(Published in Sify.com, on May 24, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/movies/bollywood/review.php?cid=2425&id=14999345)
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Richa Chadda, Reemma Sen, Huma Qureshi, Tigmanshu Dhulia
Director: Anurag Kashyap
When an Indian director says his 5-hour film’s inspired by the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, one is tempted to roll one’s eyes. Unless that director, like Anurag Kashyap, goes and bloody does it, and does it well!
Gangs of Wasseypur is stylised from the start. It opens with Smriti Irani’s Tulsi inviting us into her happier-than-happy home, as the saccharine “Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thhi” track plays. Next, something happens that makes us jump out of our seats and gawk at the screen. Typical of the genre it aspires to, the film begins in medias res, and then drags us back to 1940, where the narration begins.
We’re taken to Wasseypur, of Dhanbad district, which moved from Bengal to Bihar to Jharkhand over time. We follow three generations of a family feud, which grows to encapsulate friends of the families involved, and eventually, the entire town, as sons swear to settle scores, and revenge killings multiply.
The story of both parts is told by Nasir Ahmed, whose brother Shahid Khan is the sardar of a clan. Wasseypur, he tells us, is a hotbed of communal violence – not between Muslims and Hindus, not between Shias and Sunnis, but between two sub-sects of Sunni Muslims – the Qureshis, who are traditionally butchers, and every-other-Muslim, represented by the pathans.
Shahid Khan and Sharif Qureshi begin fighting over who has the right to be the legendary dacoit Sultana Daku, and rob trains in British India of goods. When the banishment of one leads to personal tragedy, the cycle of violence begins.
Enter Ramadhir, the mining supervisor of an iron ore, as India industrialises. He recruits a muscle man from one of the families, but neutralises the threat when he learns the man may be getting too ambitious for him to handle.
Coincidences and foolhardiness, combined with the izzat factor, spin a tale of gruesome violence that spans over six decades, witnessed by Nasir Chacha.
But this film is not about trigger-happy and blade-wielding villains screaming and tearing into each other. It becomes something of a “screwball comedy” in parts, with nearly everyone in the film making a fool of himself at least once. A fearsome gang boss is partial to a mole, simply because he can speak English, which makes up for any suspicious behaviour. A hitman runs out of bullets, and starts shaking as he tries to shove them in, resulting in his fleeing from his intended victim, who gives chase armed with a baton and friend driving a run-down scooter.
The coarse dialect of the villages, their fascination with English, the hypocrisy of politics, innovative swearwords, and even digs at Bollywood are slipped in with perfect timing – I found myself laughing simply at the inflections in some of the dialogue.
Another Tarantinoesque aspect surfaces with the names – honestly, wherever else would you find characters called Definite, Perpendicular and Tangent?! This leads to a hilarious exchange:
“Uska naam kya hai?”
“Naam toh Definite hai.”
“Arre, naam kya hai?”
“Naam hi Definite hai.”
“Asli naam kya hai?”
“Ek minute. Suno, Definite ka asli naam kya hai?”
“Definite ka naam toh Definite hi hai.”
“Nahi. Birth certificate mein kya likha hua hai?”
“Definite hi, shayad.”
“Nahi. Jaise Perpendicular ka naam Babua hai, waise Definite ka naam kya hai?”
“Definite ka naam Definite hi hai.”
“Hindi mein Definite ka matlab kya hai?”
And the casting is quite perfect. Manoj Bajpayee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui are outstanding. In this film, Bajpayee looks fearsome, silly, debauched, lecherous, clever, cunning and timid in turns. He pushes the boundaries of his role, and delights in his interactions with the women he courts as much as with the men he fights.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, whose first big break came in Kashyap’s Black Friday, turns in his best performance yet. It’s quite incredible that a man of such diminutive stature can so thoroughly dominate a scene. But so strong is his screen presence that he owns every frame he features in. Seen as the sloppy runt of the clan in the first part of his film, he metamorphoses into the terrifying don Faizal Khan in the second part.
All three women in the film have meaty roles, but Richa Chadda is the real find. She ages by about forty years, and brings that out as much in her body language and facial expressions as in her voice. We meet her as a motormouth who doesn’t shy away from the ugliest street slang, and isn’t beyond chasing her husband with a stick when he cheats on her. We leave her when she’s an old woman who treats with disdain a man who won’t draw blood to avenge blood.
The sound design by Sneha Khanwalkar is nicely paced, with appropriate selections of old songs, and a good mix of styles in the new compositions. One hardly notices that the film has 25 songs. Each is catchy, and none intrudes.
In a production that’s careful with the details, down to matching rupee notes with the era in which that part of the film is set, the only big letdown is a horrendously fake mask that is supposed to be a severed head. We could have done with either a better-sculpted visage, or a long shot that didn’t expose its ridiculousness – as it stands, we end up laughing at what should have been a thoroughly grisly moment.
The rest of the post-production, and the special effects involved, are quite a treat. The noir shots and slick edits have become trademarks of Kashyap’s filmmaking style. These, combined with a tight script that makes the five hours fly by, make Gangs of Wasseypur India’s best gangster movie to date, in my book. It’s a pity the audience will have to watch the film in two staggered parts, because the 20-minute interval seemed too long a wait after the what-happens-next poser in the first part.