Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gangs of Wasseypur

Anurag Kashyap attempts a magnum opus with this one. Telling a story story that spans generations is tough, one that spans three generations is tougher still. One that also is a reflection of the changes that happened in the intervening years is a very tall order. But Anurag Kashyap is not one to back out of challenges, and the end result is a mixed bag.

Gangs of Wasseypur attempts to tell the story of warring Khans and Qureshis,the Khans and the Singhs and also the rise of the coal mafia in this small town. Here, Anurag Kashyap loses track occasionally, concentrating on on character to the detriment of others. The story of the warring factions is not directly linked to the coal mafia, so in effect, Kashyap attempts to tell two stories in one. 

Therein, the problem arises, as he flits between the two stories for the first thirty minutes, and then intermittently. But look past this flaw, and what emerges is an engrossing story, well told. The actors paying their parts being out the characters wonderfully.

The story matter is dark, populated by people who curse, beat and kill. They are darker than the coal mines of Wasseypur. Shahid Khan, a Pathan who robs trains as Sultana daku picks up a fight with the Querishis and is forced to move to Dhanbad, where he works in a coal mine. The first time he meets Ramadhir Singh on screen is when he is being stopped from going to see his wife who is expecting his child. It is clear that their relationship is uneasy, and the son is remotely involved.

Later, as things progress after India gains independence, Ramadhir Singh gets to oversee the mines and Shahid is  his enforcer. Each is getting more ambitious. The wily Ramadhir puts an end to Shahid's ambitions and nearly kills Sardar as well but he survives. Into this mix, come the Qureshis, once again. 

Manoj Bajpai plays the grown up Sardar Khan, hell bent on revenge, his only motivation. Sardar is darkness personified, having no conscience or guilt. All his actions are geared towards eliminating Ramadhir Singh, who has no idea about him. But for all all his bravado outside, he is at the receiving end of his wife's jhaadu. Richa Chadda has played the fiesty Najma, wife of Sardar Khan with conviction. The sight of a heavily Nagma chasing Sardar through a brothel, jhaadu on one hand, and of her going to spy on her husband with her kids speak of her range as an actor. Her wide range of emotions is a perfect foil to the single minded focus of Sardar Khan.

As the film progresses, we see Sardar Khan returning to Wasseypur to take on the Querishis, who have been terrorizing the other Muslims. He takes not time in making his presence felt. When he does meet Ramdhir Singh, he does not introduce himself with words, but with artifacts. Ramadhir is stunned, knowing he made a mistake long ago.

In the mean time, he also get a Hindu mistress for himself, the Bangalan Durga. The sequence of their courtship is among the few light moments in this otherwise dark film. Reema Sen as the seductress Durga is captivating.

Sardar loses no opportunity in hitting at Ramadhir. His clout has grown, and Ramadhir knows about him, but he is more of a nuisance to him than a threat.

In the mean time, two of his sons, Danish and Faisal have grown up, Danish being the good son and Faisal being the rebel. Faisal is the only innocent soul in the movie, a charasi who has taken refuge in the world of drugs and movies to escape the harsh realities around him.

