Monday, 25 June 2012

'Gangs of Wasseypur': Epic, Beautiful and Disjointed

At a Q&A following the UK premier of 'Gangs of Wasseypur' at the London Indian Film Festival 2012, the film's mercurial director Anurag Kashyap was asked why he routinely took the road less travelled when it came to making movies.

Kashyap was emphatic in his response, saying that he enjoyed making things difficult for himself.
'Gangs' is a classic case in point: a hugely ambitious, 7-hour epic some 4 years in the making and one which marries myriad storylines and themes and featuring a cast of nearly 400 different characters.

So, does a cornucopia of cinematic elements make a movie great?
Contrary to how the film was described prior to its release, 'Gangs' is not about Bihar's notorious coal mafia, although the highly organized criminal network that stole vast quantities of coal from state-owned mines in the impoverished state  features prominently in the backdrop to the saga.

Instead it is first and foremost a sprawling revenge drama.
And as with all familial sagas, the plot - as such - is terrifically long-winded to define in a paragraph, let alone an elongated sentence.

In a nutshell, it all starts back in 1941 and the rivalry between two families - from two distinct sects of Islam - over supremacy in the coal pilfering business.  
Tigmanshu Dhulia plays Ramadhir Singh, a coal mine owner and gang lord who falls out with his henchman Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat).

After Shahid is murdered, his son Sardar (Manoj Bajpayee) vows revenge.
That oath of vengeance is the central theme of the movie: the blackening, sullying soot that engulfs everyone from the coal miners and henchmen to the mine bosses and politicians proving a fitting metaphor for the crippling desire for vengeance that consumes and slowly destroys the families involved.

'Gangs' is about ordinary people but the cast is anything but ordinary.

Manoj Bajpayee is manifestly one of the finest actors of his generation and as Sardar, he is sensational, marrying a slightly disturbing goofiness with a murderous hostility, superbly moving from uncertain lover to snarling killer and back again.

In one scene, he stabs a rival before stepping back, childishly jumping up and down, uncertain as to how he should continue before gleefully stabbing the man repeatedly.  In another he travels through the streets of Wasseypur, publicly and very affably threatening Ramadhir Singh with myriad painful reprisals.
It is truly a career defining performance.

The support cast is uniformly excellent: in particular the amazing Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Richa Chadda as Sardar's son Faizal and wife Nagma respectively.

Siddiqui is a delight as the brooding heir apparent, his every movement and expression painstakingly deliberate and nuanced.  Chadda is at the opposite end of the scale: an uninhibited feminine force of nature lashing out with unconcealed rage at her less than heavenly lot in life.
The actors have plenty to play with.

The script by Kashyap, Zeishan Quadri, Sachin Ladia and Akhilesh is outstanding, delivering regular doses of immensely entertaining verbal volleys.

The one-liners are tremendous as well: "I'm going to insert a barbed wire in your rectum and fly you like a kite!" is a personal favourite, notwithstanding the fact that this particular use of barbed wire was a method of torture preferred by the Sri Lankan government against communist insurgents in the late 1980's.
The brutality and the bloodletting is uncompromising and is juxtaposed with moments of tenderness and romance and humour that lend the movie a compelling authenticity.

That authenticity is further enhanced by the film's delightful background score.
Composed by 29-year-old Sneha Khanwalker and Piyush Mishra, the music of 'Gangs' features a vibrant collection of devotional folk songs that pitch perfectly frame each pivotal moment of the narrative, lending urgency to some and emotion to others.

Faizal's courtship of Mohsina is curiously tinged with Bollywood melodrama and is one of the higlights of the film, alongside an hilarious yet disturbing encounter between a police officer investigating a murder and the butchers responsible for chopping up the murdered man.  Each moment is rendered with a sparkling musical accompaniment.

Aside from plenty of those moments, 'Gangs' is resplendent with various themes: from love and religion to colonialism and corruption.

And each of the moments has been crafted with plenty of care.  In fact, Kashyap's main strength lies in his meticulous attention to detail.  He is a slave to his craft.
The opening scene is an astonishing, 9-minute long sequence shot in one take.

The plethora of different elements however is the film's primary weakness.

Entertaining though it is, there is a lack of cohesion to the film not helped by its' length.

A narrator - Piyush Mishra - helps explain who's who and what's what but the story is disjointed, muddled and unnecessarily so. 
'Gangs' is hugely entertaining, a fine riposte to the tedious, conveyor-belt of cinema that Bollywood has become but Kashyap seems to have ventured too far to the other end of the spectrum.
How typical of him.
- Viji Alles

1 comment:

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