Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Post abhi baaki hai...some more Wasseypur rambling

[Warning: none of this will make any sense if you haven't seen Gangs of Wasseypur, and possibly even if you have]

Looking at my GoW post again, I realised it came across as more negative than intended, perhaps giving the impression that I didn’t like the film – which is very far from the truth. Part of the reason is that the post wasn’t a consolidated “review”, it was a specific attempt to discuss some things that didn’t work for me – and so, the tone necessarily leant in a particular direction. (I could have written a piece twice as long gushing about the many things I loved in the film, but that wasn’t the intention here.)

It’s always a good thing when a movie can provoke impassioned, well-articulated conversations, and GoW has certainly been doing this. I’m not about to quote all my email chats with friends on the subject, but here’s an example of a discussion of a relatively minor plot point. My friend Shougat has written three separate pieces about GoW for Tehelka. In the last of these, he notes:
An arresting image, Kashyap should be told, is not the same as an idea. For instance, in GoW1, a consigliere (one of two, like everything in this film) of the Khan family crime syndicate self-flagellates in the manner of Shia Muslims to punish himself for his lust. There are other scenes of collective Shia self-flagellation in GoW1, and in GoW2 the same character once again cracks the lash against his back, his face set in stoic denial, while listening to Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Huma Qureshi’s extended post-nuptial frolicking. This must mean something, you think, must reflect something about this man’s character, or perhaps make some general point. But, no, Kashyap just likes the sight and sound of a man whipping himself.

My response to the above passage:
Actually, I think Farhan's self-flagellating was intended to make a point about his character (whether it's made convincingly is another matter). His inability to control his sexual drives in the first film plays a big part in defining Faisal's life trajectory, and one gets the impression that from this point onwards Farhan is on a relentless, self-conscious mission to detach himself from the material world in the face of his baser instincts. (His role as the sutradhaar lusting after successive generations of clan women reminded me oddly of Vyasa's ambiguous role in the Mahabharata.) Perhaps there is some sort of moral point intended in the fact that, all those namaazes and self-flagellations later, he is essentially the sole survivor at the end (and looking after Mohsina and her child the same way Vyasa was lingering about at the epic’s end as preceptor for the heir-apparent Parikshit after the Pandavas f***ed off to Heaven). Or perhaps nothing moral is intended.

To which Shougat tersely replied:
Sounds plausible to me... except that two scenes of the chap whipping himself followed by a last scene in Bombay is very little on which to hang an elaborate but interesting analysis.
Indeed, so rushed is the pace of GoW and so hard is it to take anything in it at face value that at times it feels like the only way to discuss the film is through subtextual analysis, playful speculation and guesswork. Which might simply mean that we need the evolution of a new mode of criticism to deal with a new type of cinema.

[Speaking of the Pandavas - and subtextual analysis - did Faisal’s ganja addiction remind anyone else of Yudhisthira’s gambling? Did Perpendicular’s activities put you in mind of Bheema’s appetite for random, cruel violence? No? Well, then.]


The fun thing about discussing this film is that nearly every intelligent viewer I know has expressed some ambivalence about their reactions, and wondered if they misread the tone of a crucial scene. On my post and elsewhere, the possibility has been raised that even Faisal’s big emotional moment near the end may have been an inside joke – another meta-reference to how the hero of a “typical” mainstream Hindi movie might be expected to behave in a certain situation. It has also been suggested that the characters of GoW – or at least the characters of GoW 2 – are not meant to have the interiority and roundedness that so many reviewers have been seeking; they are meant to be nothing more than hollow constructs of the movies they watch.

At risk of getting “meta” and self-indulgent myself, I want to again clarify something about my main objection to the film. I can’t do better than to simply quote a poster named Ami, who (in the comments thread of this blog) articulated my position better than I did. Here goes (bold marks mine):
I don’t think he is criticizing the film for its tragicomedic humour but for the fact that it cannot decide whether it wants the viewers to be emotionally invested in its characters and view them as real people or whether it wants to present its characters more as archetypical composites of popular culture living in a cardboard universe that is playfully derivative of gangster films and masala movies.

