Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Gangs of Wasseypur: Visceral revenge saga
Anurag Kashyap’s revenge saga “Gangs of Wasseypur” starts off in the most innocuous way — a shot of actress Smriti Irani opening the door and inviting the audience in with a beaming smile. It’s a scene millions of viewers are familiar with, thanks to the popularity of the soap, but definitely not something you’d expect to see in the first frame of a revenge drama.
Such incongruous scenes and unexpected surprises pop up regularly during the 2.5-hour-long film. Kashyap uses a tongue-in-cheek approach to tell his story, pairing it with searing imagery, a couple of history lessons and the edgiest characters you will see on screen for some time.
But don’t blame yourself if the first 30 minutes of this film seem like a blur. Kashyap crowds it with so many characters, their back stories and so much history, that you won’t know who’s who. Eventually you will realise that this is a revenge saga centring around Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee), whose only aim in life is to avenge his father’s death at the hands of coal mine owner Ramadhir Singh (played by Tigmanshu Dhulia).
The story starts before Sardar’s birth, establishes his past and then chronicles his life, including a turbulent married life, and his rise as the “bahubali” (strong man) of Wasseypur, a mining town in Jharkhand.
His rivalry with the Qureshis, who are the butchers of Wasseypur, and Ramadhir form the crux of the story, but Kashyap also devotes ample time to the two women in Sardar’s life — his two wives and the messy family equations his marriages create. Both Richa Chaddha and Reemma Sen are exceptional in their roles as the feisty wives of the protagonist.
Rajeev Ravi’s camera captures the dirt and grime of coal mines with such intensity that you might imagine yourself covered in soot. Kashyap makes sure the first half of the film doesn’t lose its pace, keeping you hooked. There is an occasional sprinkling of Bollywood dialogue (perfectly timed) and some edgy music by Sneha Khanwalkar which lend to the tone of the film.
In the second half though, the film loses steam and Sardar’s mission to finish Ramadhir Singh takes a back seat, and he chooses to give up his life of crime and take up fishing instead. Why he does this is not very clear, and with that plot point, the film loses its way.
The performances across the board are brilliant, but Bajpayee and Pankaj Tripathi as Sultan the butcher stand head and shoulders above the rest of the ensemble cast. Tripathi has more to do in the second part of the film and that alone is a reason for watching it.
Kashyap channels his inner Tarantino and succeeds in Indianising him a great deal, but the first 20 minutes and the second half are weak points in what is otherwise a brilliant film. Of course, this isn’t the end of the matter, and part two of this saga is supposed to be up for release soon. Until then, if you can stomach it, watch “Gangs of Wasseypur“.