From the beginning till the end, one expects violence to erupt on screen, such is the tension created by the characters. When Danish manages a truce between the Khans and the Qureshis, it would seem Sardar will have one less enemy to worry about. But the final attack on him at a petrol pump awakens him to the vengeance he had promised himself: the total annihilation of Ramadhir Singh, which still remains. Riddled with bullets, struggling to stand straight, he is again reminded of his aim, and sets out to pass on his vengeance to his sons. That is the perfect ending to the saga of Sardar, and the beginning of rise of Faisal Khan. One looks forward to the sequel.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Dibakar Banerjee gets together an ensemble cast for his fourth outing, a mix of regulars (Abhay Deol), expected (Kalki Kochelin, fast an alternate cinema favourite) and completely unexpected (Emran Hashmi??!!??).
Shanghai takes off from the promise that politicians make, about bringing about development, in this case, compared to Shanghai. Shanghaied also means to swindle someone. In the case of the move, the title can refer to either.
Based on the Greek novel 'Z', the setting has been Indianised. The aspirations of small town India aiming to be in the big league, 'progress' and 'modernity' trampling the traditional, the film covers everything.
Dibakar Banerjee has an eye for details, which catches the smaller nuances in a scene. He employs this sharp  observations to good use to capture the feel of a small-town India. His Bharatnagar is a claustrophobic town, filled with people aiming to move up in life. Pitobash wants to learn English, so that he can become a manager, Emran wants to earn money so that he can go home, and many more such stories. In the middle of all this, there are huge celebrations by the political parties celebrating their city that is about to become another Shanghai.
The Bharat Mata Ki Jai song appears to be ill-fitting in this setting, but in the smoke and mirror goings-on in the film, it is the most direct shot of reality. Calling the bluff on all the positive surroundings, the song, instead, revels on the truth of the visible India, the gur as well as the gobar.
The bleak environs of the movie are a stark contrast to the candy floss that is served up every week in theaters. That itself sets apart, but what elevates it is the performance of the principal cast. Of special note is Faroukh Sheikh as Kaul, the face of the government, as he goes about ironing out the issues, and also, the actor who plays Pitobash's mamu through all the mayhem, he is concerned about his truck, while being consumed by guilt. Though he speaks less, his eyes speak volumes.
Whit this movie, Dibakar Banerjee serves up another intelligent far. If three strikes is a hat trick, what do you call it when a person strikes four times?

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Anurag Kashyap: an ear for music

Anurag Kashyap has blazed a trail in directing movies and writing them. Every since Satya, his skills have never been in doubt. He brought a fresh perspective in the bubblegum movies of late nineties with the hard hitting Sayta, which he co-wrote with Saurabh Shukla. With Paanch, this grittiness was given a visual feel by him.
Since then, AK has gone on to make movies he believes in, mixing stories with his levels of real-life slices and his trademark drug trips (go through movies directed by him, and there will be a pot-smoking sequence).
But what many have missed, is his ability to get good music in his movies. For a Bollywood, having a good ear for music is as essential as having an eye for a good face. A look at the best directors shows that they usually have nice music in their films, with a few exceptions (Raj Kumar Santoshi seems to be completely tone deaf). Right from Paanch onward, the music in his film stands out, like his films as being off beat, but also catchy. Paanch had the superb Yeh Kaisa Hai Shehar as well as the moody Pakaa Mat. All in all, Paanch is a nice compilation, with immense repeat value. His next was Black Friday, which had music by Indian Ocean, once again an offbeat choice by Bollywood standards. Bu the quality of songs delivered is something else. Each song on that album is a gem. From Bandeh, which is a plea to the terrorist to stop, to Karam Bhaap Ke, which portrays the aftermath of committing a sin, it covers a range of emotions. Next up was Dev D, which people remember Emotional Atyachar and Pardesi. But the entire album is filled with gems, that cover a range of emotions and feelings. Dev lamenting with Saali Khushi, Paro rejoicing with Dhol Yaara, Chanda feeling happy with Aankh Micholi. I haven't seen or head That Girl in Yellow Boots, so can't comment on that movie (did it have a soundtrack?). With Gangs of Wasseyour, AK again shows his ear for music. He has gotten Sneha Khanwalkar to churn out music that is rustic, earthy, but at the same time, accessible to everyone.
Truth be told, it seems that AK has a monopoly in this kind of music, an earthy, true-to-roots kind of music, which melds with the movie.  But it takes a certain belief in yourself to go against the tide and do your won thing. The common thread amongst all his music has been that they have a certain melody to them, and fit neatly into the stories. No rock anthems for GOW, and not classical songs for Paanch, cos they would not fit.
In future, if there is a retrospective of AK, he should be mentioned in the same breath as Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Subhash Ghai. Looks like for all his rebelliousness, he is turning out to be one of them!