[...] He’s objecting to the uneven emotional engagement that the film provokes – not the fact that it is both serious and playful but the fact that it is both emotionally superficial and emotionally deep.
To reiterate: I respect any work that recognises the possibility of playfulness/levity in a tragic moment, and vice versa. (The scene where Faisal stumbles back to wear his shoes is one of a few scenes in GoW where I thought this was done quite nicely.) But I also think that in the really successful examples of such juxtapositions, those apparently contradictory moods are integrated within a given context. And in GoW, there were too many cases of the film simply telling us “This is how you're supposed to feel about these characters” in one scene and then “Now you have to feel this way” in the next scene.

Anyway, like I said in the earlier post, I look forward to watching the whole 6-hour shebang a second time and quite possibly changing my mind about it completely. Maybe a second viewing will reveal that the entire story is a ganja dream along the lines of the hallucinatory opium den scenes in Once Upon a Time in America.


  1. The elaborate inside jokes are merely references just like in any other, say, Tarantino film, right? That doesn't make the film itself a spoof (Of course I understand you are not saying that). Also, these are more pronounced in the 2nd film for obvious reasons - cinema entering the mainstream consciousness in a huge way from the 70s onwards (lot of guesswork here I must admit) and the one recognizing this in a critical manner is the aged lord Ramadhir Singh who has seen it all.

    I watched only GoW2 for the second time but again, the incessant shooting was the glaring part without any emotional build up. And as Qalandar notes in his notes, the Ramadhir Singh attack could have happened at any point in the film. But where I differ is, if you get past this, there is a lot of stuff in the film to like.

  2. Did I say notes in his notes *cringe*

  3. Like Gradwolf, I too thought of Tarantino, though for a different reason. Tarantino is still a masterful director, but I haven't really cared for any of his characters after Jackie Brown. Kashyap puts me in a similar situation with GoW II. With each successive death, I found my emotional engagement with the film drop. After a while, I was reduced to appreciating sequences, little details, Sneha Khanwalkar's extraordinary soundtrack. But I didn't care. I wonder if Kashyap thought his audience would by the end?

    Compare that with the film GoW most closely resembles - City of God. I remember being invested in the character of Benny. When he dies, it was a huge jolt. I can think of no comparable moment in Gangs. Shouldn't there have been a gasp from the audience when Definite finally betrays Faisal? It was just another killing in a film full of them.

  4. The only reason why i did not like GoW 2 was because of GoW 1. While the standout scene of killing of Sultan was comic this might be reality. There is a lot of time to kill waiting for sultan to complete his shopping and the phone line is active throughout. What do you do speak about day to day activities. It is comic but not unusual.

    The refrences to Mahabharat are undeniable. The songs in both the parts. If one looks at the characters too they are inspired Faisal as Arjun Ramadhir as Bhisma JP as Duryodhana Definite as Karna. The the reference about Sardar having 5 not 4 sons which shifts the epic of reference from Ramayana to Mahabhrata. Mahabharata is much less of a lesson in morality than Ramayana where there is clearly the good guys and the bad guys. Mahabharata is more of a generation saga where you take sides based on opportunities and circumstances rather than morality. The characters too are people with weaknesses and addictions.
    Even Richa Chadha in an interview called it the Muslim Mahabharat.

  5. I, for one, saw both the films in one sitting. And I've only seen it once, so now my memories of the movies are a little hazy and I keep mixing up what scene goes in which part. While I was super thrilled with how original this film is (for an Indian film), I did tire a lot by the middle of GOW2. I had partly stopped caring about what happens and almost let out a groan when the titles "Mumbai 2009" came on screen. Also, didn't even get bugged by the narration being too verbose at times? I remember a scene where the narrator says something like "xyz decided to get into the steel business" and a second later, the character xyz says "we have to get into the steel business". (Probably more instances of such things, but this one stood out for me.)

