India’s Bollywood, the largest film industry in the world, has long awaited a crime film that could proudly join the ranks of international crime cinema. Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur is a tour-de-force that chronicles three generations of the Khan family, beset by bloodshed, lust, deception, greed, and vengeance, in an effort to monopolize coal in the town of Wasseypur in post-colonial India. Originally shot as one film in 5 ½ hours, the saga is broken into 2 parts and will finally be released in the US beginning today, after its successful screening at the 2012 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.
The prologue begins in the 1940’s, Wasseypur. Shahid Khan is banished to the neighboring town of Danbhad and works for a coal tycoon who is able to acquire a few coal mines after India’s independence in 1947. Upon overhearing Shahid’s plan to usurp the coal mines, the tycoon double crosses Shahid resulting in his demise. Shahid’s son, Sardar Khan (played by the venerable Manoj Bajpai), vows to avenge his father’s killer and take control of Wasseypur, all while involving his own children in the viscous family business. The film spans over six decades and encompasses mafia control of coal, iron, fishing, and the sociocultural milieu of Wasseypur.
Kashyap is an absolute cinephile and is much influenced by Western film. He has earned his reputation as being the forefront of India’s New Wave, shattering conventional boundaries by making films that are driven by strong scripts, stylish direction, and uncomfortable violence and sexuality that are woefully atypical of Bollywood. Gangs cannot be a better case point. It is filled with raw dialogue, gritty violence and dark humor. His direction offers homage to the best works of Scorsese, Leone, Coppola, and even Tarantino, yet Kashyap instills a taste of Eastern originality.
Much like The Godfather saga (1972 and 1974) and Goodfellas (1990), Gangs of Wasseypur quite tellingly underscores the real human relationships of
very heinous characters, viewing the mafia from the inside-out, which is critical to its plot line and strong character development. We are less concerned by the crimes they commit and more intrigued by the reasons they commit them. The once-odious villains are now men striving to leave something behind in the lawless town of Wasseypur. As one character notes, “This is Wasseypur. Here, even a pigeon flies with one wing, and uses the other to guard his innocence.”
The superb casting is devoid of any Bollywood gimmicks — we are spared King Khan’s melodramatic tears, and romantic couples embracing and dancing in the lush green fields of Switzerland. The film was shot in Bihar (India’s poorest state) and the soundtrack consists entirely of folk music. The men swear, spit, butcher, behead, loot and lie. It is the life they have chosen to stay ahead of poverty; in Wasseypur, it means being a gangster.
While the film will have its critics, bemoaning of its 159 minutes in Part I and 158 minutes in Part II, Gangs is a landmark film for Anurag Kashyap and more importantly, Indian cinema. It is India’s first contribution as a formidable crime drama that will change the expectations of the caliber of films it can produce. A director who once faced great opposition breaking in, Kashyap is now sitting in the front row paving the way for a new Bollywood.
To find the U.S. theater nearest you screening Part I, visit the Official Site below. Part II begins screening on January 23.
Official Site: http://www.cineliciouspics.com/gangs-of-wasseypur/
Rated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes
Cinelicious Pictures will release Part 1 of Gangs of Wasseypur on January 16 for an exclusive one-week-only run at several AMC theaters across the U.S. Part II will release in the same theaters the following week on January 23, also for one week only. In New York City, the full film will play at the prestigious Lincoln Center opening on January 16 for one week.
Gangs has been honored with National Awards, Filmfare Awards, and has also won the Times of India Award for Best Film. It is currently rated 100% by Rotten Tomatoes and is the only Indian film from this decade to make IMDB’s ranking of the Top 250 global films of all-time.