Film Review: Gangs of Wasseypur II
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Huma Qureshi, Richa Chadda, Tigmanshu Dulia
Cause and consequence: this seems the chief concern of the Wasseypur duology. If this were a Jane Austen romance instead of an Anurag Kashyap gun show, Cause and Consequence is the name it might well have gone by, though one imagines Ms. Austen would make less lavish use of the epithets preferred here, chu***a, bhe****d, and our favourite—especially when the protagonist Faizal Khan’s mother, the excellent Richa Chaddha, uses it on her son—bh***a.
Fatuous asides aside, Kashyap and Co. seem to have conceptualised their film’s story as such a cinematic epic in order to explore a theme familiar to lovers of Bollywood movies: slow-burn revenge. Every action, right to the final twist, spawns a reaction; and because this is Kashyap, and because this is Wasseypur, these reactions are often deliriously, deliciously bloody. It is in some ways reminiscent of another critically cherished two-part revenge drama, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Wasseypur girds itself with realism while Tarantino’s effort was a stylised flight of fancy, but the themes are much the same, even if the setting could not be more different. Just like in Kill Bill, the final scenes of Wasseypur hint that it could well become a trilogy in a decade or two, as another generation grows up and another cycle of revenge begins. We would find it hard to believe that the denouement—where Wasseypur’s Ravan is vanquished, and blood spurts and innards spew like silly string at a kiddie party—is not Kashyap’s homage to QT.
The question is, does it work? In this tale, success, in the form of wealth, women and top-dog status, comes in cycles, and because its principal characters are either climbing the ladder, sliding to privation or being shot to pieces, the viewer has to meet and come to love or hate roughly 50,000 people (we might be exaggerating a little). In GoW II itself we’re expected to understand the motivations and desires of Faizal Khan, Mohsina, Ramadhir Singh, Sultan, and because no one speaks English here, the strangely-named Definite, Perpendicular and Tangent. It bewilders you after a while, especially because of the manic pace the film is set at.
To accommodate these various stories, Wasseypur II is forced to sacrifice character development, which we felt was the real strength of the first film. Take, for instance, the character of Perpendicular, Faizal Khan’s brother and the youngest son of Sardar Khan. Perpendicular gets something of a short shrift; he’s a badass, we know because he tongues a razor blade at all times, but after telling us about the rest of his family in such loving detail, his character feels like an afterthought, a patch added to give weight to Faizal’s need for revenge more than a character in himself. Screen time is given instead to a series of chases through the streets of Wasseypur that, while beautifully shot, get a little tedious. After all, with the five-hour-plus investment these two films demand, one fellow running through crowded streets as two or three goons chase him can seem very much like the last fellow who ran through crowded streets—no matter how cool the soundtrack to the sprint.
Nevertheless, Wasseypur II boasts a genuine flair, and a number of things that makes it soar above Bollywood’s regular fare. Once again, Kashyap draws some wonderful performances from his actors, most notably from Nawazuddin Siddiqui, as Faizal Khan, and from Huma Qureshi as Faizal’s saucy Aviator-loving wife, Mohsina. Scrawny, lazy, chillum-ed out from beginning to end, Siddiqui nails his role as the unlikely mob boss, the son sucked into a life he didn’t ask for. Mohsina’s embrace of the trappings of Faizal’s success, followed by her short discomfiture with the means used to achieve it, recalls Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Scarface, and forms one of the many subtly-made plot points that make the Wasseypur films particularly enjoyable.
For example, instead of constantly bombarding us with dates to mark the chronology of the events we’re seeing, Kashyap uses a fascinating device: Bollywood blockbusters. Almost every character is a huge Hindi film fan, and major events in the story often take place just after they’ve watched a movie. So when Faizal Khan watches Maine Pyar Kiya before visiting his girlfriend, we know it is circa 1989. When Ramadhir Singh’s son admits to his father that he watched Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge the night before, we learn that we’re now in the mid-’90s; and when Perpendicular emerges from the cinema and tells his friend that he wants to be called Munnabhai from now on, we know his last run takes place in 2003.
The slow creep of state and police power, as the Indian government attempts to bring a semblance of law and order to Wasseypur’s anarchy, is also portrayed well. Earlier, gang leaders operated with immunity, murdering in front of policemen and burying their own dead, but by the time Munnabhai MBBS comes to town, Faizal Khan must submit to police procedure, even though he’s at the height of his power. In this age of cut-and-paste cinema, Gangs of Wasseypur is a laudable experiment. While it hews, at times annoyingly, to some hoary Bollywood conventions, such as its depiction of women as agents of destruction, it also opens up new avenues for the Indian cinema-goer by refusing to be coy. Here, the suhaag ki raat is not a night of flowers twining and pearls breaking but one of window-shattering and bed-rattling, a full-throated coital roar. You get the sense, as you watch, of Indian cinema growing up just a little.
Prayaag Akbar is the assistant editor of the Sunday Guardian. You can follow him on Twitter @unessentialist.Tags: Anurag Kashyap, Bollywood, Film, film reviews, Gangs of Wasseypur, Gangs of Wasseypur II, Huma Qureshi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Richa Chadda, Tigmanshu Dulia, Zeishan Quadri