<Review by: Juthika Nagpal>
Directed by Anurag Kashyap. Starring Jaideep Ahlawat, Manoj Bajpai, Piyush Mishra, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Richa Chadda, Reemma Sen, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
A fabulous tale of man’s basest emotions: greed, hatred, fear, lust, and revenge…
The story spans 3 generations of rival families, in what could be described as the family feud cliché in rural central India. Yet, the film is anything but a cliché!
Based in the town of Wasseypur, Bihar in the early 1940s, Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat, the hottest ‘daakoo’ I’ve ever seen!) is a young, enterprising Pathan who gives up his life as a train robber, living up to a promise to his pregnant wife. Taking advantage of the growing coal trade, he subjects himself to the harsh life of labour, swiftly rising up the ranks of the coal mafia, as foreman, in service to one Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia).
‘One dark and stormy night’, Ramadhir Singh overhears a callous remark by Khan to his friend and confidant Farhan (Piyush Mishra), easily interpreted as disloyalty. Enraged, and more importantly, to avoid the catastrophe of pending rebellion lead by his disgruntled foreman, Ramadhir Singh has Shahid Khan murdered. Farhan escapes with Shahid Khan’s orphan, Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpai), and both are taken for dead.
Sardar Khan, only a boy at the time, pledges to avenge his father’s death. Leading to the fantastically composed saga that follows into the era of post-independent India and its industrialisation through to the 80s, a 3rd generation of Khans prepare to inherit their vengeful legacy.
The storyline and relationships are complex throughout the film, requiring rapturous attention. The characters are intense, each with their range of vices and virtues (hard as they may be to spot). There are no heroes. There are no villains. Only real people: true to themselves, but to no one else.
A special acknowledgement must be given to Sardar Khan’s wife, Nagma (Richa Chadda). Other than the fact that her character displays self-confidence and charisma unreal for a woman in her time and place, I was awed by the way she deals with the events of her life. In complete disregard for the horrors of her reality, she is possibly the sole glimmer of light in the darkness that surrounds her, her loved ones, and the audience during the course of the story. It is no wonder that we feel a residual attachment to her even after the movie is over.
What is striking about the film are the nuances captured in almost every detail – the wildness in the men’s eyes as they resort to atrocious acts of violence; the helplessness in the brutality towards the miners; the beauty in the earthy tones of human skin against the grayscale backdrop of the coal mines; the satire in the stylized screenplay of the most gruesome scenes; the harsh childhood lessons of rural patriarchal life in poverty and cruelty, scripted to perfection.
Manoj Bajpai sets the bar even higher, with a performance on par with the best of Hollywood. A touch of humour laces the dialogue, just enough to keep your spirits up without ruining the gravity of the plot. This is no lighthearted Bollywood drama… be prepared to grit your teeth and stop munching the popcorn.
Anurag Kashyap has outdone himself yet again.
Read the review of Gangs of Wasseypur Part II here.