Gangs of Wasseypur: Blurbs dripping with Blood

Coppola, Tarantino, Mahabharata meets noir. The film mirrors reel life with real doppelgangers. Deaths foretold, but with grim humour

Shonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata 

Gangs of Wasseypur(1 & 2) are movies that would make great graphic novels, with their episodic narrative, dark vein of humour, men of action leaping out of a full page spread, and violence that hits you ‘Wham, Bam, Splat’ in large dialogue blurbs dripping with blood.

There is a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie that this is a fictional account of real events in Dhanbad, but, ultimately, Gangs of Wasseypur is not so much about politics, or the coal mafia, or even Wasseypur, as much as the idea of Wasseypur — the land of retribution. Men live and die with revenge as the only anchor in their lives. It is a world one will dissect through the microscopic lens of Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpai), Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) and Faizal Khan (Nawazzuddin Siddiqui), who, despite their grandiose ambitions, live in a world with a sense of fatalism — you are born, you live, you kill and you’ll be killed. 

This is a world where men are macho, women are strong, and children grow up with a greed for life and love as well as a natural penchant for betrayal. Upward mobility here is attained only through the barrel of a gun and the virtue of patience for these men of action is not of choice but of circumstance. 

Anurag Kashyap steers this plot premise with finesse. Gangs of Wasseypur may remind you of Coppola, Tarantino, Sergio Leone, the Mahabharata, Salim-Javed, B-grade thrillers, even Kashyap in his earlier avatars (Satya, Gulaal), but it has a cinematic language completely its own. It is Manohar Kahaniyan meets noir. It mirrors reel life with real doppelgangers. It is a story of deaths foretold, but with grim humour. 

Gangs of Wasseypur’s opening sequence gives you a taste of its scope and ambition. The ride to Wasseypur begins with the opening credits of ‘Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ (a shock in itself), moves into a shootout filmed in a brilliant long take, punctuated by the sinister humour of a mobile phone blaring the Khalnayak theme song, and ends with bloodbath and a 1970s RD Burman-ish riff at a pace that doesn’t give you time to breathe.

This is the pace that sets the tone and mood for both the movies. 

The camera tracks and pans with the restlessness of a gangster’s hand on a trigger. History is dispensed with montages and films division-style documentaries, serving more as pop culture milestones to keep your focus on the principal characters. With each frame the screenplay is layered with more — more bodies, more blood,
more characters, more irony and more sly humour. 

The women, from Richa Chaddha to Huma Qureshi, underline their strength and power in a few compelling scenes. They love and lust with equal vigour, if not more to that of their men

Throughout the ride, the audience is deftly driven into uncharted cinema territory — the screen goes claustrophobically dark for more than two minutes (a power cut, a gunfight), off-screen space is utilised (hear the body being hacked, feel the nervous anticipation of a shot), characters that are endearing get killed, and opening sequences do not necessarily end a movie. It keeps you in nervous anticipation of every turn of the story and the sense of unease never leaves you (a razor blade in 15-year-old Perpendicular’s mouth, a microphone-wielding Sardar Khan shouting vengeance for a rape, while a Mithun Chakraborty look-alike dances alongside his jeep). It is cinema that attracts, repels, shocks and entertains you, sometimes all at the same time. 

The script is lovingly detailed with irony and humour, sometimes to make the horror more bearable and sometimes to underline the tragedy. It crops up at the most unexpected places and unexpected moments, from asking for permission to court a lady to talking about vegetables while trying to kill a dreaded enemy. Even a potentially dangerous prank between teenagers has its quirky moment. 

The performances of the ensemble cast cannot be singled out. Everyone performs as if born to the hinterland of Kashyap’s Wasseypur. Manoj Bajpai is wonderful as the flamboyant but flawed Sardar Khan, as is Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the strong, silent and sensitive Faizal. Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Ramadhir Singh is chillingly evil. Piyush Mishra does a great self-flagellating turn as does Pankaj Tripathi in the impressive role of Sultan. Writer Zeishan Quadri’s brilliantly portrayed and quirkily named ‘Definite’ is also a character that can only inhabit Kashyap’s cinema. The women, right from Richa Chaddha to Huma Qureshi, while confined to home and hearth, are pivotal to the plot underlining their strength and power in just a few compelling scenes. They love and lust with equal vigour, if not more to that of their men. 

However, what makes Gangs of Wasseypur stand out from any other Hindi film this year and gives it soul is its brave, experimental music. Not just Sneha Khanwalkar’s brilliant original soundtrack, but also those forgotten songs of the 1970s and 80s, of those forgotten ageing Bollywood stars, that define small town life. 

The music deliberately evokes a sense of familiarity, making Wasseypur, every small town you have lived in. It serves as a leitmotif to rites of passage, to character development (Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Faizal literally evolves with Amitabh Bachchan numbers), and gives that unspoken celebratory bawdiness to love and life, just as you would have imagined Wasseypur to be. Khanwalkar channels calypso chutney music, local train singers, even sounds to create this wonderful flavour. 

Gangs of Wasseypur is clever storytelling and Anurag Kashyap knows his small town references well, right from the ‘Launda naach’ to ‘Kasam Paida Karne Waale Ki’. However, sometimes he sacrifices pace and narrative to excessive detailing of such episodes and references, which hinder the attention of the audience. Even though Wasseypur has an epic canvas, some character developments are sketchy. In fact, sometimes, an entire character arc is dispensed with Piyush Mishra’s voice-over. 

The screen goes claustrophobically dark (a power cut, a gunfight), off -screen space is utilised (hear the body being hacked), characters that are endearing get killed, and opening sequences do not necessarily end a movie

Gangs of Wasseypur is one film, not two. The first half is a heady build-up of characters and motivation while the second half gives you more nuanced characters who share the same DNA of reprisal. That’s why, being released in theatres a month after the first part, Gangs of Wasseypur 2, though, hugely enjoyable, weakens the essence of the story for those who are not familiar with the Khans and the Qureshis. One feels emotionally detached from a few crucial scenes in the movie and it dilutes the cathartic rage of the movie’s climax for the audience, which would not have been the case if the movie was released in its original six-hour version.

Anurag Kashyap has always pushed the envelope when it comes to making films that have defied genres and expectations, but his ouevre has always been dark and tormented; in Gangs of Wasseypur he does not seem so agonised, so full of angst. There will still be no happy endings, no redemptions, no escape from the vicious cycle of violence, but it is also a movie that joyfully embraces life as lustfully as it celebrates death.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2012