Gangs of Wasseypur I

Chandigarh based Vijendra Trighatia is a film buff and writes extensively on cinema.

Vijendra Trighatia

If one has led an eventful life then by the time one reaches my age there is enough accumulation of experiences to which one can associate with when encountered with new and different ones. Circa 1982-83, we had gone to the Union Territory’s Guest House to meet Chandrashekhar, one of the most enigmatic characters of the then Indian political scenario. The meeting with him was short and sweet but we got to meet and interact with some other polticos too. One was Rani Jethmalani. Man, her pictures do not do her any justice whatsoever. A very attractive woman! Another was Subodh Kant Sahay, an ex Patna University student leader, who has managed to survive in the political jungle till today. Since student politics was a common bond between us he was sweet enough to mingle for a while and treat our group of cocky youngsters to cold drinks. We were sipping on our Campas when he called out to a gentleman who was quietly chatting with a couple of guys and introduced him to us. It was my first and the only meeting with Surya Deo Singh. I was a bit surprised to meet the unassuming man who was the unquestioned Don of Dhandbad. Soft spoken, humble and polite to a fault he did not in any way indicate the deadly background he came from. As I realized later on, men like him are difficult to judge on absolute moral values. Reactions to his kind of personalities often border on extreme on both ends. He was a Robin Hood to a large section of people who still continue to bestow their patronage to his surviving family. However the police record, journalist’s reports and legends of his brutal and blood spotted political career tell a different story. Irrespective of the loud disclaimers, Gangs of Wasseypur draws parallels from the lives of the Mafiosi of the coal belt. Suryo Deo Singh succeeded B P Sinha as the unchallenged boss of the Dhanbad criminal circuit after having him shot in his own drawing room. After the bullets were fired, if I recall correctly, in the rendition of the killing in the Illustrated weekly the exact words were “Sinha was dead before the first drops of the expensive whiskey he was sipping fell on the carpet”. Guns and goons always fascinate youngsters and we were no exception. Anurag Kashyap has suddenly revived those old memories.

I enjoyed the movie which takes off a bit like the Doordarshan documentary of the yore which is made tolerable only by the rasping narration of that genius Piyush Mishra. The historical narrative was really unnecessary and could have been dramatically played out in a shorter frame. It not only prolonged the movie but also delayed the development of the main plot, speaking of which I was a tad disappointed. A movie is an audio visual narration of a story. It needs to be different from a television serial. GOW’s progress is more of a series of interesting episodes rather than a firm plot. It’s another matter that Kashyap has managed to pull it off but at the end of it all one does start wondering about what one has just watched. There is a heavy emphasis on blood and gore and even heavier on profanities under the garb of realism. Oh yes, it had the audience freaking out especially when it’s the female character mouthing them. Of late there have been a spate of movies, all relating to the Indo Gangetic Plain, which have freely used the vernacular color to the language more as a shock value rather than depiction of common conversation. I am certainly not a prude but I do shudder to think of what would be the end product if the Punjabi movie makers were to follow suit. Poor Santa and Banta are like soap water to this strong refresher course in abuses. But picture abhi baaki hai dost! The second part, of which a long trailer is shown after the end credits, promises to raise the bar further. And that also brings me to the concept of two part movies. It would be great fun if a saga is played out in different time periods but then each part has to be complete in itself. GOW fails here. Just when you thought things were getting interesting you are left dangling with a promise for more. The extended climax was needless and not in sync with story line that you were following. Maybe redemption follows in the next part.

So what makes the movie work? For one it remains faithful to the milieu it is woven around. The spoken language, never mind the ear scorching expletives, does immense credit to the script writer. There is complete irreverence to the gross violence which is offset by the quirky and earthy humour. Extensively shot on location, the background of small towns, ordinary faces caught in extraordinary circumstances and racy dialogues combine to form an interesting potpourri. Mercifully the politicians and the gangsters have not been caricatured. The protagonists are the ordinary daal bhaat variety (okay, meat bhaat too), loving husbands and carnal adventurers who seek to justify every action as a fait accompli or divinely decreed. And that sets Anurag Kashyap apart as leading the pack of parallel cinema makers. He manages to combine high drama and recognizable realism. The other makers of gangster sagas in Bollywood (read Ram Gopal Verma) have never been able to get over their obsession with the Godfather series so I am particularly delighted at the prospect of developing our own cult series and I do hope it goes beyond the revenge theme.

The performances are power packed without exception. Manoj Bajpayee sizzles as the revenge seeking ordinary driver turned ganglord and his understated approach to the role is near perfect. Tigmanshu Dhulia dons the actor’s mantle to portray the character based on Surya Deo Singh and acquits himself as the calculating Mafiosi pretty effectively. The honors however must go to Richa Chadda for her feisty portrayal of Manoj Bajpayee’s strong headed wife who reluctantly accepts his philandering ways. She brought the house down when she exhorts him to eat well lest he “under performs” on his nocturnal trysts. Classic one liners like this keep the viewers interest alive just when the play begins to drag a little. I have to spare a few lines for Piyush Mishra. Maybe it’s a little premature to say so but for once I am going to stick my neck out and dare to compare him with the all round mad genius of Kishore Kumar. This man is extraordinary. A writer, singer and an actor to boot !! I first saw, nay experienced his genius in Gulaal and was completely taken in by the force of his talent. GOW only further strengthens my belief that we are witnessing the unfolding of a legend. Like the great Kishore, he too does not respect any boundaries to his creative abilities. Just take time out to read his lyrics (for Gulaal as well as GOW) and you will see what I mean. There have been attempts to compare Kashyap with Tarantino which I would think is an insult to our boy. The only movie that makes Tarantino worthy is “Inglorious Bastards”. But I have to admire him for the music selection for his films. And that is where he is comparable to our laddie. The music of GOW, so rustic in the Bhojpuri flavor, is a delight. I wonder if you have ever heard names like Sneha Khanwalkar, the Musahar of Sundarpur, Ranjeet Baal Party & Manish Tiwari. They are the guys who bring the tradition of minstrels of Bihar & UP alive. While Piyush Mishra transports you right back to the 50s with his soulful “Ik bagal” the catchy beats of “Hunter” and “O Womaniya” will have your feet tapping. And then there is the highly unusual “Bhaiyya” and “Tain tain tu tu” which are just rhythmic beats, at best a Bhojpuri trance fusion. Awesome stuff but everyone is going to talk about the risqué “Keh ke loonga”. If you can ignore the double entendre it is going to ring in your ears for a long time to come. I already have the entire album and am a repeat listener.

My write up is threatening to become as long as the movie itself but then that is the kind of effect Kashyap has on you. There is so much to like and/or criticize and so less to ignore. Kashyap is going to be liked by some and hated by others but he is never going to be ignored. Way to go!