three criminal clans in India’s coal country, life is defined by family and
their vendettas. The two are not
mutually exclusive in Anurag Kashyap’s epic Gangs
of Wasseypur (trailer
screens in all its 320 minute glory at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park
family tradition began with Shahid Khan, who robbed British trains while
masquerading as an infamous Muslim dacoit Sultana. Expelled by the real Sultana’s clan, Khan toils
in the Dhanbad coalmines, working for the ruthless Ramadhir Singh. After independence, ownership of the mine is
transferred to the super-connected Singh, who hires Khan as his chief muscle-man. Mindful of Khan’s ambitions to replace him,
Singh arranges his murder, but the foreman’s young son, Sardar, is rescued by his
a boy, Sardar Khan swears vengeance against Singh. As a man, Khan the budding crime lord is in a
position to take it. However, Singh is
shrewd enough to call a temporary truce, while forging a secret alliance with
the heir to his father’s old nemesis, Sultan Qureshi. Distracted by the demands of an increasingly
complicated family, consisting of five sons from two wives (and no divorce),
Khan effectively defers his vengeance to the next generation.
part two, there is a changing of the guard within the Khan family. Leadership duties will fall upon Khan’s
hashish addicted second son, Faizal Khan.
Nobody expects much from the spare heir, least of all his mother, but
when he starts killing, his ferocity makes everyone sit up and take notice.
Wasseypur is truly light years
removed from Kashyap’s last film to find American distribution, The Girl with Yellow Boots. Spanning three generations and seven decades,
it is a big film by any measure. Part
one is a bit slow at times, because of all the grudges and betrayals it must
establish. A dark brooder punctuated by
moments of grandly operatic violence, the tone of the first half could be
described as a provincial Indian Godfather.
the second part segues into Scarface territory,
as Faizal Khan goes medieval on everyone standing in his way. In fact, Wasseypur
steadily builds momentum throughout its daunting five and a half hours,
culminating with two spectacular action sequences, including a hospital
shootout that could hold its own with John Woo’s Hardboiled.
further depth, Wasseypur’s offers
some intriguing social context, such as the post-Raj cronyism and corruption western
audiences rarely see reflected on film. It
is also fascinating to watch Singh use trade unions and his political office to
build a criminal syndicate. Likewise, Wasseypur clearly attributes the Pashtun
Khan organization’s local popularity to their willingness to stand up to the bullying
Qureshi Muslim establishment. Although there
are no traditionally splashy musical numbers in Wasseypur, Kashyap shrewdly uses era-specific Bollywood hits to
help delineate the passage of years for Indian audiences.
Siddiqui’s feral, drug-addled Faizal Khan is all kinds of unsettling. Many viewers will find themselves actively
rooting against his protagonist during the second half. Still, that kind of strong reaction means he
is doing something right. Reema Sen is
also quite the domestic femme fatale as wife #2. Yet, it is Tigmanshu Dhulia, better known as
a screenwriter and director, who delivers the most nuanced supporting turn as
Wasseyrup would be
impressive simply for its ambition, but Kashrup rises to the challenge, staging
some distinctly stylish action sequences and cogently telling a richly
intricate story, based on historical events in the region. It could even lay a claim to being the Great
Indian Crime Story, encompassing multiple generations, ethnic groups, and
religions in its nefarious dealings. Enthusiastically
recommended for fans of high-end gangster films, Gangs of Wasseypur screens again tomorrow (1/24) in Park City and
Saturday (1/26) in Salt Lake as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Labels: Anurag Kashyap, Gangster Films, Indian Cinema, Sundance '13