Rollicking and riotous aren?t adjectives one normally associates with a gangster film. But that is precisely what Anurag Kashyap?s Gangs of Wasseypur is.
The smartly filmed vendetta saga tosses and turns convulsively from one shootout to another as a bunch of amoral human bloodhounds sniff around for their next kill in a volatile, lawless landscape.
The unbridled violence and fetid language ? the expletives fly as thick and fast as the bullets ? are, however, only one facet of this cinematically layered shot at a time-honoured and popular genre.
The spirit of no-holds-barred derring-do embedded in the narrative sinews of Gangs of Wasseypur is so pronounced that there is little in the film that goes along expected lines.
Gangs of Wasseypur is part Sergio Leone, part Sam Peckinpah on the one hand. On the other, it embraces elements from Quentin Tarantino and Johnnie To. But the manner in which Kashyap stamps his own home-grown style and sensibility on the manic m?lange makes it an exhilaratingly edgy movie experience.
The sprawling epic ? this is only part one, part two is due for release later in the year ? is set in the crime-infested coal town of Dhanbad and its Bollywood-obsessed environs, where mining contractors and scrap dealers are locked in a deadly power struggle spanning across decades.
Gangs of Wasseypur is a full-on Bollywood film without quite being one. Loaded with action, romance and music and doffs of the hat to old-school masala, this effervescent blazing-guns opera is ingeniously orchestrated in a way that lends it the flounce and flair of an artful musical romp.
It delivers shock and delight in equal measure as it portrays the often pointless spiral of violence, which is presented matter-of-factly as an inevitable legacy of the area?s benighted history.
Composer Sneha Khanwalkar peppers Gangs of Wasseypur with music pieces drawn from Bihari folk (including some overtly risqu? ditties), popular film songs of the different decades the narrative traverses, and Trinidadian chutney rhythms.
Even the blood-splattered action scenes are choreographed like set-pieces, often to the accompaniment of insistent drumbeats and robust songs.
It?s a concoction that is brilliantly heady and varied: the music adds an experiential layer to the film that lingers long after it has run its 160-minute course.
Gangs of Wasseypur benefits immensely from a towering performance by Manoj Bajpayee, who immerses himself in the central character of Sardar Khan with such conviction and controlled flair that it becomes impossible to separate the actor from the part. The rest of the cast, too, is consistently in step with the benchmark he sets.
The film straddles two principal spaces ? the town itself (where the action begins a few years before the end of the Raj) and Wasseypur (once a village off Dhanbad but now a part of its expanding semi-urban spread).
It kicks into high gear from the word go with a flash-forward to the very culmination of the long-running blood feud between two clans, and then pulls all the way back to 1941 to trace the genesis of the conflict.
There is an info overload in the initial 30 minutes as the character played by Piyush Mishra, a sort of sutradhar who is an integral part of Sardar?s family but serves only as an observant spectator, spells out the social and historical backdrop in intermittent voiceovers.
But the context that seems so important at the outset is conveniently jettisoned once the action begins to unfold in right earnest. While that robs Gangs of Wasseypur of its high-minded intent and arrests its vaulting ambition of being a chronicle of a god-forsaken speck on the map, it also frees the film from the burdensome baggage that harping on the tangled politics of the place would have entailed.
Sardar?s father, Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat), impersonates a mythic brigand to rob British trains. He meets his end at the hands of an ambitious coal contractor Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia), who wants to monopolise the terrain. But Sardar has other ideas. He vows not to let the hair grow back on his shaved pate until he has avenged his colliery worker-father?s killing,
But the murderous Sardar Khan has a softer side that is vulnerable to feminine seduction. The two women in his life ? the feisty, foul-mouthed Nagma (Richa Chadha) and the more reticent but equally shrewish Durga (Reema Sen) ? are the only people who can keep the marauder on his toes.
He also has to contend with a pair of sworn enemies ? Sultan, who belongs to a clan that has held sway over Wasseypur for decades, and, of course, the contractor-turned-politician Ramadhir in Dhanbad. Against both, Sardar Khan?s skirmishes are bitter and extremely violent.
Each of Sardar?s sons, four from Nagma, one from Durga, has a story apportioned to him. On the strength of what we see here, the most interesting of all is the tale of Faizal Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a drug addict who appears barely capable of taking over the reins from his father.
Between running botched-up errands for his demanding dad, Faizal falls for Mohsina (Huma Quraishi), and this romantic track is among the most delightfully quirky components of this flamboyant film.
When Faizal touches Mohsina?s hand for the first as they sit by a pond, her reaction is self-righteously coy but delectably manipulative. She accuses Faizal of trying to take advantage of her. ?How dare you touch me without asking for permission,? Mohsina intones. A befuddled Faizal gropes helplessly for an answer.
It?s moments of pure inspiration like these, and there are plenty, that lift Gangs of Wasseypur above the constrictions of the genre.
It may not be for the faint-hearted and the prissy. Gangs of Wasseypur is a heavyweight knockout punch. You?re down for the count!