It takes time to place the characters. But it is immediately exciting to understand that we are about to witness a feud between two families — a warfare spanning decades. This is not your typical revenge drama that can be told in a film over three hours. One now understands why Kashyap stuck to his guns (pun unintended), about telling the film in two parts, despite troubles getting a financier who could understand this vision.
The story isn’t easy to place or tell within a paragraph. At its most basic level, the film is about Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee), who is thirsting to avenge his father’s murder by Ramadheer Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia). Ramdheer Singh, a criminal-politico, was his father’s employer at one point. So intense is Sardar’s want to finish off Singh, he shaves off his head as a child and vows to keep it shaved till revenge is sought.
But the story is not as simple as that. One would rob the film of its delicious complexity if one mentioned the sub-plots and history in the socio-political context.
In the midst of his thirst for settling scores with Singh, Sardar falls in love with two women and fathers four sons. We immediately understand that in typical Godfather-style, the sons will somewhere inherit this revenge and take it forward.
The dialogue is acerbic and peppered with singeing black humour. So when we witness the post-Independence era, where Dhanbad’s coal mines are taken over by Singh and the workers’ homes razed, a character remarks, “Angrez zyaada ache the. Whoh chatt bhi dete the, aur tankhwah bhi. (The British were better. They have a roof over our heads and a salary too.)”
Again, you have a cop looking for “sabootva” (proofs); and you have the power going off just as a bullet-ridden body is laid for surgery. In an utterly well-executed moment, a tough-as-nails druggie and criminal starts sobbing when a girl tells him he needs to take permission before holding her hand.
One is sad to point out, but it must be done, that there are traces of sexism throughout the film. Sardar, for example, has four children, all of them male. This oddity (there is no point in arguing that it ‘can’ happen, as this tale is not real and has been ‘written’) is conspicuous and disturbing.
Then again, the male gaze is prevalent in the film’s casting. While the male actors in the film are dusky, the women are all fair and extraordinarily beautiful. Surely the area where the film is set doesn’t paint its men and women in differing complexions? To be fair (pun totally intended), even in their restricted roles, the female characters have depth and an arc.
Manoj Bajpayee’s smooth, sharp, searing performance is worth savoring again and again. And matched perhaps by writer-director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s acting debut as Singh. The scene where he is insulted in a police station but keeps his cool, only to reach home and thrash the person responsible is a treat. Several such moments makes his act a masterful one.
Richa Chadha, as Sultan’s wife and Reema Sen as the mistress give accomplished performances. Jaideep Ahlawat and Nawazuddin Siddiqi (there is more of him in Part 2) give layered, hugely entertaining performances.
Anurag Kashyap’s storytelling is not interested in giving you spoon-fed answers or easing you up with farcical comedy. The story is complex, at times even convoluted, and you simply have to pay attention. It pays off, when you savour and enjoy the story’s developments. Kashyap is equally adept at telling a story with conviction, as he is with extracting the best from his technical crew.
Rajeev Ravi’s camerawork and Shweta Venkat’s editing is masterful, supporting the story to the hilt and adding their own nuance. Sneha Khanwalkar’s music is even more outstanding when you absorb it with the film.
The revenge here is deep-rooted—an unfortunate and tragic legacy passed on from father to child in a land where violence brews in the genes. Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW) is a violent film, but with a solid story behind it. It’s a revenge drama that’s epic in its sweep.
Whether you watch it to witness a feud between two families unfold over several decades along with the socio-political references, or you watch it as a testosterone-infused action film—GoW is entertainment unlimited. Get your ticket!
Rating: Three and a half stars