By now it goes without saying that any film from Anurag Kashyap is eagerly awaited especially by people who are fond of middle of the road cinema. So it’s no surprise that his latest film, Gangs of Wasseypur (GOW from here on) has also been in the news right from day one. Among the various elements that kept the interest alive in the film- talks of the film being based on the coal mafia in Bihar/Jharkhand, being inspired from ‘Subramaniapuram’, the film eventually turning out to be of more than 5 hours duration, hence prompting a theatrical release in 2 parts etc etc were keenly observed and reported. All said and done there’s no doubt about GOW being one of the most eagerly awaited Hindi films of 2012.
But with the release date approaching I don’t know why I also started dreading the prospect of the movie not really living up to the expectations. Anyways it was clear that as usual it was left to me to watch and decide for myself whether the film works or not and in the process try to analyze the film as well. Well to start with GOW is a film that spans 6 decades. Part 1 chronicles the saga from 1941 to the mid 90’s (though the opening act starts off in 2004, indicating the scheme of things for Part 2). In the early 1940’s we see Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) looting the British trains transporting food grains, by impersonating the legendary Sultana Daku. After an unexpected turn of events Shahid becomes an outcast and hence starts working at Ramadhir Singh’s coal mines.
As Ramadhir Singh sees a potential threat in the form of Shahid Khan, he gets him bumped off in an interesting fashion. And that’s when Shahid Khan’s son Sardar Khan swears revenge and the plot thickens from there on. So the rest of the film picks up from the 1960’s and moves right till the 1990’s where we see the rise of Sardar Khan (Manjoj Bajpai) as he goes on to become the driving force in Wasseypur. In sharp contrast we also see Ramadhir Singh’s ( Tigmanshu Dhulia ) ways of remaining in the spotlight, be it through financial or political muscle. The writers Anurag Kashyap, Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh and Sachin Ladia have woven around a tale that comfortably moves past the timelines.
The opening act of the film is arresting enough and spells out the rules of the game clearly. But what ensues from thereon for the next half an hour or so is sheer madness if I can say so. Things move rapidly and locations change dramatically with character changes happening side by side. This is the phase when one needs to be most attentive as otherwise it can get a bit difficult to place characters and proceedings later on. There is a lot of care given to detailing and chronicling events and the history of Wasseypur and surroundings. So right from the start when we get to see how Wasseypur and Dhanbad got developed and kept getting territorially re-aligned from Bengal to Bihar ( and later Jharkhand ), we also are witness to the way the coal industry creates an impact on the people across strata as well.
There’s a slightly washed out look throughout the film which essentially gives you the feeling of watching a 70’s film which I guess was deliberate and it works. The opening credits are a delight and deliberately done in a fashion that reminds you of old newsreels/documentaries. With a plethora of characters who keep showing up ever so often in the film it’s certainly not an easy task to provide justice to most of them. But kudos to Anurag Kashyap for ensuring that most of the characters are fleshed out reasonably well. Even some of the smaller characters do get noticed and in an ensemble film, it’s commendable indeed.
In terms of impactful moments the film is filled with them. Like for instance when Sardar Khan and his associated run to get into a car and Sardar almost in a mock competing tone says ‘me first, me first’ while getting in. Or take the initial moments where Sardar and Durga (Reema Sen) literally play around their mutual attraction for each other to perfection. Now that’s humour but with a lot of subtleness. Even in the 2nd half the interesting moments continue like when Sardar catches hold of an absconding rapist duo and forces one of them to watch his companion getting slaughtered, the intensity in the eyes of Manoj Bajpai is to be seen to believe. Even Nawazuddin Siddiqui gets a fitting moment to cherish in the form of the scene where he is trying to enjoy a romantic riverside date with Huma Qureshi and she admonishes him.
In terms of the detailing things are very much in control and spot on. Whether it’s the 1940’s, 60’s, 70’s or 80’s one can almost visualize the era when the film passes through the respective time zone. Be it the graffiti on the walls, the currency notes, the Bollywood song references (check out the Kasam Paida Karnewali Ki title song usage :) ) or even ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ on T.V, all of them are well made use of. Throughout the film you cannot but feel an overwhelming influence of ‘The Godfather’ and this is something you take away long after the movie gets over. In its own peculiar way you also feel the influence of Scorsese, Tarantino and even Tamil filmmakers like Sasikumar and Ameer ( the opening credits mention a tribute to Bala, Ameer and Sasikumar ) but that doesn’t take away the point of the film having its own foundation.
Rajeev Ravi’s camera work by now has gained a lot of attention through his past work and here in GOW too he doesn’t disappoint at all. The riot of colours in Wasseypur (check out the contrasting dark and bright shades in the mutton market areas) or the grey frames in the beginning of the film (in the 40’s and 50’s) or even the way the interiors are shot, all of them look distinct from each other. Sneha Khanwalkar’s music had already started making a mark before the release of the film and the songs definitely do make an impression. Similar to Dev D the songs keep erupting rapidly but do not distract our attention beyond a momentary time frame. G.V.Prakash Kumar’s background score is impressive and considering this is his 1st major Hindi film and with no connection to the milieu at all it’s a good example of a filmmaker having managed to get his desired output.
GOW will certainly mark a significant chapter in the filmography of Manoj Bajpai. A don who’s at one moment jovial, the other moment horny and some other moment menacing, Sardar Khan is a man with various shades to himself and Manod Bajpai has more than done justice to the film. Tigmanshu Dhulia as Ramadhir Singh is wonderfully effective and one wonders why he hasn’t been made to act in films all this while. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Faizal, the 2nd son of Sardar Khan and Nagma (Richa Chadda ) begins on a slightly languid note in the 2nd half but as the film draws to a close you know that there’s more to come from him in the 2nd half. The supporting cast also comprises of some wonderful performances and of these it’s Pankaj Tripathi as Sultan, the butcher who impresses the most. Be it in the scene at Ramadhir Singh’s house when he is so humble and in reverence of Ramadhir or when his sister is getting married and his pent up fury is very clearly apparent, his performance stands out.
Piyush Mishra and Jameel Khan who play the trusted lieutenants to Sardar Khan are good too. Though essentially a male centric film the women do leave an impact in their own ways. Richa Chadda as Nagma is a fiery woman who speaks her mind and is someone whom even Sardar is afraid of. Reema Sen doesn’t get much too much once the romance between her and Manoj Bajpai gets underway. Huma Qureshi and Anurita Jha do not get much scope but should find more presence in part 2.
But in spite of all this the film is certainly uneven and there are so many characters and situations that you are left wondering whether there has been an overkill of sorts. You are even left wondering why Sardar Khan actually had to take so much time to go about completing his mission. For someone who even shaves his head off swearing revenge, you wonder what happened to all that fire in between. Hopefully this angle would also be covered somewhere in Part 2. Also I somehow get this uneasy feeling that this was a story that needed to be told in complete to get a total comprehension of the same. Whether it could have not been compressed into a 3-3 ½ hour single film and made more impact is the question on my mind ever since I saw the film.
In the coming days there’s going to be a lot of debate for sure on GOW as no matter what the commercial response to the film, it’s a film that certainly deserves a discussion. As the film ends on a fantastic note (the end is applause worthy) I am left wanting more and in anticipation of the 2nd Part. In a small way probably this is a victory of sorts for Anurag and his team.
Note- Pls stay back till the end credits so that you may get to watch the trailer of part 2 which is by far one of the best Hindi film promos in recent times.