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River to River, the changing face of Bollywood, WASSEYPUR, in your face with a vengeance

by Alex Deleon for <filmfestivals.com>

 

220px-Gangs_of_Wasseypur_poster.jpg

Take that you bloody muthe$&£$%*er!
 

The main Indian features seen this year at Florence, "The Gangs of Wasseypur" and "Chittagong", are Bollywood productions in the sense that both are made in Hindi (rather than one of India's other 21 official languages) with professional Bombay performers and staff, but the content, style, and conception of these films seems to be pointing the Bombay based film industry in a new direction. 

 
Wasseypur director, Anurag Kashyap, 40, is no newcomer to tinseltown having already helmed half a dozen features there since 2000 and acted as producer or writer on many more. Among his works until now are "Black Friday", 2007, which addresses the terrorist bombings in Bombay of 1993, "Dev D", 2009, a modern reworking of a semi-sacrosanct Indian screen classic, and "The Girl in Yellow Boots" 2011, which dissects the misadventures of a girl in the Mumbai sex massage trade, all hardball films of controversial content, one way or another. He also worked on the script of Ram Gopa Varma's unflinching study of the Mumbai underworld, "Satya" in 1998,  which was deemed an Indian neo-film noir and is a kind of prequel to the current rural gangland saga. With "Gangs of Wasseypur" Anurag has pushed the Bollywood envelope about as far as it will go ...


Wasseypur is a small town in the Dhanbad district of the god-forsaken state of Jharkhand, also known as the Coal Capital of India, and has been described as the most violent, lawless, and fearsome place in the entire land because of the endless gang warfare going on there for over half a century.
The names of real life rival dons Sabir Alam and Fahim Khan, the actual warlords of two rival mafia clans, are indelibly associated with Wasseypur where the film is set, however, while the movie characters called 'Sardar Khan' and 'Ramadhir Singh' are theoreticaly fictional, it is pretty damn clear that any similarity to actual persons living and dead is far from coincidental. Anurag Kashyap, who has roots in Jharkhand knows the scene there only too well and is obviously not interested in glamorizing it or gilding any lilies. He wants people to wake up to reality, to put it mildly.  One wonders whether these hardball gangsters will be flattered when they recognize themselves on screen or will feel betrayed and take out a real life contract on this ballsy director. Gangs is a big hit all over India but, according to The Times of India, the initial showing in Wasseyput itself was called off for fear of violence.


The direction Anurag explores in Wasseypur is a total departure from normal escapist Bollywood masala into the territory of stark black realism --"Reservoir Dogistan" -- to borrow a page from the Cineblitz fanzine satire of the picture. The Anurag analog of Tarantino's slicing off of an ear is the carving off an entire head from the body of a still squirming victim as fountains of rich red blood spurt up gloriously in a beautifully backlit set -- very cinematic if this kind of brutality is your cup of tea. It obviously was at Cannes where Gangs was declared a masterpiece, and maybe it is --but not for the faint of heart or the mushy sentimental Yashraj crowd. The language of the film is incidentally not exactly Hindi, but a regional variety known as Bhojpuri, which is actually Anurag's native tongue, and part of the reason that attracted him to this gory tale from the gritty Islamic coal pit belt of Jharkand province. The fact that most of the protagonists are Indian Moslems is more or less incidental, just one of the facts of life in this grisly manifresco -- Assalamu Aleikum.

Another feature of this film is the utter obscenity of the language employed by the characters.  
The general flavor is conveyed by constant use of "motherfucker, asshole", and variations on these themes in the English subtitles, but the director assured me that much is lost in translation and that the original dialogues are far more varied and graphic -- which is apparently an important selling point in terms of reality therapy and linguistic titillation of the Indian public.  Moreover there is a kind of documentary effect created by the insertion of frequent dateline intertitles to help viewers keep track of events and set them up for the next assault on the senses. Actually these titles are necessary simply to keep track of who does what to whom, when and where, in this densely populated film where people keep getting knocked off every other minute and are almost interchangeable with the next corpse. Pehaps the whole thing is best summed up when one character says "In Wasseyput even the pigeons fly with one wing because they need the other one to protect their ass".  Lots of catchy dialogues of this kind have made Gangs into an instant cult classic.

There is also a lot of sex in the film but this is not a sexy picture. The main guy of Part I, Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpai, the only previously well known actor in the cast) is an insatiable satyr and will fuck anything that moves, merely to get his rocks off without the slightest trace of anything but rage. But don't worry -- he gets pumped full of hot lead at the Intermission with a bloody shot to the head to top it all off. An emerging new star, Nawaz Siddiqui (the relentlessly pot puffing son Faizal Khan), takes over in Part II and smokes as much hash as the cocaine consumed by Al Pacino in Scarface '83 -- in fact, in terms of graphic violence and substance abuse these films are distant cousins. Or one might think, Sergio Leone with a twist of the knife in the gut and countless shots to the head. Well, the French have a name for it --"danse maccabre". A film not to miss, but make sure to check heart and mind at the door and abandon all hope ye about to pass through the portals of your local Wasseypur show.

Next up, "Chittagong" --

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