Gangs of Wasseypur
Direction: Anurag Kashyap
Actors: Manoj Bajpayee, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Jaideep Ahlawat
Gangs of Wasseypur is an ambitious, sprawling saga about the coal mining mafia in Bihar. Three generations of Khan men carry on a blood feud that starts in 1941 and will continue in Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2, which is set in contemporary times.
These are men without a moral compass, living in a lawless land. The actors — Jaideep Ahlawat playing Shahid Khan, Manoj Bajpayee playing his son Sardar Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui playing his son Faizal — are terrific. This is undoubtedly Bajpayee's best performance since Bhiku Mhatre in Satya. Sardar Khan has an insatiable appetite for sex and power. He murders with glee. And yet he's charming.
Wasseypur, at least in director Anurag Kashyap's version, brims with such fascinating characters. There's Sardar's firebrand wife, played with a steely gaze by Richa Chadda, who finally just accepts that he will have other lovers and so tells him to eat well, saying, 'Bahar jaake bezati mat karana (Don't go out and disgrace yourself)'. There's Ramadhir, the local strongman who battles the Khan men, played with quiet menace by Tigmanshu Dhulia. Even the minor players, like a gun dealer in Varanasi who looks like he could be a class teacher, are memorable.
The milieu and language is pitch-perfect and enhanced by Sneha Khanwalkar's crackling soundtrack. I also really enjoyed the snatches of humour in between the explosive violence.
Kashyap's material is strong, but there's just too much of it. There is so much plot squeezed into the two-hour-forty-five-minute running time that your head swims. We hardly ever stay with a character long enough to get emotionally invested, and a voice-over clumsily interrupts the story to connect the dots.
At one point, I was so confused that I longed for a master key booklet to the film that outlined the various factions, relationships and rivalries. The narrative also moves constantly between the personal and professional (murder, revenge and thuggery being the main professions). So the film moves from the enmity track to Sardar's mistress and at one point even segues into Sardar's son's Bollywood-inspired romance-over-Ray-Bans fantasy. It's indulgent and much too long.
Gangs of Wasseypur is by turns absorbing and frustrating. Watching it feels like gorging on too much good food, leaving you feeling more exhausted than satiated. But there is enough in the sound and fury to enjoy.
(You can watch Anupama Chopra review the latest releases on The Front Row, every Friday at 8.30 pm on Star World)