When the writers of Mirzapur, the latest Indian original series on Amazon Prime, were writing the show, they travelled across Uttar Pradesh. Karan Anshuman, Puneet and Vineet Krishna wanted to tell a story about two innocent young men and their fight for survival and power in the hostile and volatile hinterland. They learned about the local mannerisms and set-up, how desi kattas (local guns) are made, carpet production and picked up on a few local urban legends along the way. “One of them was about two young middle-class brothers who got into a situation and the only way they could get through it was by turning to violence. They made sure that they were never spoken down to again,” says Anshuman. This inspired the characters of the two brothers Guddu (Ali Fazal) and Bablu (Vikrant Massey) in the show. “We also met a body-builder whose sole aim was to get big and he did not hesitate to make compromises with his health to do so. His dedication was shocking. Fazal’s character is also inspired by him,” adds Anshuman.
Since its release on November 16, Mirzapur has met with mixed reviews, polarising audiences who, in the last decade, have been steadily fed a diet of testosterone-filled narratives from the hinterland: Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur I and II set the tone and template for the genre, and inspired several takes on it. It is often believed that one cannot make such a film without casting Nawazuddin Siddiqui or Pankaj Tripathi. In Mirzapur, Tripathi plays a mafia lord who uses his carpet manufacturing business as a front to hide his actual trade in illegal arms.
Tripathi is joined by Fazal, Massey, and Divyendu Sharma, who plays his son. “We wanted the characters to have a kind of innocence. Ali, Vikrant and Divyendu brought that to the part. There is a dark side to them but there is also a vulnerability and relatability. We really wanted the audience to root for them,” says Gurmeet Singh, who has co-directed (with Karan Anshuman) the series. Mirzapur also features feisty female characters played by Shriya Pilgaonkar, Shweta Tripathi and Rasika Dugal. “It’s a challenge to write strong and empowered female characters in a patriarchal small-town setting. We wanted the women in this world to speak for themselves, have agency, make decisions, counter the men at the right time and come out on top in their own way,” says Anshuman, who wrote the show as an homage to the old Westerns of the ’70s.
Anshuman and Singh, having previously worked together on Inside Edge — which is nominated for the 46th International Emmy Awards — are thoroughly enjoying the digital space. “The format allows us to explore everything in much more detail, whether it is the life of the locals, how romance or jealousy blossoms and human relationships. That’s the central focus of the show,” says Singh. “With every show, we are learning and trying to break boundaries,” says Anshuman, who is currently working on the second season of Inside Edge.