(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 23 June, 2012, retrieved from http://newindianexpress.com/entertainment/reviews/article548761.ece)
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Piyush Mishra, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Richa Chadda, Reemma Sen, Huma Qureshi
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Rating: 4.5 stars
Imagine this: you’re watching Kyunki Saas Bhi Bahu Thhi one minute, and the next, you’re dodging bullets, knowing your brains could be splattered across the same wall where the mirror’s splintered. It’s a milieu most of the audience of Anurag Kashyap’s slick, stylish, sordid flick are not familiar with. It’s a brand of lawlessness that even the glorified gangster of 1940s Hollywood didn’t get to revel in.
Welcome to Dhanbad, the town that spawns the gangs of Wasseypur. In a chillingly casual narration by Nasir Ahmed (Piyush Mishra), we hear the gruesome tale of family feuds that turn into political camps, and ultimately gang wars. Spanning sixty years and three generations, this film is punctuated as much by gunfire as by expletives.
It begins with the exploits of Sultana Daku, a notorious bandit who robbed goods from the trains of British India in 1940. The authorities say he has been sent off to Andaman, but the public knows better. Things turn ugly when Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) impersonates him, and Sharif Qureshi claims Khan is treading on Qureshi’s territory.
An agreement is reached, Khan is banished, and a tragic event leads to his elevation to chief muscleman for mine supervisor Ramadhir (Tigmanshu Dhulia). And this is where Kashyap slips in the undertones. What does power do to a man who considers himself a leader of men? What does it take for a sardar, a captain, to turn bully? What must a general do when the lieutenant is about to stage a coup?
In a brutal landscape, where a threat is neutralised in the most macabre of ways, boys are men. And nothing is taken for granted. A film that could do easily have been grisly acquires the texture of a riotous romp, thanks to some inspired sound design, intelligent casting, and burlesque narrative.
One of the most interesting aspects of Gangs of Wasseypur is that each scion of the Khan family gets consistently smaller, and somehow, scarier. There’s the terrifying pahalwan Shahid, his scheming son Sardar (Manoj Bajpayee), and his substance-abusing son Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the runt of a litter of six. Faizal’s role is largely explored in the sequel, which is due for release later in the year.
This film belongs almost entirely to Manoj Bajpayee, who sews himself into the skin of Sardar. We see him as a fiery lad, a conniving gangster-in-waiting, an oily aspirant to political power, a timid husband, a lecherous lover, and a commanding father. He barks orders at the man who brought him up, he runs away from the nasty tongue and lusty beatings of his wife Nagma (Richa Chadda), and he cons his seemingly docile mistress Durga (Reemma Sen), without ever seeming to realise he is susceptible to manipulation too.
Gangs of Wasseypur is a layered film, and the viewer sees what he or she wants to see – the weakness of man, the hypocrisy of politics, the Damocles sword that rapid industrialisation can be, the aspirational draw of the English language, and several other issues lend themselves to subtext. But more than anything else, it’s a larger-than-life experience, a display of cinematic licence meant for the big screen.
The Verdict: Gangs of Wasseypur is not lofty cinema – but, by God, it’s a mind-blowing spectacle!