    I thought of Tarantino because of the characters, the great choice of music (many times it's the last thing I expected... but it worked) and the frequent dark humour.
    Enjoyed the film immensely though, and would recommend it wholeheartedly.

  6. "if there will be Gangs of wasseypur-15....i will go and watch for sure.Anurag Kashyap,the director has just put the naked reality with using amazing intellegency,sense of humar,imotions,actions,politics and wonderfull acting of each and every actor....some scenes are extended unnecessarily but they are covered well. "

  7. why use "fucked" for pandavas ? kyon bhai

  8. Jai,

    Here is an alternate version of that much criticized Faizal-Crying scene that was not part of the theatrical cut.


  9. @ Jai
    Your thoughts on the topic of self flagellation by Piyush Mishra was very interesting. Here is my take:

    The fact that piyush mishra is the Sutradhaar of the film and is the only sane "voice of reason" which is framing the whole story through its narration in the most non partisan and unbiased way, and also the fact that he is a self flagellator has an implication.
    self flagellation means regret and self retribution on the part of the character,a kind of self blaming for being incompetent and helpless in the face of things.
    Piyush mishra flagellates himself thrice in the film.firstly, when he is not able to inform shahid on time about the child bearing complications of his wife. piyush flagellates himself because when faced with the violence(might is rightism from ramadheer's henchman)...he is unable and helpless to do anything.
    the other two instances of self flagellation are when piyush mishra is faced with his own lust.
    so the flagellation is because piyush is unable to cope with the two basic drives of mankind:violence and lust..... the drives which creates all the problems in this world.
    Kashyap is trying to say that in the world ruled by violence and lust...reason/sanity/rationality(piyush mishra) is in the role of an impotent self flagellator.
    thematically.... piyush's role is similar to the one in Gulaal.
    the reason why he is the "voice of reason" is because he is the sutradhaar of the whole story.

  10. It is interesting to note how piyush mishra increasingly loses his relevance in the second part as the spiral of violence becomes more and more messy.
    Your note about the degradation of Faizal's character arc when he discovers that piyush(reason) can also err...is also very pertinent.
    all through the second part one gets a feeling that piyush is a silent clueless spectator amid all the violence.
    here it is important to note that kashyap is not glorifying piyush(reason) as the moral guardian whom everyone in the film should have followed....kashyap is in fact making fun of the very CONCEPT OF REASON itself.he is saying that reason is reasonable because if is afraid to court danger and be violent and express its lust.
    reason is an impotent self flagellator who cant relish the joys of unreason because of his incompetency.
    that reason is always a clueless,useless parasite.

    I guess i dont make any sense.

  11. I think Kashypa's films have so many scenes which are badly stitched together. Second half of Gulaal, Last few minutes of Dev D and entire GoW Part-I. He seems to be in rush and almost gives a feeling of a kid who somehow found good material to make a film on and since then cant behave normally. Gulaal could have been a better play in my view. I couldnt understand why he started film with KK giving a speech. That speech is pointless at that point unless one is in awe of KK. That scene comes again in the story, when that student leader is taken there. It seems as if Kashyap was trying to show off. While Tarantino does it effortlessly (showing off), Kashyap's cinema loses its charm because the man behind the camera just couldnt decide what to let go and what to edit out...

