Gangs of Wasseypur Part I
aka Gangs of वासेपुर
Written by Akhilesh Jaiswal, Anurag Kashyap, Sachin K. Ladia, Rutvik Oza, and Zeishan Quadri
Directed by Anurag Kashyap
Gangs of Wasseypur is an epic tale of the rise of the mafia in the Wasseypur region and tells of generations of families in conflict. The massive story originally was a single 319 minute film, but has been split into two parts for release, as few theaters would risk a 5+ hour film. The sweeping tale is consistently entertaining, with memorable characters and a fluid storyline that never seems too complicated despite the massive amount of characters, locations, and history of the Wasseypur region (whose history is just as complicated as the Khan-Singh rivalry!)
Anurag Kashyap is the force behind the Gangs of Wasseypur films, directing as well as helping to produce and write. Kashyap had been interested in doing a gang epic for years, and after hearing about the real life gang warfare and rise of the mafia in Wasseypur, he found a tale to tell. The story loosely follows real events, starting just before India’s independence in 1947 and concluding in near modern day. It is essentially a revenge tale, but not in a traditional sense.
The events spanning time show the economic shifts of India modernizing. In the 1940s, wood is the first item of value, then the real power becomes the coal mines. By the 1970s, it’s gasoline that becomes important, and soon after the Khan family is cornering the iron scrap economy, the conflict over this running through the second film. There is even a takeover of fishing rights just as an aside.
The long tale introduces a huge amount of characters as it passes through the decades, as people enter and exit the lives of the Khan family. Each major character gets a title card, and every character is unique with their own personalities, and just who lives and dies and when and where happens as it would in life, with characters you don’t expect dropping away and others suddenly thrust into larger roles. Everything is done in a manner that just feels like you’re watching true events and not a story punched up to be more Hollywood.
Gangs of Wasseypur is not what many think of when they hear it is an Indian film. There are no real musical numbers with fantasy dance sequences. There is plenty of music in the film, all incorporated within the film as part of montages or for cultural significance, the only real musical “numbers” are occasional singing at weddings/funerals, and those aren’t traditional music numbers by a long shot. The realistic incorporation of the soundtrack helps keep the tone of the film grounded in reality. The choices for songs both have thematic significance as well as represent Indian cultural significance of the time. At one point entire families gather together to watch a popular television soap opera, the theme song heard blaring out of tv after tv as characters maneuver through the streets outside. The song speaks of how a mother-in-law was once a daughter-in-law and that things change, and we follow characters throughout their life in Gangs of Wasseypur. I wish I was more familiar with Indian music as the song selections are already genius with my small amount of knowledge.
Really the only drawback is the extensive length of the two films, which almost prevents watching everything in one sitting. Just view it as though you are binge watching a really cool tv series. I’d argue that the second part has a few more flaws with pacing and tone, but it’s relatively minor and overall things are largely consistant.
It’s hard to do a review of such a sweeping story and give it justice, so just assume that this is the abridged abridged version. The prologue in 2004 shows an automatic weapons assault on a family’s home, them holing up in a panic room as the assailants think they’ve killed them, only for the assailants to then be attacked by the police. We then jump back to the 1940s…
Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) begins as a train bandit impersonating a more famous train bandit, drawing the ire of the genuine article. His resulting banishment causes him to work in the coal mines, which means he misses his wife giving birth to his son, Sardar Khan (eventually Manoj Bajpai), which costs the life of his wife. He kills his supervisor in response, and is hired as muscle by the mine owner, Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia). Khan plots to kill Ramadhir and take over, but he is overheard and Singh arranges Khan’s death, but Khan’s servant and film narrator Nasir (Piyush Mishra) escapes with Sardar.
When he learns of his father’s murder years later, Sardar shaves his head and vows to keep it as such until he gets revenge. Sardar finds a wife, Nagma Khatoon (Richa Chadda), and begins building a reputation hijacking coal shipments and eventually gasoline, then moving into the scrap iron trade. He draws conflict with the Qureshi Muslims in the Wasseypur/Dhanbad region, but a big firebombing blitz cements him as a local leader. Sardar Khan’s activities interfere with Ramadhir Singh’s enough to gain his attention, and he realizes this is the son he thought was killed long ago. Sardar spends some time in jail due to the conflict, and upon release takes a second wife, fathering a son with her.
Sardar’s older sons from his first wife begin joining the story. Danish and Faizal Khan grow into the actors Vineet Kumar Singh and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Danish begins to be groomed to take over the family empire. Faizal is more of a disappointment. As a child he witnesses his mother and Nasir doing something shameful, and becomes disillusioned and withdrawn. As an adult, he’s never seen without a pipe and a cloud of marijuana smoke, walking in a daze.
Danish falls for Shama Parveen (Anurita Jha), who is the sister of Qureshi Muslims enforcer Sultan, often employed by Ramadhir Singh for his dirty jobs. It is hoped that the marriage between the two will bring some peace to the warring sides, and it almost does. Almost.
Things end with a bang as the peace isn’t kept, and the cycle of violence will continue in Wasseypur to only get worse.
Richa Chadda’s Nagma Khatoon is one of the most interesting female characters I’ve seen in an Indian films. Nagma is introduced as a quiet girl of 16, but soon becomes a force in the Khan family, raising her sons to grow into future gang leaders and taking care of business and the home when her husband is in jail. She is not afraid to track down her husband at a whorehouse and read him the riot act. She eventually puts up with Sardar’s philandering, but doesn’t want him to do anything to shame the family, but that promise is also broken when he takes a second wife. Nagma’s frustrated dismay upon hearing the news is heartbreaking, and her character only gets better in Part II
The main focus is on shorn-headed Sardar Khan, who plots revenge while building up a massive power base, often at the expense of his rival Singh. What time he spends not building power and plotting, he’s spending having sex, both with his wife, random women, and eventual second wife. While revenge is his goal and his shaved head a daily reminder, he never really seems like he’s directly working towards the goal. His long term revenge plan could have easily been derailed had Ramadhir Singh had a heart attack or something. There is a cute bunch of scenes as Sardar Khan seduces his eventual second wife Durga (Reema Sen) while she does chores. Sardar jumps between determined to vindictive to cute to disgusting while keeping everything grounded in a film filled with characters with odd quirks. The scene where Faizal and Mohsina(Huma Qureshi) meet and suddenly turn into a movie sequence where both are wearing aviator sunglasses and just looking super cool movie stars is fun and plays on her cinema-obsessed personality.
There are several montage sequences that jump us forward in time and also let us know what the family is up to in regards to making money and tossing in the newest characters and plot arcs. The opening firefight brings the tension immediately, only hurt by us not knowing who any of the characters are. The final action scene both is similar to a famous scene in The Godfather, but also distinctly Gangs of Wasseypur.
Rated 9/10 (coal time, train robber, train to rob, independence, Eshaan Qureshi, J.P. Singh, scarves are in this year, Danish, gun seller killer)
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