My review of Gangs of Wasseypur
Gangs of Wasseypur
I will start my review of the film by quoting from two other reviewers, one who got right and one who got it wrong.
The first one is Bardwaj Rangan: “ We meet this story’s villain, Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia), and we steel ourselves for his showdowns with Sardar Khan, and for him to meet a most well-deserved end. This is how films have trained us. But novels, on the other hand, aren’t as bound to plot and protagonist. They can, on a whim, linger on descriptions of scenery, or on the misfortunes of a secondary character.”
The second is from Sudhish Kamat in The Hindu,’ You paid to watch revenge. What you get is a guy doing everything except that. Unfortunately, most of us still consume films as stories and as far as stories go, Gangs of Wasseypur I is a non-starter, a deceitful film that delivers none of the promise of that revenge.’
‘ Unfortunate’ is right. Because films are much more than stories. Personally I have a weakness for films that are weak in story: Anand, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Rockstar, all Eric Rohmer films .. just to give some random examples.
Coming back to Gangs of Wasseypur, it is a truly a film of epic proportions and not just because of its length. Rangan has invoked the names of Cervantes and Dickens, but I was thinking more of Marquez. Wasseypur , like the town of Macondo, is a place with a history. And Shahid Khan like Colonel Aureliano Buendia has a sprawling family tree whose fortunes and misfortunes we will follow in the course of the film’s narrative. The explosions in the distant coal fields, the grey skyline, the incessant rain , and the crowded market place with motor vehicles negotiating traffic precariously set the stage for the action. As is widely known now, there no good guys in the film. Wasseypurme in sab kaminey hain. Tht by itself is an interesting premise for a Hindi film. In a Tarantino film like Pulp Fiction you can have characters that are all on the wrong side of the law , and conventional morality. But not in a Hindi film, where even a smuggler like Vijay in Deewar is given a reason for his criminality and a sheen of nobility in his personal life outside his professional criminality. But not so Sardar Khan played by Manoj Bjapai. It is a challenge for the director and the actor to make an audience engage with and root for such a character. Bajpai in his career best performance manages to pull it off. How does Kashyap and Bajpai do it? By humanizing the character with total honesty.
Like Marquez, Kashyap gives the sexual side of his protagonists its fullest due, without being coy about it. When Nagma refuses sex to Sardar as she is pregnant with his second child, he discusses his predicament with all seriousness thus, “ Now she has swollen her tummy with the second child. So how do I live?’ It is that important to him and he is serious. The way Kashyap captures the first spark between a man and woman that leads to passionate obsession eventually is without parallel in films. And this is supposed to be a gangster film! The way Sardar catches a glimpse of Ganga’s cleavage, which has been revealed not without design by Ganga , and the subsequent scenes capturing the f gradual establishment of erotic connection between the two, culminating in the charming and funny clothes washing scene is masterly. So is the scene between Nawajuddin ( Faizal) and Huma , first when he spots her in the wedding celebration and puts on his sunglasses and she follows suit seconds later, and later when they are sitting on a culvert and he touches her hand, and she admonishes him, “ Kya socha hai tumne. Permission lena chahiye na? When you enter someone’s house you ask first or not?’ These and all the lines in the film are remarkable for their authentic language, wit and insightful thoughts. Often out audiences laugh at the mere mention of a four-letter word in Hollywood film or a swear word in a Hindi film, mainly because they haven’t heard such words being used in films before. But not the case here. The forbidden words usage is there, but there is also much thought and truly great witticism. Take the line shot at Sardar by Nagma as she is feeding him dinner, knowing thathe is going to visit the other woman, Ganga, ‘ Khana to khaake jao. Taakat badhega. Baahar jake beizzat na karna.” So much relational dynamics and character attribute packed into these lines ! The sexuality of not just the male characters but also the female protagonists is explored in all its nuances. Nagma neglected by her husband , increasingly, lean son Piysh Mishra for emotional sustenance, which almost leads to sexual consummation, interrupted as they are by Nagma’s younger son discovering them. We have seen Huma delivering Nawajuddin lessons in how to conduct the act of seduction , laying down the ground rules.
I have spoken about Manoj Bjapai ‘s performance. But no less admirable is the amazing Richa Chadda as Nagma. The scene when she is delivering her child, as she sees Sardar returning from his paramour’s place, her face wincing in pain one moment and flashing in anger the next is up there with the best by any actress. Just the performance s by these two are the price of a ticket. But thankfully there si more. Performance by every single member of the supporting cast , Nawajudin as Faizal, Huma as his girlfriend, Piyush Mishra and of course Tingmashu Dhulia as Ramadheer Singh are impeccable.
The filming is first rate throughout. If Shanghai was a dictionary of details, this is a whole encyclopedia! The period train, the bags of grains, the living room and the furniture, the bathing place..everything is recreated with meticulous detail. But what is masterly is the way the air of danger and lawlessness that characterizes terrain of Dhanbad is brought out in every frame. The crowded narrow lanes where a car takes a turn almost grazing the other vehicle, the viscerally revolting interior of an abattoirs with chunks of flesh displayed in all their crassness, the arch with lauki creeper behind the bathing tap call for a second viewing so that one can absorb it all. I was so taken in by the solitary goat jumping about behind the culvert as Huma and Nawajuddin carried on their courtship. It was like listening to a later-day Beatles recording with all the sly audio insertions meant for interpretations by fans.
No appreciation of the film would be complete without mentioning the music and songs. Right after Dev D I had declared that Anurag Kashyap is the most inventive user of songs in films , even surpassing Mani Ratnam, who after initiating the new age of film music, had fallen into a rut, failing to evolve. Kashyap here is in full flow. If Kah Ke Lenge sets the tone of the film and Jiya Bihar Ke wraps it up, songs like I am a Hunter and Womaniya provide the delightful interludes. Full marks to Sneha Khanwalkar. But even more charming is the way Kashayp uses Bollywood song bits like Salam e Ishq ( performed in a falsetto by Yashpal Sharma), Kasam paidha Karnewaleki and Nayak Nahin Main Khalnayak Hoon. The allusions to films like Deewar and Trishul provide the pop culture context to the moral stance of the film , underlining at the same time the departure from the aesthetics and moral stance of those films.
So finally , does the film hints at anything beyond a rollicking 150 minutes of great entertainment ? It would be a great film even if it did not. But actually the more trying part of the film, the first30minutes of prologue does hint at what the film is trying to say. Paraphrased into simple language it is this: Extraordinary wealth creation by exploiting the resources of the earth entails great criminality. I was in Dhanbad in the 80s and know that it was a place where the fight as between the bad and more bad, because the god had abdicated its responsibility. Whether it was the British, or the Tatas and Birlas or the Indian Government who was in charge of the mines, no one wanted to dirty one’s hand with black stuff and they outsourced it to the thekadars for whom greed and violence was second nature. There Will Be Blood , in such a scenario. No one can prevent it. With today’s mining scams in places like Bellary, where even electoral fights are between bad and the very bad, the moral universe of GOW is not all that reprehensible or all that removed from reality.
Welcome to Wasseypur. Tulsi and her family are asking you in. ( Incidentally, what a start to an extraordinary film!)