  12. What did you think of the end? I felt the final shooting seemed surreal to Faisal. He seemed to be waiting for this big moment for so long and when that moment (of annhilating Ramadhi) arrived, it felt hollow (to Faisal and the audience). His repeated shooting of Ramadhir's corpse seemed to me to be an instance of Faisal fighting hard to feel jubilant, to feel victorious even though he didn't.
    And the fact that it took nearly the entire Khan clan to kill one Ramadhir- that too when he already had a foot in his grave ready -seemed to say something about the plight of the underdog. Khan (Faisal or his father) the underdog can never hope to be really victorious in a battle against the corrupt, powerful people of society. The victory that will eventually come to the underdog will feel anything but satisfying. So in a way, Kashyap took a story/theme used in countless hindi movies and gave it an anti-Bwood or realistic end. In Bachchan's famous movies such a Zanjeer, the final slaying of the villian always feels victorious to the character and the audience. Not so in GoW-I recall being really, really sad on seeing Faisal shot and the final scene with his infant son (who never knew him) and his widow. She too lived most of the film in her Bwood-inspired dreams only to be rudely awaken to reality in the final scenes. THis aspect of GoW-taking a Bwood tale and giving it a realistic, sadder end-reminded me of Love, Sex or Dhoka's first story of the two DDLJ-inspired lovers who discover the sad un-Bwood end of their union. Your thoughts on that? As an aside, thanks for the very thoughtful post. I hope you continue to add to it.

  13. I think the combination of emotional depth and superficiality works very well if you watch this as a morality play (quite close to Mahabharat) or a Jacobean blood tragedy. In both instances, 'themes' dominate instead of 'characters'. Since there are characters living, loving and dying in front of you, you may feel for them, but by the end of GoW2, I felt that revenge and a cavalier attitude to life are sort of two daemons that live through these people in Wasseypur. These men and women are ruled by passion so much that the passion becomes a destiny for them, and, hence none can rise above the gory stream of vengeance that dries up only when the two 'shores' (note one of the film posters, there is a visual space between the two gangs and through that flows the stream of revenge) disappear. But so strong is the stream that by the end of GoW 2 we are left with a strong foreboding of Faesal's kid growing up in Bombay slums and trying to revive the old saga of revenge. The vaulting ambition of Macbeth distinguished him and was the cause of his downfall; revenge, lust and addiction to violence, similarly, accentuate the lives of the people of otherwise humdrum wasseypur and gets each of them killed. Faisal is as much part of a 'grand plan' as Yudhisthira, and the first thing that one notices is the plan and not the man. We just missed a Krishna in Wasseypur who will smile and reassure everybody that he is kaal and he plans to do some lokakshaya across generations. Ramadhir almost played that role aiding and abetting different faction; he even recommended detachment from killings because they needed to be done. But Ramadhir is too involved in the action to be a Krishna; or perhaps like Dev D's deglam Devdas we have a deglam, aging, corpulent Krishna who dies before the Kurukshetra is over.

  14. I relented to watch this movie and relented for long time but finally saw and must say did liked the way the director told the story. Few things that I would like to say-

    1. Yes, too much of blood and gory...could have been avoided as a moral conduct that our films has lots of bearing on our society.

    2. Death of the original pathan was sad and came as shock..rest all deaths made no sense and the use of songs were a symbolic way to showcase how a certain sect of ppl mourns. It did had an angle to the film.

    3. Faizal' climate act was stupid but may be this was to bring the impact that killing ramadhir singh has become the only motto in his happy go ganja choking life. what didnt explain is his motto behind killing the arms supplier.

    4. second part got bit dragging at one point

    4. Songs were awesome and some characters were well thot esp perpendicular, mohsina and definite. Faisal was an ordinary man made 75mm ka hero and he did a good job.

    5. Farhan's self punishing act came from the unexplored part of his side i.e. through out the movie, he and his nephew were shown unmarried and with no woman. So may be that brought the lust factor followed by self control.

    Do not mind my english here..in hurry..hope the thots r clear :)

    May be I shall attempt my own review soon at ektakhetan.blogspot.com soon

  15. Sudipta Bhattacharjee2:58 PM, August 19, 2012

    Just a random thought; what Kashyap has achieved in terms of cinematic language in GOW, is comparable to what Amitabh Ghosh has achieved in terms of 'Indian English' (literary, I hasten to add) with 'Sea of Poppies' - any thoughts?

  16. Very quickly: sorry I haven't been able to reply to any comments on this thread. Have been travelling, with not much Net access, plus am all Wasseypured out for now. Maybe another time...