Even Gangsters Need to Eat
Co-written and directed by Anurag Kashyap, this film will probably propel the filmmaker into the ranks occupied by the likes of Coppola and Scorsese in crafting Mafia styled epics, filled with the themes of brotherhood, revenge, betrayal, sex and violence. Showcased at this year's Cannes Directors' Fortnight with its sequel screened back to back, Kashyap has brought forth a sprawling, three generation span long tale of the titular Gangs of the coal mining town, where three crime families battle one another for infamy, riches and power supremacy.
And what he had done to provide some gravitas to this tale, was a semi-documentary look at its background against the town of Wasseypur, where we witness how the wheelings and dealings between shady businessmen and their workers, and how some become politicians through bullying, gangster tactics, the laundering of money, and eventually buying support to ascend the political ladder. It's an intriguing commentary about, by extension, the country's state of affairs, and how some can grow influence through the use of hired muscles out to do their dirty work, for the duration of their useful lifespan, before being discarded.
Beginning in explosive fashion with a full assault on a property, key figures get introduced, but only to keep things under wraps until the companion film in Part 2. We then get brought back to the 40s Wasseypur and Dhanbad land, where the British found themselves up against the formidable forces of the Qureshis , only for Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) to impersonate their mysterious leader, pre-empt their attacks and undercut the Qureshis in their own game. Soon the Khans got exiled, only for Shahid to be brought back to Wasseypur when Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia), a rich, corrupt industrialist, needed a muscle man to help in his exploitation of workers. But jealously meant Ramandhir's orders to get rid of Shahid, and thus opening up the feud to the second generation, led by Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpai) who is hell bent on revenge.
But in a tragi-comedy sort of way, the character of Sardar is somewhat tough on the outside with his ruthlessness, but all soft and fuzzy inside with his libido being lacking in control, with first wife Nagma (Richa Chadda) being relatively tolerant of his gallivanting ways only because she gets pregnant too easily, and the introduction of a Bengali girl Durga (Reema Sen) whom he met while on the run. This sets up the third generation of cast with Sardar's sons Danish (Vineet Singh) and Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), with a hint on what's to come disrupt his family dynamics with illegitimate son Definite, entering the picture, whom we'll see more of in the next film whose trailer gets airtime right after the end credits.
On the other corner are the heir of the Qureshis in Ehsaan (Vipin Sharma) and Sultan (Pankaj Tripathy), who are caught in the middle with their alliance with Ramandhir, and the marriage of Sultan's sister Sharma (Amirota Jha). And what makes it interesting in the entire male dominated world, is the story of the women behind the men, as seen from the major character arcs on Sardar's family involved in romance of some sort, playing critical roles in defining the male characters and contrasting them in both their private and public lives, and instrumental especially in the final scene, and going into the next film.
It might be overwhelming at first with a myriad of characters being introduced, but Kashyap got his presentation all under control like an old hand, bringing on new characters with proper title flashes, and providing adequate screen time for each to establish his or her backstory. This wonderfully crafts out motivations and characteristics of each family member, especially between the sons of Sardar, who will all play pivotal roles in the sequel, since the very first scene here would have shown each of them under different camps, and teasing us with just how allegiances would play out with family members now standing under different banners. Part of the engagement now would be to develop the narrative to reach the inevitable, and with the ensemble set up, the possibilities are endless.
And as such, Gangs of Wasseypur has its fair share of surprises thrown about, where those slighted will almost always come back with a vengeance. Revenge may be high on Sardar's agenda, but there's a permeating poetic justice that provides a cruel twist of irony, with the narrative rich enough to allow various subplots to populate the story and to add a vivid texture to the characters instead of letting them become one dimensional characters. It's a sprawling epic that called upon the best of Bollywood sans the usual Masala formula, to showcase the skills, craftsmanship and talent in the industry that are capable of making a serious, critically acclaimed film with commercial appeal. Definitely highly recommended, although I'm reserving judgement until Part 2 when the film is complete. If you haven't watched an Indian film for some time already, if at all, then make Gangs of Wasseypur your launch point now.