Tuesday, August 21, 2012

GANGS OF WASSEYPUR: MOVIE REVIEW



Cast: Manoj Bajpai, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Richa Chadda, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Zeishan Quadri, Pankaj Tripathi, Huma Qureshi, Piyush Mishra, Reemma Sen, Yashpal Sharma, Aditya Kumar
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Runtime: 320 min.
Verdict: For the most part a squandered opportunity. But there are moments that give me hope.
Genre: Drama, Crime, Comedy

(Note: I lump together part 1 and part 2, partly because that is how they ought to be judged and partly because makes my job easier. I watched the first part this Saturday night (18th August) and watched the second part the next morning (19th August), in what is my attempt at approximating the experience of those folks down at Cannes. I like to think I succeeded. But for clarity, I shall be specifying the part the moment is from, addressing the first part as opening half and the second part as the second half.)

                Consider one of part II’s opening moments, where Fazlu comes running up the stairs to the terrace to wake up a doped Faizal Khan (Mr. Siddiqui) , informing him of his father Sardar Khan’s (Mr. Bajpai) killing. It is one single shot with no cut. Fazlu climbs, shouts, and Faizal wakes up to the utter dizziness of it all. I tell you, Mr. Siddiqui is some actor. So, Faizal wakes, rushes to climb down the terrace, the sequence still offering no cut, and then climbs back up again, runs to the near wall where his slippers lay, wears them and climbs back down. There was this roar of laughter all around me. An audience member in the row in front of me immediately remarked to his friend how remarkable the direction is here. Between this and Mr. Banerjee’s usage of shuklam baradharam in Shanghai, one gets the feeling this is what it has come down to, with this breed of new young Indian filmmakers – trading meaningless details that are targeted for nothing but laughter. Abstract details that are designed to elicit that precise response of appreciation for cleverness within the audience member. Everything within the shot is traded for a bit of “awesomeness”, which lends itself to easy appreciation. These are details that don’t work inwards, i.e. adding thematic depth to the composition and narrative, and instead merely exist to jump outwards, towards us. Which contrasts starkly to an image almost shot some seven years ago, in Black Friday, where Badshah Khan looks at a young couple holding hands on the opposite side of a ferry. It was a detail that was drenched with history, revealing more about the character and his culture and his mental state and his prejudices than any other moment in the film. It was a detail that helped me understand what all the fuss was all about. I look at it now, a little frustratingly, and cannot help but feel that somewhere down the line we got a little carried away.
                Unless we consider the moment where the women of this world, in that rare moment in movies, especially those concerning gangsters, or even men for that matter, join together in a song to celebrate Faizal’s wedding with Mohsina (Ms. Qureshi). I admit, I don’t get the meaning of the song, but the moment alone, sculpted in real time like so much of Mr. Kashyap and left untouched by his almost schizophrenic tendency to crack a joke to undermine the dramatic potential, is a thing of beauty. Nagma (Ms. Chadda) remembers her husband and breaks a tear, and without a flashback of him, it is a moment and a memory that is hers alone. I was overwhelmed, and that shot shall stay with me for some time, but bearing the weight of another one, a few sequences earlier, during Sardar Khan’s funeral, where Mr. Kashyap thinks it is mighty clever to indulge us in another of his touches of awesomeness – having the singer (Mr. Yashpal Sharma) sing that track from Ek jaan hain hum (1982), its presence only to provide a big joke. I do get that the film’s central theme is the role of popular cinema in our lives, as subtly presented during the opening half via Faizal’s introduction, and explicitly declared towards the latter part of the second half by Ramadhir Singh (Mr. Dhulia). And I even respect Mr. Kashyap’s right to stay away from melodrama by draping it in humor, because hey, irreverence is an attitude too. An attitude I don’t abide by, but an attitude nonetheless. An attitude that is unfortunately taking a lot of spine and conviction away from modern filmmaking. But just as much I respect an artist’s right to present a moment, I believe an artist ought to respect the moment for my sake and not jump out of the frame and pee all over it just for a few silly laughs. Had the song been played in the background, preferably around the frame