Raw Appeal

Gangs Of Wasseypur is a sprawling,exuberant,ferociously ambitious piece of filmmaking,which hits most of its marks.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published:June 23, 2012 12:14 am

Gangs Of Wasseypur (Part i)

DIRECTOR: Anurag Kashyap

CAST: Manoj Bajpai,Tigmanshu Dhulia,Richa Chadda,Reema Sen,Piyush Mishra,Jameel Khan,Pankaj Tripathi,Vineet Singh,Nawazuddin Siddiqui,Huma Qureshi,Anurita Jha,Jaideep Ahlawat

Rating: ****

Gangs Of Wasseypur is a sprawling,exuberant,ferociously ambitious piece of filmmaking,which hits most of its marks. It reunites Anurag Kashyap with exactly the kind of style he is most comfortable with: hyper-masculine,hyper-real,going for the jugular. It’s not so much about gangs,as about men who are pushed into “gangstergiri” as a thing to live by; as you go along,you see that Wasseypur is not just a place,but a state of mind,which roars and strikes after each deceptively quiet patch. I liked most of Gangs,Part One,enormously.

This is a tale with a long arc. From 1941 to the present day (it breaks off in the middle; the rest of it will come to theatres next month,in the second part). It tells us how coal (koyla,much more poetic) was one of the country’s precious natural resources which was captured for the betterment of few: first by the British overlords,and then by the local mafia,which hijacked the khadaans (mines) and monstrous gains and became the resident fat cats. In the first flush of azaadi,those who thought their lives were going to get better were proved miserably wrong. Those who toiled and laboured became poorer,those who lorded over the worker drones with swords,and lathis and brute force,flourished. There’s history here,of the kind almost never attempted by Hindi cinema,buoyed beautifully by geography: the locations are part of the pleasures of the film.

It is in a setting like this that Wasseypur introduces us to its passel of characters,and the two men whose enmity will decide the fate of their families and foes. It’s all very Godfather-like,in its vowing of vengeance,and settling of scores,also reminding you of movies featuring the American wild west where lawlessness was rampant,and the law was decidedly an ass. Sardar Khan (Bajpai) has fixed his beady eye on Ramadhir Singh (Dhulia),for the latter was responsible for his,Sardar’s,father’s death. The story keeps circling back to this core,providing us with the kind of authentic local colour that is hard to find in manufactured Bollywood. The language is earthy,robust,filled with profanities (even the women swear fluently). There’s a particular invocation of a maternal private part and the violence to be wreaked upon it that immediately fixes the place and the people: you will never hear the phrase in any place other than in some parts of UP and Bihar. The dialogue is one of the high points of the film: I was watching out for faux rusticity,given Bollywood’s penchant to slip into this lingo and massacre it,but there are very few slips,and minuscule at that.

Which brings us to the primary delight,the people who speak these lines. The casting is spot on,with every small character leaving an impact. I like that neither Bajpai nor Dhulia are made bigger than they are: they are who they are. This is Bajpai’s best,better by far than Satya,and you can feel his ravenous delight as he slides into his part: Sardar is a complex mix of a rutting macho male whose sexual needs sometimes seem to overwhelm his desire to decimate his enemy,but he understands the practical considerations of having to live,and let live,till the time is right. Dhulia is astonishingly good as the man who grabs power and does everything to hold on to it: Ramadhir Singh is a man of his times; he does what he does because that is all he knows how to do.

The leisurely pace,which can get a little trying as you try and figure out exactly why the film keeps darting off to one side,allows Kashyap to flesh out his characters. Piyush Mishra gets the best part he’s done till now,as mentor and keeper-of-an-eye on Sardar: Mishra ages convincingly through the film,with a revelatory glimpse of the purgatory he lives in. Sardar’s sons,played by Vineet Singh and Nawazuddin Siddiqui,feel organically grown within,and the quiet,excellent Pankaj Tripathi,along with the other characters,fills in the rest.

In this world of men,the “womanyias” come and go,either waiting to be pronged by their men,or delaying that pronging by tactics used by canny females the world over. Kashyap has never shown such dexterity before with humour. Gangs is very funny in very many places,and a lot of that bawdy,dripping-with-steamy-desire humour comes from Sardar’s interactions with his women: Nagma (Richa Chadda) as his firebrand wife and Durga (Reema Sen),the other woman,whose scorn proves lethal. More hilarity ensues in the backing and forthing between Sardar’s sons and their girls (Anurita Jha and Huma Qureshi): the small-town essence of wanting and yet not being seen to be too forward is delicious.

But the interludes remain just that. The main action is reserved for the men and their guns,both above and below their waists,and the violence that seesaws between casual and deliberate,often causing you to want to avert your eyes,but almost never feeling gratuitous. The music is wonderful,and the lyrics lovely,though I wasn’t exactly enamoured by the heavy underscoring of each-segment-by-appropriate-song. It feels excessive,and it weighs things down. Just the way the leaden beginning,with its relentless fusillade of bullets,does. Some of the documentary aspects ,where real-life footage is used,slow the pace; and there are other indulgent,slack bits. But these are few off-key things in a film which gets almost everything else right: a terrific sense of time and place and people,fused to fashion a savagely uncompromising cracker of a tale. Anurag Kashyap,the storyteller whose skills are on full display in this film,is back. And that is good news. Now for the second part.

shubhra.gupta@expressindia.com

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