“Gangs of Wasseypur II”… Son of Sardar

Posted on August 12, 2012


A lot of what I wrote about Gangs of Wasseypur I can be said about the sequel.  Gangs of Wasseypur II… is a sprawling, picaresque saga set in and around the mining community in Dhanbad (formerly of Bihar; now belonging to Jharkhand)… [and] where films revolving around a hero (or an antihero, a khalnayak) usually become fixated with their every movement to the extent that this hero (or antihero) shows up in every scene, [Anurag] Kashyap tells the story of [Sardar Khan’s son] through the people around him, the people who came before him, and those who come after him… On a formal level, this is easily Kashyap’s most fascinating outing… The film unfolds as a series of voiceovers, a flurry of dates and names, a cavalcade of memorable scenes… [This] is a diffuse epic, content to coast around the revenge plot instead of making it the thrust of its narrative – and what the film loses in terms of dramatic power, it gains in texture…

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Several scenes touch upon the hero-villain dynamic that drove a lot of the cinema of the eras this film is set in, but [Kashyap] is not interested in going there…. [Kashyap] isn’t even interested in showcasing [Sardar Khan’s son] as a towering figure, someone capable of anchoring all this churn of activity. The man comes off, frankly, as a bit of a clown… For a film that spans decades, there are no flashy signposts. But for the pattern of a sweater, a film song, a movie poster, we could be in the same time period. The people stay the same, as does the place… [The film] goes after anything and everything in its quest to sweep us through its story, even tongue-in-cheek film references – there’s an homage to [the Don being gunned down while buying fruit, and Michael’s reluctant submission to his father’s world] in The Godfather

Gangs of Wasseypur II begins at the end of the earlier film, with Durga’s [Reemma Sen] betrayal and Sardar Khan’s [Manoj Bajpai] assassination at a petrol bunk. The death of this fatally flawed man is suffused with some poignancy because his last act was a generous one, a responsible one, handing over to his [second] family a sum of money. And after his death, as his body is borne away, we see not his face but the head he shaved upon his father’s death at the hands of Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia), and we are reminded about the oath that lies unfulfilled. There are other reminders as well. This film, too, begins at Faizal Khan’s (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) home and wanders into the little lanes around it. When Faizal Khan catches his mother Naghma (Richa Chaddha) being consoled by Farhan (Piyush Mishra), we recall the time he stumbled upon them almost having sex, and now, even under far more innocent circumstances, Farhan lowers his eyes in guilt and shame. (And later, as he did in the earlier film, Farhan flagellates himself when faced with sex, coming off like a puritan simultaneously drawn to and repelled by fleshly pleasures.)

As in Part I, Faizal seeks Mohsina’s (Huma Qureshi) “permission” to have sex with her, and here too, Sneha Khanwalkar’s songs prove the perfect complement to Kashyap’s narrative, occupying the exact mid-ground between down-to-earth (and therefore invisible) realism and shtick-figured, attention-grabbing kitsch. For additional music, we have, like before, Yashpal Sharma, as a troubadour specialising in the Shabbir Kumar oeuvre. (In the theatre I saw the film in, he got the biggest laughs. And unlike other metro-centric filmmakers who wear their RD Burman affiliations like a badge of cool, Kashyap knows that the real India was more in tune with Laxmikant-Pyarelal.) The times have changed. The excerpt from Trishul in Part I gives way to a scene from Maine Pyar Kiya. But Ramadhir Singh hasn’t changed. His mobile phone erupts with the ring tone of the Gayatri mantra (as a contrast, a minor character’s ring tone is Koyal si teri boli), and he says, in all seriousness, “Hindustan mein jab tak cinema hai, log chutiya bante jayenge.”

But we don’t take this statement seriously. We laugh at it because if cinema didn’t exist, Kashyap wouldn’t exist. It’s like the anti-smoking warning on a pack of cigarettes – it means nothing to the addict. Gangs of Wasseypur would not have been possible if Kashyap hadn’t been so drunk on cinema – like Quentin Tarantino, the universe he creates is drawn less from life around us than how the movies have depicted life around us. And his peculiar achievement – and, finally, a praiseworthy one – is that he draws from our cinema and, at the same time, denounces it. His style of narration reminded me of a dialogue from Part I, when Sardar Khan shoots at someone, misses, and then confronts the man who made the gun. Of the weapon’s faulty aim, he says, “Maarte hain kasaai mohalla, jaata hai kalkatta.” (And how can you not smile at this line, which carries more colour and flavour than the entire set of dialogues of most movies.) Kashyap’s narrative, similarly, looks towards revenge and lands up everywhere else, at least till the end. There’s a character, here, named Tangent – that could be the name of the film.