than within it, it would’ve created a strange tension and would’ve probably carried the weight of the film’s aforementioned central theme. Instead, Mr. Kashyap cuts to the singer and his shenanigans, even presenting to us a close-up of his fingers while he’s adjusting his rhythm. The death is the set-up, the song is the punchline. It is such a self-congratulatory tone Mr. Kashyap’s film assumes here, thoroughly highlighting and underlining the silliness of the track being sung, that it completely overwrites the moment’s and probably the movie’s essential dynamic – the frailty of life here in this land, the business that is derived out of it (what the narrator refers to as haraami), and the fools who take it all personally (what he refers to as chutiya). In a film as this, where the absurdity of arbitrary and abrupt termination of a life-trajectory – with all its dreams and future and relations and past – is palpable, where faith and God and thus hope have precious little to offer, where cinema is probably the only spirituality and hope everyone seeks, it becomes mighty mighty frustrating when a filmmaker fritters all those layers for the pleasures of a silly joke.
                Or, for the simple sensual pleasures of the rhythms of a well-captured moment that offers nothing but bathes in its own virtuosity. Sardar Singh squats besides Durga (Ms. Sen) while she’s washing the clothes. Mr. Kashyap gradually sculpts the rhythm in real time – her washing and blushing and washing and Sardar riffing on the act. Look at it as a standalone moment, it could be mistaken for one of those enchanting little short films, like those Pixar shorts, only that what’s cute there is the purest form of lust here. But scene after scene after scene Mr. Kashyap’s employs this strategy of his, which is guided by an approach to lay-out the details of the process, so that he gets an opportunity to mock that process. It is not enough that Perpendicular (Mr. Kumar) finds the owner of the jewellery store he robbed only a few moments back at his house helping the womenfolk select stuff. It is a unique statement about this world, this town of Wasseypur, but Mr. Kashyap needs to find a joke in there somewhere. Never mind if it is a stupid key, but the punchline needs to exist to overwrite any tonal/thematic residue.
Gangs of Wasseypur could be described as a narrative out of several slices of life, which is ambitious if you look at it that way, but when most of those slices taste funny it renders the overall experience a tad trivial. The only desirable reaction at the end of any given moment is a laugh. Perpendicular and Definite have a bike-jump scene that reveals precious little about either of them but does serve the butt of an off-the-frame cuss-word, and thus a joke. The longer a process runs, one feels, the higher the chances Mr. Kashyap finding the absurdity of the situation. It doesn’t matter who’s gunned down, and in an extended coordinated set-up masterfully handled that leaves the whole thing both silly and clever and funny, he finds time to insert details about what’s bought and what’s being worn and what’s the decoy. It is not enough that a sequence is funny by itself, it is necessary that Mr. Kashyap declares to us that he knows how clever and hilarious it is, and the punchline at the end of it, like taking the dead hand off the horn, is his high-five to us. I mean, the vacuum cleaner running in the foreground is audio-visually on the nose.
Occasionally, Mr. Kashyap finds the poetry and the restraint to let a moment and be, and let the tone and the emotions of the narrative take center-stage, like on Faizal’s wedding night, when he comes down the stairs to drink water, with Farhan (Mr. Mishra) looking at him. Much like Nagma’s moment, this little thing acknowledges the memories of a narrative, a facet too often ignored when we place too much emphasis on cinema being an out-and-out visual medium and attach awesomeness to virtuosity. The framework the script lends to discipline the overall narrative, lending it not merely memory but an internal logic, is for the most part lost here. Sardar Khan spends time with Durga while he completely ignores Nagma, so much so that there’s a moment he remarks how old his son has grown. The geographical logic that is set here is contradicted by an earlier moment where a young Faizal runs to Durga’s house and throws brick at the door. Or when Ramadhir Singh promises Sultan automatic guns, in a land fraught with meaningless death, it doesn’t make much sense when it takes so much time for the latter to find an opportunity to gun him down. Cause is secondary here, and everything happens when it needs to happen. Faizal Khan, who’s until then merely guided by the fantasies of cinema, suddenly develops greed once