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Big screen machismo: How violent is too violent?


SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | New Delhi, August 9, 2012 11:57
Tags : Gangs of Wasseypur 2 | Anurag Kashyap |

Gangs of Wasseypur 2‘Gangs of Wasseypur 2’ packs quite a wallop as a finale to the gritty vengeance saga that began with the killing of colliery worker Shahid Khan by a rising mafia don and wannabe politician many decades ago in a part of British India that was no more than a speck on the map.

The times have changed beyond recognition, but the messy, no-holds-barred blood feud between the two clans continues unabated into the new millennium and takes on shockingly brutal dimensions.

The two-part Gangs of Wasseypur, with its in-your-face treatment of small-town machismo, has triggered a debate on the depiction of violence on the big screen. At the recent 12th Osian’s Cinfan Festival of Indian Asian and Arab Cinema in New Delhi, the sprawling gangster epic’s director and co-writer, Anurag Kashyap, had to confront questions regarding what some members of the media felt was ‘gratuitous’ blood-letting by his trigger-happy characters.

 The combative Kashyap had little difficulty in defending his line of thinking although he admitted that the debate that he has been spearheading for years is unlikely to reach its closure anytime soon.

 “When screen violence is unreal and presented as heroic, like it is done in most commercial Hindi films, it is more likely to be emulated by unthinking segments of the audience,” he argued. “But when the violence is real and close to the bones, people flinch from it and feel its sheer ugliness. An adult audience that can think for itself will be repulsed by the violence in my films.” 

Returning to Gangs of Wasseypur and the violent men who people its narrative landscape, the blood and gore in the film may indeed seem somewhat excessive to the squeamish. To his credit, Kashyap manages to ward off some of these legitimate misgivings by constructing a coherent and convincing socio-political context for the relentless violence that these rampaging gangsters of the 1990s and beyond unleash.

The social tensions and the deep inter-clan fissures are revealed against the backdrop of the area’s troubled history that has engendered in many in the coal belt of Dhanbad a constant need to grab every half chance that comes their way to make a killing even if it means spilling some blood in the bargain.

In this milieu the legal machinery has all but collapsed and an emasculated police force and civil administration are complicit in the crimes of the powerful and the reckless. Death and destruction stalk these men and their families at every bend but they carry regardless on because the pecuniary rewards for the risks they take are enormous.

To that extent, the story of Wasseypur, which was once a sleepy locality of Dhanbad but is now a part of the urban expanse of the eastern Indian coal town, is not an isolated one. It is like many other pockets of India where the rule of law has given way in the face of a relentless onslaught by mafia elements out to manipulate and milk a vulnerable administrative system.     

The men of Gangs of Wasseypur are dreaded marauders all right, but Kashyap projects them more like animals trapped in a pit that they climb out of. In fact, they sink deeper into the abyss with each manipulative foray into exploiting a corrupt, highly compromised system.

The power-crazed hoodlums strut through Wasseypur’s chaotic streets armed to the teeth and dodging and deflecting deadly attacks on their lives. When they strike back at a cornered foe, it is with the force that only the truly desperate can muster.

Revenge is the central focus of Gangs of Wasseypur, but there is more to the film than just two bunched of men baying for each other’s blood. The film unravels several aspects of the violent gang rivalries that define the place – the coal contracts, the iron trade, the railway scrap auctions, and even the electoral malpractices that were rampant here until a few years ago – and provide glimpses of the psychological impulsions that drive the mafia outfits.  

The screenplay, crafted with primary inputs from Zeishan Quadri, an actor and writer who belongs to Wasseypur, provides an insider’s view. It creates an oppressive atmosphere of moral nihilism in which both the hunted and the hunter, both the victim and the victor, have their backs to the wall.      

 As in Gangs of Wasseypur, the final chapter presents a steady procession of characters (though not as a many as in the previous installment) played by natural actors who know exactly how much of their own personalities requires to be imposed on the performances. None of the actors, not even those that are given substantial footage, seeks to get ahead of his or her defined brief.

Nawazuddin Siqddiqui, who is the heart of Gangs of Wasseypur 2, captures an impressive range of emotions in keeping with the demands of the role – from an air of befuddlement to a sense of despair, from moments of fear to acts of desperate courage, from utter cynicism to bitter defiance, without ever calling undue attention to himself at the expense of the screenplay.

The women have much less to do here than they did in the first part of Gangs of Wasseypur, and yet they make a strong impact, thanks to the meat that has been stuffed into their roles in an essentially male-driven narrative.

 The women – Richa Chadda, Reema Sen and Huma Qureshi – aren’t mere walk-on mannequins amid the ruins. By making them an essential part of a blood-soaked scenario where bullets do most of the talking, the screenplay invests the film with a degree of humanism that crime thrillers rarely attain.     

Debutante Huma Qureishi, who had only just been introduced towards the end of the first part, comes into her own in the sequel, playing Faizal Khan's demure but no-nonsense girlfriend-turned-wife with the kind of effortless ease that instantly indicates a level of confident proficiency that belies her inexperience.

Verdict: Gangs of Wasseypur is ultra-violent, but venal it certainly isn’t. As a study of grievously lacerated souls caught in a spiral of hate that they have little real control over, the film works brilliantly.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog are that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Sunday Indian)
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017