The illustrious exponents of the gangster genre are Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Francis Ford Coppola. Now you can add Anurag Kashyap to the club.
Gangs of Wasseypur is a sprawling gangster epic, a crime saga, a detailed chronicle of revenge, a non-stop relentless assault on the senses. It spans 3 generations over 7 decades with a runtime of 5 hours and 20 mins split into 2 parts. Me and my brave wifey did the impossible – we watched both parts back to back. Originally, I thought my missus wouldn’t be able to take it all in at one go but when part 1 ended she declares, “Let’s do it”. I sincerely believe that’s the way GoW should be devoured – in one sitting. It just works amazingly well as 1 single 5+-hour movie with a short toilet/snack break in the middle.
I will dispense with a synopsis because I really find writing synopsis the most boring part of a review because I can’t wait to delve into the merits (or sucky parts) of any film. But seriously, in the case of GoW, I don’t know how to do it. It has 4 distinct yet overlapping narrative threads with the revenge theme as the rind that holds everything together. Giving a passable synopsis will take too many needless words. Instead, I rather tell you what it did for me.
GoW is one audacious film. It would certainly spell career suicide for the director if any one narrative thread fails to hit its mark and to even attempt it on screen is mind-blowing. I have a vision that Anurag Kashyap has a giant board on a wall where he runs threads everywhere because even remote scenes that last a few minutes in part 1 becomes the anchor of important scenes in part 2. Kashyap also has a take-it-or-leave-it attitude with his storytelling – he doesn’t let the scenes breathe, doesn’t let scenes unfold at a comfortable pace. Many of the initial scenes in the first hour have shots that never linger a second longer than its welcome. Important characters parachute in with a freeze frame and a placard proclaim the fella’s name. And how about this for an attitude – right at the final 30min, a major character gets thrust into the story! The whole film is very tightly plotted. In the first hour I made the mistake of not giving respect to the film and allow myself to be distracted for a few minutes. WTF I was lost and needed some quick clarification from my wife. On paper it looks like it is one crazy movie that wouldn’t work but the surprising thing is that it worked remarkably well.
IMHO the reason the movie works so well is because of first and foremost the brilliant cast. Part 1’s central figure is Sarda Khan (Manoj Bajpayee). He is a slimeball, an A1 asshole. He treats his 2 women like dirt and his 5 sons worse. Sarda vows that he will only let his hair grow out after he has avenged his father by killing Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia). At the end of his arc, he remains bald, not because he has no chance to kill Ramadhir. It’s because by then he has let power and greed consumed him and he figured that tormenting Ramadhir is a better revenge. Revenge movies seldom allows their character to grow and everything is characterized by whether the revenge is finally undertaken. The fascinating thing with Sarda is not just the revenge element but that he is a God awful slimeball, a terrible husband and a total narcissist. He can throw homemade bombs in crowded places and kills someone with a ice-pick in broad daylight, but yet acts like a mouse with his woman. You will hate him but you will also feel for him. Manoj Bajpayee’s portrayal of Sarda Khan is absolutely compelling, illuminating and all around him becomes blurry. Part 2’s main dude is Faizal Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Sarda Khan’s weed smoking son. His broody mien is riveting and he owns every scene he is in. Like his father, he is a mouse with his object of desire but absolutely no holds-barred when it comes to taking a life. An truly amazing actor. The film that got me noticing him is Kahaani but GoW will make people remember him. It’s not just these 2 main actors that are awesome, everybody plays their role outstandingly. I particularly love the master manipulator, Ramadhir. He has a brilliant monologue in part 2 where he expounds on why he has survived until now. The reason is he doesn’t watch Bollywood movies which will dilute his drive and inject the dreaded romanticism into him. I thought that is brilliant.
The other element that made GoW stand out is the visual style. Right from the opening sequence, the camera work makes me an on-site observer and even a participator in a mass assassination attempt. I love the shots of the slum-town. Brilliantly shot and all the rustic and grittiness really enveloped me. There is also a never-ending shot of Faizal escaping an assassination attempt that was fantastic. Technically not easy because the shot even had him leaping across to a different building – impressive. History is as important as the story and I love how the film uses articles, movies of its time, household items, posters etc to situate the story within the historical context. The music is also cool – The songs and tunes that use a range of musical influences like folk, rock, pop, electronica and even reggae. Even the music score is solid, bringing montages to hit you at a higher level.
Though awesome in its scope, GoW is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not because of just the runtime (which is the least of its presumed impediments) but the unapologetic hyper-violence. If you have a strong stomach for violence, I urge you to join the fraternity of cinephiles who have watched this epic – to me, all who have seen this and love it are my brothers! I probably can write another thousand words to tell you how superb this is but what you probably want to know is whether it is a cohesive piece of work. The answer is ‘it depends’ but I can tell you I wouldn’t shave a single minute off from this epic. Anurag Kashyap has crafted a crime epic that has pushed the Cinema of Bollywood to a new exhilarating frontier.
Trailer for GoW 1