the narrator breaks it us that development in his very gentle manner. The same narrator confides in us, in both the parts, when the support/fear of the masses is swaying Sardar Khan’s family’s way, and yet the crowd never plays any real part in the scheme of things. The individual families are just about as naked as every other person here, and the waiting game here doesn’t really feel consistent with the terrain. I’m sure Mr. Kashyap has the answers but amongst all the meaningless details and all the resulting jokes, the narration is lost. Most times it feels like a set of short films strung together end-to-end to merely give the feel of an overarching narrative arc, like the abstraction of the opening, which doesn’t offer anything more than being a trailer for the rest of the film, with its random deaths and cinema-intrusion and cuss-words serving a punchline. And when the film is about a place and its people, and when the title of the film is about all the gangs, I find it endearing when a narrative rises above good and bad. Unlike here, where the bad guys remain bad guys with little to no detail of their private lives and their emotions other than to cause a few more jokes.
Mr. Kashyap’s structure for Black Friday, with its feel for both the microscopic and macroscopic, still remains one of my favorite examples on how to construct an epic narrative. There was a film that had both integrity and memory. I wouldn’t necessarily mind the dilution of the overall narrative, which I admit is a considerably tougher thing to pull off, but what frustrates me is the trivialization of the details. The adult Faizal Khan is first seen in a theatre watching Trishul, and the manner in which the notion of popular cinema (Amitabh Bachchan then) seeps into those ensuing moment via Mr. Siddiqui, and even a random dude sitting opposite to him in a train, creates a sublime moment of criticism of an entire culture that breeds and celebrates and imitates adolescence. Yet, Mr. Kashyap brings that observation down via a dialog between Ramadhir and his men, which becomes yet again a joke about actor name-dropping more than anything else. Couple all of that with all those meta-tracks about guns and equating them with masculinity, or those mocking the dialect with English words stretched to confirm to the songwriter’s beliefs about the people and it is reason enough to make me one feel a tad offended. But here is the frustrating bit, Mr. Kashyap, by using those tracks, especially the latter, repeatedly, almost legitimizes it into a private memory. In the film’s most remarkably constructed sequence, completely arresting us within it, Mr. Kashyap lets go off all those annoying tendencies to simply capture every breath and every moment as Faizal climbs stairs and jumps walls and crouches while Sultan’s gangs unload seemingly an unlimited supply of AK-47s somewhere below. It is that rare shot that betrays both virtuosity and attains greatness, almost 6-D in the way it numbs our senses and suffocates us, and when Faizal takes a jump and hurts his ankle and winces in deep pain Mr. Kashyap audaciously plays that private memory. There’re often in our day-to-day lives moments as these, often after a dull day, when we feel an almost magical surge of optimism. That shot from Mr. Kashyap sculpts that surge.    
                And thus the question. In this post-ideological climate, do reactionaries like me who swear by the classical seriousness, have any reason to cheer? I don’t know. There’re so many different angles and so many perspectives from where Mr. Kashyap looks at Wasseypur, mocking Faizal’s cinema-induced reverie (please don’t tell me that his weed-addiction is another in-your-face stand-in, it’ll break my heart) one moment, and dancing in its frenzy the next. All of that sort of condenses into Mr. Kashyap’s aesthetic – intercutting and slow-motion – when Faizal consumes his revenge, assuming multiples layers, at once celebrating emotion and condemning violence. For the first time in the film, the pawns in the narrative assume an identity of their own, stakes of their own, their existence not merely to serve the principal characters but to provide the essential counterpoint to Wasseypur’s tragic absurdity. It is a rare gesture of grace and respect that transcends the families and unites the community in its own mess. Maybe Mr. Kashyap somewhere believes Wasseypur deserves to be the butt of a joke. I don’t know. But when I remind of that final shot, a slow pan into a new world, of migrants and Mumbai, a motion leading to cause new memory in a completely removed geography, it humbles me. And bears testament to how easy it is to cause awesomeness borne out of virtuosity, which doesn’t need any memory, and how difficult it is to build greatness.  

