Gangs of Wasseypur….finally! The film was long overdue, but nothing prepared me for it. My friends who had watched it refrained from offering an opinion, but now I know nothing they said would have really mattered.
An epic saga that unfolds at its own leisurely pace. At no point in the film did I have a cathartic moment, no tears fell, even the extreme violence had a dreamlike unreal quality to it. I know very little about the process of film making, but I do know that every creative endeavor needs to be visualized, in detail. The detail in every frame, every scene of GoW (hate the acronym actually, sounds too much like PoW) astounded me. I could barely take it all in, the foreground, mid ground and background, the accents, the expressions, the costumes, the authenticity reflected in small things…and the scene would roll into the next one. And so it went on, obliterating from my mind everything but the narrative I was watching, experiencing. So much so that in the last scene, when Manoj Bajpai was dying in extreme slow motion, I noticed he was rolling atop a cart with ‘building material’ written on it in Denagri. My mind connected building materials to real estate, and then onto Shanghai, in a bid to remember the last impactful movie I saw…..but I could recall nothing of Shanghai at all, not even Abhay Deol! I simply could not get out of Wasseypur!
A few things struck me particularly about the movie. That the lives of each one of us reflects the story of India’s growth (good, bad and ugly) and the story of urbanization. Wasseypur is initially a hamlet outside Dhanbad, with huts outside which people lounge about in charpais. Slowly, as it gets eaten into the growing city, its look and feel changes. Scraggly brick and concrete structures of uneven height, open drains, every house have the street facing rooms converted into shops, workshops. Walk-up apartments as well as gates opening into courtyards. The typical feel of village galis (streets) that grew into more urban lanes. The changing modes of transport, horse and tangas to cycles and jeeps and Ambassador cars. Today, we see this sort of organic growth everywhere.
In these pockets of urbanized hamlets live communities that still retain their identities and culture, nurture old grouses, exhibit particular behavior. Like Wasseypur is a law unto itself and even the police dare not investigate here, there are many Wasseypurs across India where only the rule of the land applies and governance (and all it entails) is swatted away by the locals.
And in this all, the frightening relationship between money and illegal activity (some form of extortion, smuggling, forgery or exploitative brokerage) and money and power. Frightening because of the reality that these are the only options for ambitious people who aren’t lucky enough to be born to parents well off enough to educate you and give you reasonable opportunities. Gangs of Wasseypur highlights this reality in a very naked way. Times change and the opportunity changes, but the exploitation continues. An entire generation of young men and women are being raised in a climate of crime and violence, taking these for granted as the normal ways of life. In the movie, Sardar Khan’s (Manoj Bajpai) sons react very differently to their difficult life, but in the end they all fall in line and join hands with the father in his nefarious activities. There is no sense of the wrongness of any of what they do. It’s normal.
It makes me wonder about us, who live our cloistered lives in larger cities, who shudder at the thought of encountering a beat constable or traffic policeman, leave alone confronting a thug? We daren’t pass judgement on the rights and wrongs of life in Wasseypur, a parody for the thousands of small Indian towns that are coping as best as they can with the onslaught of development, growth, urbanization, change.
The women in the film struck me particularly, their characters admirably strong. Nagma (Richa Chaddha, brilliant and gorgeous!) buys into the dreams of her man, however unreal they seem. She tolerates his weaknesses, yet calls his bluff to his face. The ‘other’ woman Durga (Reemma Sen, sensual), the non-wife, wants his love but wants also to live life at her own terms, ultimately betraying him when he scorns her to go back to Nagma. Both manage to shame and profoundly affect Sardar Khan, but he is a slave to his twins passions of lust and revenge.
The dialogues had punch. Having grown up in the outskirts of Lucknow and having done projects in Eastern UP, I could relate to the language and the accents. People really do speak like that. I heard sniggers every time there were expletives used and I felt like turning around to the teetering groups and telling them that those weren’t put in to give you guys cheap thrills, that’s normal lingo for a lot of people!
I liked the film for its honesty, though it has plenty of blank moments when you feel perhaps the script went astray a bit. It all comes together though, and Part 2 is eagerly awaited. Piyush Mishra’s narration, the eccentric musical score, the exquisite cinematography especially sunsets over the water made up for other minor flaws. For those of you who have not yet watched it, go loaded with patience and don’t carry any devices that tell the time!