Does Gangs of Wasseypur have the Satya magic? Yes.
Is this Manoj Bajpai’s best film ever? Yes.
Is it a Bihari version of Kill Bill? No.
Is Anurag Kashyap in his element? Yes.
Is it worth watching? Yes.
Will everybody love it? Now, that’s the tricky question.
Gangs of Wasseypur is a delightful film. It has a grand plot, lots of interesting characters, and an epic canvas. Even as a revenge drama, it is culturally rooted, detailed in its descriptions of caste politics and social and sexual dynamics. It is gritty and gory, subtle and shocking. It is irreverent and profane but very, very interesting.
Manoj Bajpai shines as Sardar Khan, managing to be complacent and curious, caring and ruthless, charming and mean, all at the same time. Richa Chadha and Reema Sen both have detailed characters and manage to etch them skillfully. Piyush Mishra, who plays Sardar’s friend, has also done a fine job. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Faisal Khan is bright and is clearly meant to play a central role in the sequel. A special word in praise of Sneha Khanwalkar’s music score; it’s naughty, rural, and right on cue with most of the film.
As director, Anurag Kashyap takes the effort to layer the film with sharp undercurrents, lend the characters depth, and the story some detailed delightful Tarantinoesque cultural referencing – for instance, the fight with the Guide poster on the wall, that scene of Faisal (Sardar’s son) watching Trishul at that point in the film, and Yashpal Sharma singing Salaam-e-ishq in a woman’s voice at the wedding.
Gangs runs for almost three hours, but the problem is not its length, but its volume. This is an epic about Sardar Khan - the son of Shahid Khan, a smalltime dacoit-turned-coal mine worker - and his need for revenge for the murder of his father by the coal mine owner-turned-politician Ramadhir Singh. But the story is not so simple. The labyrinthine storytelling turns so many corners unveiling so many characters, generations and paths that it’s difficult to make sense of the bigger picture here. Most of the scenes whiz past so fast, that you feel you may have missed a dialogue or two, especially in the first hour where much of the context of the plot and its politics is established.
There are some scenes that have a steadying influence on the narrative, for instance, Sardar Khan’s wife finding out about his infidelities or arguing with him, or Sardar’s fascination with the Bengali girl (Durga), or even his dilemma with sexual abstinence. But those are not too many. And some, like Sardar’s son Danish’s wedding night, or his other son Faisal’s romantic assignation, just drift around in the plot somewhere. The second big problem with the film is the lack of empathy. Sardar Khan is endearing but it is difficult to justify his myriad crimes over the course of the film.
Of course, like Kill Bill, there will very soon be a second part that may or may not tie all these ends together. However, unlike the first installment of Kill Bill, Gangs Part 1 doesn’t necessarily stand on its own as an independent narrative. And therein lies its problem as a two-part film. Who will go for the sequel if the first doesn’t hit right on target?