21 comments:

Amar said...

I always felt that the violence/events in both the parts are redundant. Too many incidents and too less to remember. And what is the deal with Sultan's killing which could be made happen at any point of time? However minor it could be, but I also thought 'make rightwa karo jee' song quite irritating at times.

Satish Naidu said...

Absolutely Amar, I mean, Sultan could've been killed at any point of time in the film. Just that the narrative doesn't need that to happen. This is the lack of internal logic that really didn't sit well with me.

Jay said...

Though I generally dont agree with the overall point in your reviews, whatever you write has always remained Jaw dropping for me. Your eye and passion for cinema is inspiring Mr. Naidu.

Jay said...

Though I generally am not in agreement with most of "the point" that you make in your reviews, I always come out with a jaw dropping feeling reading your reviews. Your eye and passion for movies are inspiring. And in a way you go in to the details of analysing the movie with the same indulgence that Mr.Kashyap employs in his movies :) .... respect Naidu saab!

Satish Naidu said...

Thanks a lot Jay!
After all the detailed descriptions concerning Mr. Kashyap's details, I knew I had it coming.

I'm really waiting to hear what you thought of the film.

Shantanu Dhankar said...

Nicely Written,Satish. I think this 'irreverence' that you speak about is seen at large in all the tarantino movies.When a moment of true emotion comes in cinema, you (you= actor/director)shrink from it and do something half comical and dont commit to it.

Satish Naidu said...

Shantanu, I totally agree with you on the symptom, i.e. this lack of conviction, but I would humbly want to part ways on QT.
A lot of this jokey-nonsense is often attributed to him, and I believe wrongly so. His films are some of the most formally robust out there, with an extremely strong sense of tone. The joke is never the point in his films, it points somewhere else. There is a very, very strong sense of moral to his films, and I suppose, anyone who has grown up on Leone is bound to have one.

Shantanu Dhankar said...

Yes,his movies are robust but every now and then there is that digression...you put on FB that when you shoot, you dont talk, I was instantly reminded of Jules Winnfield from Pulp fiction and the famous Ezekiel 27:7 rant!

unicorn said...

In your search for moral or lack of it, I guess you missed the premise of cultural importance of certain aspects you dismissed as unnecessarily jokey. I presume that's how things are in that part of the world.

So you think dark humor dilutes the central idea? I thought it was a brilliant execution of dark humor. Specially choosing death as a topic.

Satish Naidu said...

Shantanu, that's a very interesting scene, because Jules knows what he's doing with the talking. He refers towards the end to this "sick" disintegration, and how he wanted to truly attain spirituality.

Almost every action in a QT movie has a ethical dimension that is addressed somewhere down the line. That is what separates him.

Satish Naidu said...

Anil, I suppose, when I mentioned the whole bit about Sardar Khan's funeral ceremony, I was attempting to bring Mr. Kashyap's rendition of his place's cultural context into discussion. My contention is that he cannot help but point to the joke in a context. The English meta-songs, and the gun-masculinity felt like excerpts from a cultural-psychology 101.

Jay said...

http://jkpcblogs.blogspot.in/2012/06/gangs-of-wasseypur-part-1-movie-review.html

http://jkpcblogs.blogspot.in/2012/08/gangs-of-wasseypur-2-movie-review.html

Have been thinking about what you wrote on trading everything for awesomeness. Its quite a note... And probably its true. My point of view is slightly shallower on this but I loved the movie.

Your comments on Music? I found the music of the film to be outstanding. And Bollywood songs were everywhere from ringtones to talks.

Satish Naidu said...

Jay, I ought to be the last person dishing out commentary on the music. But yeah, the songs felt especially condescending. The English "touch" of the dialect wasn't exactly respectful. And the train gun/masculinity stuff was pretty much in-your-face.

The thing is although the Bollywood songs were there everywhere, they were once again, not providing historical context, they were mocking the cultural context. And "Khalnayak"? Oh please.

Vaibhav Mathur said...

Since you have brought up this topic of pointless humor in almost every scene in the movie, let me share what I observed while watching the 1st part of the movie (I haven't yet seen the 2nd part).

I too observed that in majority of scenes in the movie, there is humor, which director attempts to put in such a manner that it appears to be coming naturally, yet it doesn't come off so to you and me. Whether the scene involves romance (Faizal holding girl's hand), lust (clothes washing scene), infidelity (Sardar's wife coming to beat him out of the prostitute's bed) or death (Sardar's last moments with a peppy number having lyrics naachi-gai-jashn manayi or something like that).

