One of my first posts on this blog was a response to a first viewing of Gangs of Wasseypur, Part 1, and two and a half years later, the full two-part, 320-minute film has finally gotten a U.S. theatrical release. I took this rare opportunity to catch both parts back to back at Lincoln Center in NYC, where the film is playing for the rest of the week.
There's nobody working in Indian cinema--or maybe any cinema--who uses musical numbers better than director Anurag Kashyap does. First, he's not afraid to include music, and a lot of it. Second, he gets the best people in the business to write the new material (here, the great Sneha Khanwalkar is music director) and also weaves in a few classic Bollywood songs. And third, he uses the score brilliantly to comment on and contrast with what he's showing onscreen.
The outstandingly profane* number "Kehke Lunga," for example, underscores what Part 1's opposing strongmen, Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia, also a well-known director) and Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee), are doing to each other and to all the little people they mangle with so little thought:
The full version of the film is admittedly imperfect. Part 2 may be overpopulated; is it necessary to introduce two major new characters an hour from the end of a five-hour film? Also, Sardar Khan's third son, the one between Faizal and Perpendicular, vanishes without a trace--his presence in the story at all seems like a vestige of a storyline not quite completely left on the cutting-room floor. The narration by family retainer Nasir (Piyush Mishra**) sometimes exposits at excessive length to introduce complications that vanish in a few minutes and might have been omitted without much loss to the film. Blips like these are evidence that the plot's layers and layers and layers of complexity aren't completely under anyone's control.
But this feels like quibbling. My overwhelming feeling after watching the full five-hour, seventy-year, three-generation story is that it all went by awfully quickly, the way life does. Perhaps the unspooling narrative aims to demonstrate that nobody from Anurag Kashyap on down can keep track of all the petty slights and monstrous deeds that repeatedly bring repercussions in Wasseypur. At any rate, I sure can't, even after seeing both parts more than once. The one sure thing is that there's going to be a lot of killing, most of it for really bad reasons.
I love Manoj Bajpayee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui in pretty much every film of theirs I've seen, and they are typically terrific as a father-son duo of fuckup kingpins. As mentioned in my 2012 post, in Part 1 Sardar Khan makes a series of disastrous personal choices that enrage two steely women, Nagma (Richa Chadda) and Durga (Reema Sen). Sardar fears their reactions, but probably not enough. Nawazuddin's Faizal Khan is the lead in Part 2, a stoner who cares only about his chillum and his girl, Mohsina (Huma Qureshi), whose love of 1970s action movies matches his own. When Faizal finally exacts vengeance for the murder of his sometimes-deadbeat dad, it's because his mother Nagma insists--and also because he's realized that in the movie of his life he's been the sidekick (or as he says, not Amitabh Bachchan but Shashi Kapoor).
The reduced screen time for Richa Chadda and Reema Sen in Part 2 is a bit of a disappointment, but perhaps Nagma and Durga's declining influence is a necessary result of Faizal's decision to be more like Amitabh (well, except much more enthusiastically bloodthirsty). Until the end of the film, Mohsina seems mostly OK with Faizal's turning himself into the star of the show. But then she's pregnant, and suddenly it must seem to her that being married to good-boy Shashi instead of to avenging Amitabh might not be such a terrible thing.
The rage of Nagma and Durga continues to infect their sons, and there is plenty of blowback from the feuds that they've helped perpetuate. The ongoing bloodshed touches all the women in the extended household, even those who aren't machinating behind the scenes. A high point of Part 2 is the song "Taar Bijli," performed by Nagma for the women celebrating Mohsina's wedding to Faizal. Nagma has been widowed by gang violence, as have other women in the room. Her voice cracks and tears run down her face. But she keeps singing. The younger women comfort Nagma while continuing to dance.
The film whirls on at a dizzying pace, tossing out romance and hilarity and fury and horror without leaving the audience time to breathe. The final scene at last allows a few characters to escape the maelstrom, but without illusions. With cast changes, deadlier guns, and updated Bollywood ringtones, the story seems likely to go on for generations to come.
*Google it if you want to know exactly how obscene the lyrics are--or just see it in the print playing in theaters now, which (I'm thrilled to report) includes song subtitles!
**Piyush Mishra also serves as lyricist for a number of songs, including the raunchy one mentioned in the previous footnote.