Gangs of Wasseypur is not an easy film to make. It needs a high amount of emotional investment and steady belief for a long period of time, armed with the knowledge of going against set norms, and eternal hope of introducing something truly unique to a receptive audience. It is clearly a filmmaker’s labour of love, his entire existence in the film industry, his experiences, his evolution, his love for cinema, his growth, skills and learning – all encapsulated into a single project, a 5.5 hour saga of relentlessly uncompromized storytelling, made on a scale never before associated with Anurag Kashyap.
The film isn’t a conventional Bollywood film by any stretch of imagination, is ambitious beyond belief, has characters by the dozen (often difficult to keep track of), boasts of a music score that dares to tango with the absurd, embraces wholeheartedly Hindi cinema’s favorite instrument of revenge, eternal vengeance and family honour, favours raw animal instinct over logic, love or practicality and delves into the heart of the heartland, even daring to span over forty years, and two explosive generations. Yet, it is Anurag Kashyap’s most commercial effort, a visceral brand of expertly-structured storytelling previously unseen in any of his work.
A five and a half hour epic tale divided into two parts, GoW 1 is a trap – a setup to the inevitable final act, set in a world within a world. It begins in 1940, in a 30-minute prologue that requires a fair deal of patience, because Kashyap opts to go traditional with an informative voice-over (Piyush Mishra, only weakness) over documentary footage interspersed with the more intimate story of the rebellious Shahid Khan (a rugged Jaideep Ahlawat), the unofficial leader of the coal-mining labour class of Wasseypur. The writers have decided to correlate a large piece of history to put the events that follow into context, but in doing so, they may have underestimated the impact of an engrossing, less complicated beginning to a film. It takes a while to get one’s bearings, with only Shahid Khan’s demonstrative violence against an official driving home the brutal largeness of his character’s stature. It is justice that he fights for, a relative goodness in a world of corruption and power, but there is still so much to hate about him. When he decides to work for capitalist Ramadheer Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia, in his debut – surely not his last acting stint), his judgment his questionable but sets the stage up for his inevitable death. The problem with his murder, and a vague transition to a time 20 years later, is that his son’s decision to exact vengeance at any cost is communicated through the voiceover, rather tamely, before Bajpayee (Son of Shahid, Sardar Khan) is shown on screen, already cerebrally halfway through his honorable plan of torture over death. Though it goes with the overall pace and generational jumps, it robs us of a delicious evolution – that of the Godfather himself.
Nevertheless, once Bajpayee enters, within minutes, his bloodthirsty eccentricities, quirky lunacies, unapologetic moments of desperate idiocy and lust for anything that is not a man, takes over and pushes us into the Wasseypur that we were craving for, from the trailers. What follows is not the usual one-dimensional generational family saga of revenge and bones, but a very episodic and entertaining representation of each character involved in this steep world, carefully throwing us clues about the direction of part 2 – his two henchmen, played by Piyush Mishra and Jameel Khan, help him build his ganglord status, often comically as they device ingenious almost endearing ways of matching the might of now-politician Ramadheer Singh. In the process, not understatedly, Khan marries his first wife Nagma (a feisty firebrand Richa Chaddha), and lovingly forces her to take every domestic dispute (mostly, his insurmountable urge to stray) with a pinch of salt. In particular, the scene where she catches him red-handed (the only red that will ever terrify him, he testifies) at a brothel, leaves you gasping for air with its madness.
Constantly, the story leaps forward, leaving little to think about only pleasantly interrupted by bouts of old-fashioned romance (with ‘Bengalan’ Durga played by the mysterious Reema Sen) and Sneha Khanwalkar’s outrageous tracks, that allow Kashyap to indulge in a bit of Tarantino (visuals unrelated to retro music) and a lot of Scorsese. Khan’s rivalry with butcher Sultan (a furiously good Pankaj Tripathi) is particularly intriguing, and one that leads us to believe that it will be one of his two sons from Nagma – Danish and Faizal – who will essay the colorfully ruthless representation of Michael Corleone in GoW 2. Nawazuddin as Faizal, who oozes intensity even while being the hopeless Matinee Amitabh fan and lights up the screen with his quiet transformation from bumbling rookie (who doesn’t hesitate to shed tears while wooing his woman) to cold-blooded, straight-faced heir.
It is only appropriate that Manoj Bajpayee, after playing the misguided political caricature in Prakash Jha films, has come a full circle with GoW 1 after bursting onto the scene with another Kashyap (written) classic Satya, years ago. He struts, swallows, teases and tortures with an evil grin that compels us to forget that he has twisted the concept of revenge on its head. It is easily his most accomplished effort, and his amusing chemistry with Richa Chaddha makes for the film’s most memorable audience-pleasing moments. Tigmanshu Dhulia shines exclusively during scenes where he must grudgingly impart wisdom, common sense or discipline to his heavy-footed son and henchmen. His polite confrontation with Vipul Sharma (delectable as Qureshi) goes down as easily the most contextual humorous scenes this year.
The dialogue-writing is easily one of the inventive efforts of recent times, constantly prodding us with short bursts. The cinematography by Rajeev Ravi is evocative, with a different palette used for almost every decade, going from dry and grainy to dark, gritty starkness by the end. The production design is top-notch, and Kashyap has smartly kept the pace slick enough for us to not dwell on the minor detailing issues. The film could have used a bit of detached editing, but the over-indulgence might pay off fully only in the next installment.
All in all, the fact that you feel like smacking Kashyap and co. for ending the first part abruptly, and promptly teasing us with one of the most seductive trailers (of Part 2) ever made, is a victory of sorts. The whole concept of an entertaining Bollywood blockbuster could be in for a huge makeover.
And it’s only the interval.
Hindi, Action, Drama, Color