These digressions are a bit much at times. When Mani Ratnam brought to the mainstream the use of vignettes with Iruvar, telling a story through flashes of memory rather than overly expository scenes, it looked like at least a few filmmakers might latch on to this style, but no one till Kashyap has – and he takes this style to its extreme, where these vignettes are everything. When a character slings a cobra (yes, a cobra) around his neck and saunters about (when asked why he did it, he shrugs, “sexy lag raha tha”), we find it amusing, but it’s hard also not to wish that they’d get on with it. We are torn, constantly, between the scenic wonders along the way, so compelling that they demand that we stop and stare, and the need to reach the destination. Like Part I, Gangs of Wasseypur II works on a scene-by-scene level rather than as a cohesive whole. And you may wonder, as I did, about some of Kashyap’s choices. For instance, why begin Part I with a scene that occurs midway through the second half of Part II?

As a result, we never care for these characters or feel any genuine emotion (at the end, for instance, which takes place in Mumbai in 2009 and at least looks like a poignant coda) – but the only way Gangs of Wasseypur can be considered is by treating it as a super-elaborate postmodern prank rather than a traditional dramatic narrative. The rules, accordingly, are broken everywhere. As with Part I, scenes of horrifying brutality alternate with stretches of burlesque. At one point, Danish shoots down someone and continues shooting at the corpse and then, for dessert, sticks a knife into the dead man’s eye; he returns home and hands his mother the bullet shell casings, like Bheema returning to Draupadi with a handful of Dushasana’s blood. And this very traditional, mythical, emotional scene coexists with a deadpan moment where Faizal shoots down a man in a circle of men, and the person closest to the gun, the one most affected by the noise of firing, pulls at his ear as if chasing away an irksome fly.

At times, it appears that the only ingredient in Kashyap’s khichdi is black comedy, or just plain comedy – from the names of the characters (Definite, Perpendicular, Tangent) to the bit of business about a boy slipping his feet into a friend’s slippers to the difference in size between the scrawny Faizal and the deliciously voluptuous Mohsina (Qureshi is simply wonderful, a self-aware beauty queen from the hinterlands who models herself after heroines), who is taller and broader than him. When they get married and finally consummate their relationship, Kashyap stages a scene of broad slapstick, with the sounds of a bed being pounded and a picture falling off the wall due to these vibrations. The scene is funnier when we imagine the couple together, this tiny man flailing about to consume this bigger woman. And later, when Mohsina visits Faizal in jail, they look at each other through the wire mesh – it’s like he’s a love-struck fan pressing his face against the close-up of a movie star on a screen.

But this comedy serves a purpose. It reminds us that the serious side of life is supplemented by the silly side. But more importantly, it deflates the traditional model of heroism in our cinema, where the heroes are equipped with single-minded purpose, which is to vanquish the villain who walks around with a maniacal cackle and an evil glint in the eye. The entirely sombre Ramadhir Singh, the bad guy, is (as the Godfather movies might put it) just a businessman who had to (literally) eliminate some rivals in order to survive, and Faizal Khan, also a bad guy (though performing the duties of the good guy in the movies), is a druggie whose methods suggest that it’s a miracle he’s still alive. He doesn’t seem all that invested in his mission – if it could be called that – to avenge his father’s death, certainly not to the extent that Amitabh Bachchan was in his movies that defined heroism for an entire generation.

In the film’s finest sequence, which expands on the attack on Faizal’s home that began Part I, Faizal doesn’t confront his attackers. He, instead, climbs up to the terrace and jumps to the adjacent terrace and shimmies down a wall and breaks his foot and winces with pain and enlists the help of a neighbour to return home. And instantly, a hero, a protagonist, is reduced to a mere man, who has to visit the doctor to treat this broken bone and walk around in a plaster cast afterwards. This, Kashyap tells us, is what avengers are like – fools, sidetracked by love stories (Faizal is as much a fool for Mohsina as his father was for Durga), men with vague aims but without concrete plans. And this could be the reason for beginning Part I with this shootout – perhaps Kashyap was pointing to his intentions of myth-busting, as opposed to all those films where a revenge-oriented plot enabled heroic myth-making.

Even his hero is not the traditionally manly Danish (Vineet Kumar), who asserts his traditional manliness by stuffing his gun down the front of his pants, but the ganja-loving second son, whose smoking isn’t coy, like we’ve seen in the movies, with characters cupping their hands around their mouth – he sucks in the fumes like a vampire feasting on a long-denied infusion of lifeblood. Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s performance is remarkable. He draws on this character trait and plays his part with an addict’s remoteness and cluelessness. (The scene where he demands to know what a pager does is a beauty.) At first, when Sardar Khan’s news reaches home and we see Danish so emotionally overwrought and Faizal in a stupor, we think it’s because he’s in shock. But soon we see that that’s how he is – he walks through life in a drugged-out daze. Kashyap’s two-part saga is, for the first time in our cinema, an acknowledgement of the accidental hero.

Copyright ©2012 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi