How do you evaluate an incomplete painting?
Or half a story?
It seems unfair but this is a situation the makers of Gangs of Wasseypur have forced on us by making us pay to watch what’s clearly an incomplete story. Yes, we can always appreciate individual moments and scenes but not all of us are die-hard Kashyap fans. Yet.
I wish it was as simple as saying that Gangs of Wasseypur 1 is half-empty or half-full of the plot but at this point, it looks like it holds no water.
Good filmmaking, or shot-taking, doesn’t always translate to good storytelling. While every frame here is so passionately put together (cinematography by Rajeev Ravi and edited by Shweta Venkat Mathew), supremely performed with brilliantly conceived moments of quirk and humour, Part 1 just doesn’t come together as a cohesive story.
Gangs Of Wasseypur is a trip, no doubt. A trip to nowhere, one most enjoyed if you are an Anurag Kashyap fan. You buy a ticket to Wasseypur, you meet colourful, gun-toting, expletive-spewing, sex maniacs on the way and share a couple of laughs, amused by their choice of language till the buffoonery gets repetitive. After a long, bumpy ride through every other busy bylane close to where you boarded from, the driver leaves you stranded on a highway with a note: “Next bus to Wasseypur in three months.”
You paid to watch revenge. What you get is a guy doing everything else except that. Unfortunately, most of us still consume films as stories and as far as stories go, Wasseypur Part 1 is a non-starter, a deceitful film that delivers none of the promise of that revenge advertised in big block letters: Keh ke loonga. Fine, but take already. The only thing it takes is your ticket money. All talk, no walk.
It’s all backdrop, backdrop, backdrop spelt out all through… and even that backdrop of coal mining is not convincing, as the film pretends to be a documentary on the subject with archival footage that does nothing to the narrative except prolong it with endless voiceover.
Voiceover here isn’t used to help you settle in, it’s the thread and glue that holds the loosely arranged pieces together, a character who returns to keep us in the loop, as bursts of superimposed text to illustrate timelines and character names are slapped on the screen, every few minutes. Show, tell and text on top! (This evening, the team has also released a family tree for those still confused about who’s who in the film)
While the two-part Kill Bill sets up the context and leaves two out of the five people in the list dead, assuring you are halfway home, Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 cancels out everything that happens with its climactic moment, not just taking the hero back to square one but changing its mind about who the hero is.
So we just watched a 160 minute long prologue?
Even an out of form Ram Gopal Varma showed some focus in his indulgent, pulpy two-part Rakta Charitra. Part 1: One guy rises to power leaving the other guy who has lost his whole family understandably thirsting for revenge in Part 2.
Here, we don’t even understand why revenge is that important for the guy who has sworn to keep his head shaved till he has ruined his enemy.
If you want us to connect or understand the avenger’s motivation, he must have some quality that makes us root for him or at least some injustice meted out to him. But his father was a scheming scoundrel too. Sardar Khan has no redeeming quality except that it is portrayed by a fantastic Manoj Bajpayee.
The protagonist’s full time occupation is being a sex maniac, revenge is a part time thing he would do, like, over a few decades when he’s not getting his women pregnant. His misadventures with the two women in the film make for delightful vignettes but there’s little else powering this film except the entry of the endearingly filmi Faisal Khan (Nawazuddin) towards the end.
The trailer of Part 2 is one of the slickest ever you will see this year and going by the fun promised, you can blindly book your tickets to watch the Nawazuddin Siddiqui show. Richa Chaddha’s Nagma is guaranteed to win her fans, Reema Sen looks every bit the seductress and Huma Qureshi’s charm and chemistry with Nawazuddin sparkles.
Piyush Mishra makes for a wicked cheating Consigliori, Jaideep Alhawat is dispensed off early on as the man whose death triggers off this epic, Jameel Khan amuses us playing the foil to Bajpayee, while Pankaj Tripathi makes for a menacing baddie we want to see more of.
Like the villain of the piece Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia lends this character so much charisma and intensity) demonstrates, coal becomes heavier when soaked in water, but there’s only so much you can adulterate it with.
Here, coal is substituted with coolth. We are so cool that in our town, we call the women, Womaniya (Hats off to music director Sneha Khanwalkar for the soundtrack that provides some respite). We are so cool that we use gorgeous-looking typeface guaranteed to make you drool even if it wears a vibe different from the rustic environs of the film. We are so cool that we would make the opening credits of ‘Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ look like a joke. We are so cool we have characters called Definite, Perpendicular and Tangent in Part 2 of Gangs of Wasseypur because honestly, we got tired of keeping count of the Khans and Qureshis in the film!
All that coolth and pop realism may do well with the die-hard Kashyap cult but for the rest of us who paid to watch a bloody saga of revenge, it seems like a long wait at the circus.
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Richa Chaddha, Reema Sen, Huma
Qureshi, Jameel Khan, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Pankaj Tripathi, Jaideep Alhawat
Storyline: A man must avenge the death of his father, but he whiles away his time making babies.
Bottomline: Epic fail. Probably works a lot better when seen back to back.
A shorter version of this originally appeared here.