Review: Gangs of Wasseypur

Gangs of Wasseypur Poster
Anurag Kashyap had me at the opening scene. A crazy, relentless shower of bullets and bad words shatter a silent house in the middle of a small town. The year is 2004. But before he explains much of that episode, Kashyap and his narrator take you back to 1941, which is where the story of Gangs of Wasseypur and a generationally-inherited family feud was born. Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) poses as a notorious dacoit and loots British trains. Ridden out by the rival Qureshi family, Shahid takes up manual labour in Ramadhir Singh’s (Tigmanshu Dhulia) colliery, the birthplace of a revenge battle that passes on through generations. By now Kashyap had lost me. The zig-zagging timeline, the uni-dimensional aggression, the introduction of numerous characters left me numb.

The action then shifts to a few years later, when Shahid’s son Sardar (Manoj Bajpayee) is all grown up and has made vengeance his life’s mission. All this unfolds in erstwhile Bihar, now Jharkhand, in the lawless region of Dhanbad and in the heartland of Wasseypur’s mafia.

By the time part 1 ends, we are still not back in 2004. That piece of the jigsaw will only be placed in part 2 when Sardar’s sons are believed to take to forefront in the ongoing feud. The middle son Faisal, played pitch perfectly by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, suffers from a kind of Shakespearean trauma and grows up lost in the haze of chillum smoke craving his father’s endorsement. Look out for the courtship scenes between Siddiqui and Huma Qureshi – charming and amusing. Older brother Danish is the more mature and stable one but the glue binding this fragile family is Sardar’s wife, Najma, played superbly by Richa Chaddha. She is smoking and stands head and shoulders with the men in this chauvinistic society. Ahlawat and Dhulia are complete revelations in their parts as well.

The role of Sardar Khan is tailor-made for Bajpayee who owns it the way he did Bhikhu Mhatre in Satya. He manages to blend evil, violence and fear with playful philandering underlined with a tenderness that grips the audience as they journey with this killer protagonist. The scene of the courtship between Sardar and Durga (Reemma Sen) is mischievous and passionate.

Kashyap and his team create a world that is authentic and believable. Though the background score and sound design are intrusive at times, Kashyap brings in a great deal of energy and fun in the way he uses the songs. While the first 45 minutes are a struggle as numerous characters and their connections, times spans and rivalries are established (in spite of the voiceover by Piyush Mishra), the second half is pulsating. The screenplay is correctly interlaced with romance and humour giving respite from the wholesale killing. Yes, this is a movie where it is impossible to keep track of the body count.

Though you may not feel Sardar’s vengefulness or anger, or be convinced by his determination to destroy Ramadhir, you are swept into the lawless world of Wasseypur. And with an inconclusive ending to part one, you exit the theatre wishing for a quick release for the final chapter.

Gangs of Wasseypur is a technical tour de force. Cinematography by Rajeev Ravi, editing by Shweta Venkat Matthew, music by Sneha Khanwalkar, production design by Wasiq Khan, action by Shyam Kaushal and casting by Mukesh Chhabra deserve special mention. Writers Zeishan Qaudri and Kashyap may have been indulgent with a five-and-a-half-hour film, but they use the running time and resources respectfully. As for Kashyap, this is by far his most confident and accomplished work to date.

Rating: ***1/2