In the wild, wild east

Last Updated: Fri, Jun 22, 2012 19:52 hrs

With Gangs of Wasseypur Anurag Kashyap consolidates his reputation as one of the most exciting directors in the Hindi film industry today

On the face of it, Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur is based on a simple idea used countless times in both Hollywood and Bollywood — revenge. But Gangs of Wasseypur is anything but your simple, violent, gangster thriller where guns are fired indiscriminately, men are killed and one of two warring factions emerges victorious before the end credits roll. But then again Kashyap is no ordinary director. From his never-released Paanch to Black Friday (based on the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts) to Dev D (a modern take on Sarat Chandra Bandopadhyaya’s novel Devdas) and Gulaal (politics in feudal Rajasthan), Kashyap has taken the road less travelled.

With Gangs of Wasseypur he goes into the coal mines of Dhanbad using the conventional revenge drama as a backdrop. The revenge drama is, however, the only conventional bit in Gangs of Wasseypur. From the first scene, which shows the opening credits of Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thhi, followed by a burst of gunshots and bombs being thrown, there’s not a single dull moment in this epic saga of hatred, love, betrayal and violence.

The film, which spans over six decades, begins in 1941, tracing how the foundation of the coal mafia was laid during the British Raj. The first 30 minutes of the film have very few dialogues — just the voiceover of Piyush Mishra recounting the history of Bihar’s coal mafia and its association with Wasseypur, and how post-Independence, the mines were taken over by big corporate houses which, together with the contractors, began to exploit the labourers.

Woven through this is the story of a politician named Ramadhir Singh (played by director Tigmanshu Dhulia) who wants to lord it over Dhanbad and Wasseypur, and eliminates anyone who threatens to come in his way.

One of these exploited labourers is Shahid Khan (played by a menacing Jaideep Ahlawat) who fled from Wasseypur to Dhanbad due to differences with a dacoit who looted trains. These differences were not only because Shahid Khan tried to use his rival’s name to loot trains but also because Khan is a Pathan, whereas his rival is a Qureshi. In Kashyap’s telling, the conflict becomes not just about fighting for your territory or your rights but also about the caste wars.

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The film then fastforwards to the next few decades to trace the rise of Sardar Khan, son of Shahid Khan. Sardar, played by an excellent Manoj Bajpai, is a man driven by badla (revenge). Kashyap could have easily shown a cold-hearted man who kills for fun — a unidimensional character. But he doesn’t.

The biggest strength of Gangs of Wasseypur is its characters. There are a very large number of them, yet they don’t feel alien or you don’t get confused about who’s who. The characters of Gangs of Wasseypur are real and don’t seem fictional. They may kill at the drop of the hat, or throw bombs for fun, yet there are times when the country revolvers backfire and the hand-made bombs don’t explode.

Khan is not your typical flamboyant gangster either. He may have a mean and evil streak but he is also scared of his wife. Ramadhir Singh, too, is no cardboard politician. He has all the power in the world but can’t stop two gangsters from slapping his son inside a police station. Khan’s son Faisal (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) cries while watching Amitabh Bachchan in Trishul. What gives these characters an edge is the clever, witty dialogues written by Kashyap himself.

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The film’s background score and music by G V Prakash and Sneha Khanwalkar, respectively, are a treat and blend effortlessly with the movie. Songs like “Womaniya”, “I am a Hunter, she wants to see my gun” and the excellent “Keh ke Loonga” might sound obscure in isolation but Kashyap uses them aptly in the film, just as Quentin Tarantino does in most of his films. There are shades of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather here as well in the husband-wife conflicts, the cold war between father and son, the unexpected betrayals, unlikely romances and, above all, the sheer hatred and will to kill. All of these make Gangs of Wasseypur a heady concoction that not only keeps you on the edge of your seat but also forces you to savour each moment.

There are many good performances in the film. Bajpai as Sardar Khan delivers an impeccable performance. Dhulia is menacing as the scheming and corrupt politician. Jameel Khan as Bajpai’s sidekick will also be liked by the audience. But it’s Richa Chaddha, who plays Nagma Khatoun, Sardar Khan’s wife, who stands out of the cast. Nagma is a feisty woman who threatens to kill her husband when she finds him in a brothel. Yet when she is serving dinner to her husband, she tells him to eat properly “nahin toh baahar hamari beizzati kara doge” (otherwise I will be humiliated) — prodding him to build his strength to conduct his affairs with other women.

Making a film like Gangs of Wasseypur, which is five hours and twenty minutes (two parts combined) long and has 370 characters (at least 280 of them have dialogues), requires a monumental effort. (The full-length film was screened at international festivals including Cannes.) But Kashyap, along with his three writers — Zeeshan Quaidri, Akhilesh Jaiswal and Sachin Ladia — seems to do it with considerable flair and ease.

With his earlier films, Kashyap had showed his mettle as a director who wasn’t afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom of film-making. But with Gangs of Wasseypur he blends the traditional with the unconventional raising the bar for gangster films.

Will the second part, which releases a few months later, match up? A trailer of the second part comes on before the end credits roll which shows characters like “Definitive” Khan and “Perpendicular” Khan waiting to be introduced in the second part.

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