However, here is the thing that concerns me. If the director was actually targeting to have humor everywhere, I wonder why he left alone the scenes from 40s-60s that had Sardar's father in the lead. They had not even a single moment of humor. Can't deduce the reason behind this. Did he do this deliberately with some purpose in his mind? Or did he believe that he could get more humor out of Manoj Bajpai as compared to other actors? Nonetheless, it did not make much sense to me.

Satish Naidu said...

Vaibhav, the early part is something of a set-up for the narrative, a prologue in broadstrokes. Mr. Kashyap probably felt the need to set-up the dynamic and emotion so that he could get to the details and the story he wanted to tell.

I suppose the jokes aren't everywhere. There are several stretches, especially served by the narrator, which fast forward the events.

Amar said...

By my experience, audience in the cinema hall laughed at the 'jokes' so called generated by the cuss words in the specific scenes. The jokes we are talking about here are intentionally targeted towards the critics and analyzers. I wonder which 'humorous' part of the movie Mr Kashyap actually presented as an inevitable demand of the characters and story?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Vaibhav. I too felt the same. The humor just keeps on growing as the film progresses. (but its totally absent in the 40-60's era).

@ Satish they were developing and building characters in the second part as well, but the seriousness was gone...

Even the irreverent details i assume was to invoke humor. It doesnt make sense at all..

I believe A.Kashyap had so much in mind that the film digressed from being a Coal mafia movie(with information detailing- remember piyush mishra's voice over in the first part) to becoming a story about people inspired by movies.

This would have been a good TV series.. :) But as a movie it lost track..

No Doubt, there are flashes of brilliance...a talented starcast...
the QT moments..

But how i wish .... it has a perfectly assembled story and a consistent feel to it...

-- avid reader

VM said...

I was googling whether an article existed on the cultural significance of GOW, when I came across this blog..nice article, and I agree with you in parts. However, scaling the obvious, the movie is not only about the historical coal/scrap mafia of dhanbad..its also a tribute to certain filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Sergi Leone and Brian De Palma..if you look at both those elements together, then you will realize that your criticism is slightly harsh..then again, its just my opinion. Comparing it with Black Friday is also slightly unwarranted. The narrative from the latter was from the brilliant Zaidi novel..the analogy seems slightly off to me......

Satish Naidu said...

Anurag Kashyap though paid his tributes to the Madurai triumvirate.

And as for the comparisons, I speak about the tone. If a filmmaker is so dependent on the source to lend the tone, what is he but merely an illustrator, and absolutely of no use to me.


I doubt Mr. Kashyap has those problems. He is a terrific writer, only that now his priorities have changed.

Saurabh Shetty said...

I personally feel that there were several moments of cinematic brilliance in this movie.. and I understand your concerns.. somehow i felt that kashyap wanted to consistently point out how absurdly the cinema plays a role in the lives of wasseypuris.. the way these characters are, they will quickly forget what they experienced and move on for their next cause i.e. revenge.. and the inherent simplicity of these characters .. like the way faizal forgets his chappals in the opening scene.. i didnt even laugh at it since I had a more intimate experience of watching it on a laptop.. There is also one shot where the gun drops from faizal's hands while lifting perpendicular.. I personally feel that anurag constantly wanted to shed the heroism or awesomeness of his protagonists.. and somewhere again he has to compromise by the glorious killing of ramadheer singh by faizal.. But there are definitely 3 pure epic moments (my personal fav) hands down to the way the technicians were commited to shoot these scenes.. perpendicular's killing and the subsequent chase of tangent, shootout in faizal's home following shamshad's office bombarding (the complete shot including faisal's jump on the rooftop and his struggle with the pain) all captured in more or less one single shot and the grand finale .. All in all, the movie seemed like a super extended version of Subramaniapuram, a Tamil masterpiece from one of the triumvates AK has dedicated this movie to.. It was a far crisper movie though and the shift in tones are non existent.

salmanspeaks said...

Maybe Mr. Kashyap somewhere believes Wasseypur deserves to be the butt of a joke.
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Absolutely Spot On!