August Issue 2012
Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur
There is a scene in Anurag Kashyap’s latest filmGangs of Wasseypur, in which a wife tells her adulterous husband to eat up until he’s full, so that he will have enough energy for his bed-hopping exploits. This, one might say, is the essence of this five-hour-long saga in which the characters are so unique that they live by their own unique sets of principles and morals. Here in Wasseypur, even a pigeon flies with one wing and tries to save itself with the other.
The film is set in the India of the ’40s and the root of all chaos is Shahid Khan, who loots British trains while impersonating a feared dacoit, and is duly banned from his village to a place called Dhanbad where he starts to work as a coal miner for a man called Ramadhir Singh. After settling in the village, Shahid becomes a father but loses his wife; his rage makes Ramadhir Singh notice him and Shahid becomes his new muscle man. This is an explosive arrangement though and soon enough Ramadhir Singh kills off Shahid Khan when he learns of the latter’s plans to take over his business in the future. It is now Shahid’s son, Sardar Khan, who is the main focus of the story. Growing into an obnoxious, yet loveable character (how Manoj Bajpai manages to pull it off is remarkable), he swears to avenge his father’s murder — hate and vengeance are automatically inherited in Wasseypur.
The rest of the story is about Sardar Khan’s life, his loves and his foes. The director creates an interesting angle in the movie as he presents a two-pronged feud; on one hand the Khans are feuding with the Qureshis, the indigenous people of the area, and on the other hand, the narrative keeps coming back to Sardar Khan wanting to kill Ramadhir Singh, who is still at large. Then, in one rather remarkable small scene, Sardar Khan notices how even his son’s friends loot shops and play hard, while his dopey son Faisal tries hard to etch out his own path.
Screened at Cannes in all its glory, meaning the whole film with its uncommon running time, is being released in India in two parts of approximately 150 minutes each. Without giving away much, Gangs of Wasseypur: Part Two, which will be released on August 8, has already been promoted in trailers and will be continuing Faisal Khan’s story, how he takes over the reins from father Sardar Khan, and vows to kill the family’s arch-enemy, Ramadhir Singh. Nonetheless, this two-part division actually works against the film; surely this film was intended as one complete piece of art, and to watch the second half of the story a little after a month leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. The first part is terrific and pretty much the film of the year; and now, with the second part being equally long, there is an instant divide and viewers actually have two separate films to consider.
Newsline spoke to director Anurag Kashyap at the London premiere of the movie’s first instalment who said his plot is based on a true story and he that he felt instantly attracted to the unusual characters. He was fascinated by their concept of revenge, which means that in Wasseypur revenge is always meted out at the right moment, and is not about randomly going and killing someone in anger and hate. Kashyap also enjoyed the way the story was narrated to him by a local fellow in Wasseypur and that is how the project began. While Kashyap finds revenge to be self-destructive in real life, he believes it is a useful narrative device for driving the plot.
Kashyap makes every scene memorable with his dynamic fervour while directing, as well as his highly talented cast, many of whom are unknown. While experienced actors like Manoj Bajpai, Piyush Mishra or Vipin Sharma do a great job, as always, the film’s best performance comes from Richa Chadda, playing Sardar Khan’s feisty wife, and Pankaj Tripathy and Ramadhir Singh as the main negative characters excel throughout. The film’s best scene, by far, is a short encounter between Faisal Khan and his love interest Mohsina, underplayed beautifully by Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Huma Qureshi respectively. Siddiqui shines in another scene, where he channels Travis Bickle’s iconic mirror scene from Taxi Driver — this is surely Kashyap paying homage to his self-proclaimed guru, Martin Scorsese. I’m sure that he would enjoy this film too.
This article was originally published in the August issue.
Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany