Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)

Directed by
Reviewed by Simon on 2022-08-19

Gangs Of Wasseypur tells a multi-generational story that begins around the time of India's independence and runs to the modern day (as was). An enforcer for a mine owner has ambitions to replace his boss, who decides to curtail them by having him killed. His wife and infant son escape the assassins and go into hiding, with the son swearing to take vengeance when he is older. Thus begins a blood feud that lasts for decades.

After watching it I learned that writer/director Anurag Kashyap was one of the writers of Satya, which made a lot of sense because that is perhaps the film it reminded me of the most - being a smart, thoughtful gangster film with excellent characterisation. I was actually most reminded of CITY OF GOD, stylistically and thematically, though it's so long since I've seen that it's at best a vague impression in my memory, so I can't attach too much weight to the feeling.

The film is rich in detail and evocative of the place and times in which it is set. Progress through the years and decades is sometimes marked with a title card, but mostly reflected in the Bollywood stars and movies that are popular at any given point.

The production design and cinematography are uniformly fantastic, making it frequently beautiful to behold and expertly setting tone and framing action. The tone is actually quite varied, sometimes violent and gritty and at other times (darkly) comical or dramatically affective.

The soundtrack is superb, and quite diverse as the style evolves with the setting - to the point that much of the music in the film is performed in situ. I don't know whether it's just the translation on the version I watched, but the lyrics to some of the songs are quite shockingly profane for a Hindi film...

This barter of bloody blows will make you cry,
you'll know my name when I fuck you dry.

From Keh Ke Loonga

I can't remember any other songs from an Indian film being quite so on the nose!

The Wasseypur region in which the film is set is apparently a predominantly Muslim area, but apart from a couple of "We're both Muslims so cut me a break bro?" moments their religion doesn't seem to have much influence on the characters or their behaviour. They're driven by more mundane and secular motives - greed, lust, pride, jealousy and other such universals.

The film is split into two parts but works as one film, running just over 5 hours once you factor out the credits and a very brief recap at the start of Part 2. The two parts do focus on different generations, but the story carries on without a blip from one to the next. I watched both parts in one sitting, and despite the epic length it never felt dull for a moment, because it's never quite predictable where it will go.

The film actually starts with a scene that is out of chronological order, which we eventually return to around the middle of Part 2 - though we see it unfold from a different perspective then, and have a lot more context to understand it in.

This isn't an action film by any measure, but does have some action scenes that are well filmed. There's none of the over the top action of a Bollywood hero film, it's all done realistically - and sometimes brutally.

I can see why the film made waves upon its release - I remember hearing a lot of praise for it at the time, and have been meaning to watch it ever since. I am glad I finally made the time - it's exceptional on every level.