June Issue 2013

By | Here and Now | Published 11 years ago

I often wonder whether Indian filmmakers send DVD screeners of their works to the very directors who inspire and inform their films. Picture this: One fine day the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Guy Ritchie all receive a mysterious package containing a preview copy of Shootout at Wadala. Naturally, they call each other up and watch it together, only to enjoy a little game of spot-the-reference:\

Tarantino: Dude, that scene where they kill Zubair is totally inspired from Reservoir Dogs…but that’s ok because this Gupta fellow has already remade Reservoir Dogs.

Scorsese: Yes, that’s a great observation. Also, notice this relationship between Manya Surve and his girlfriend. Goodfellas, anyone?

Ritchie: Slow-motion FTW!

You get the point. Various styles and scenes have inspired director Sanjay Gupta and he has amalgamated them into a cinematic freight train called Shootout at Wadala. It’s not that the film is a shameless copy of any particular film; it’s just that the treatment of the material is reminiscent of works by the aforementioned western filmmakers. Wadala is a prequel to the 2007 feature Shootout at Lokhandwala but it is a stand-alone film with a coherent narrative. Gupta’s direction is smooth and it’s a welcome change to see him tackle a book adaptation, rather than remaking a Hollywood or Korean film.

Shootout at Wadala tells Manya Surve’s (John Abraham) story, of how an innocent young student went on to become one of Dawood Ibrahim’s nemeses and eventually India’s first known person killed in an encounter. Accused on flimsy charges (the film clearly accentuates all the wrong done by the police), Surve is thrown into jail, where the seeds of evil are sown. He befriends Munir (Tusshar Kapoor), a Muslim character who could come in as number four, ‘the Loyal Sidekick,’ in scholar Rachel Dwyer’s list of Top Ten Muslim Characters in Bollywood. After establishing their power within the prison, Manya and Munir manage to escape. They then arrive in Bombay, where two criminal brothers reign, Zubair and Dilawar Haksar (based on real-life mafiosos Dawood Ibrahim and Shabbir Ibrahim). The latter is instantly at odds with Manya Surve and both parties decide that they will go separate ways, resulting in two gangs.

Since this is a film about an encounter, there’s a parallel plot about Assistant Commissioner Police Afaaque Baaghran (Anil Kapoor in a terrific performance) and his efforts to keep both the Haksar brothers, as well as Manya Surve’s rising gang in check. He’s got his own little posse and each side’s respective banter is interesting to compare since they are very similar.

Shootout at Wadala is an A-certificate film and understandably so, because there’s graphic violence and a bold-for-Bollywood sex scene too. However, these elements are still not enough to justify the film’s ban in Pakistan. Authorities claim that the lovemaking scene between John and Kangna is too provocative for audiences in Pakistan. But surely Pakistanis can handle one love scene and the censor board could have edited that scene instead of banning the entire film.

In conclusion, there are many things going against Sanjay Gupta’s Shootout at Wadala, such as the three ‘item songs,’ Kangna Ranaut’s dialogue delivery or Tusshar Kapoor’s role. And yet despite all its flaws, Gupta has created a watchable and, dare I say, entertaining film, which revels in its most absurd moments. It’s absolutely silly, but the key here is to let it wash over you. Let the slow-motion scenes test your patience and the decibels and dialogues assault your auditory system. Chances are you might feel rewarded at the end.

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany