he did a pretty fine job. I'd give the movie 4 stars. Loved it!