By Amal Singh Jun. 22, 2019
Eight years ago, Anurag Kashyap gifted us Gangs of Wasseypur, a gangster epic we could proudly call our own. Perhaps even more than the film’s masterful characters, it’s quotable dialogues have achieved cult status. Tigmanshu Dhulia makes “bhosdi ke” sound poetic while Manoj Bajpayee takes everyday cuss words and elevates them to something Voltaire would be proud of.
Back in 2012 on an unsuspecting Friday, my friend and I decided to watch Gangs of Wasseypur – Part II in the theatre. At that point, we hadn’t seen the first installment of the series and didn’t even bother to glance at the synopsis. Yeah, we rolled like that. We were both, however, great fans of Anurag Kashyap’s body of work. We’d watched Dev.D in college and had our minds collectively explode at the ingenuity of the retelling and Black Friday was sacred to us. Here was a director who really took chances, and most of all, knew his characters and wasn’t afraid to put them to hell to make them truly shine.
Eight years ago, Hindi cinema was going through what can be termed as a renaissance period. Great storytelling was at the forefront – Ayushmann Khurrana had come out of his Roadies cocoon to give us Vicky Donor. Vidya Balan shone in Kahaani, a masterfully mounted thriller by Sujoy Ghosh, and Ranbir Kapoor outclassed everyone in Barfi, Anurag Basu’s delightful ode to innocence. But it was Gangs of Wasseypur that changed the tide. Its characters achieved cult status in no time at all. Kashyap had finally gone on to do what we’d always expected from him – gifted us a gangster epic we could proudly call our own.
In Sardar Khan’s “Maarenge nahi saale ko. Keh ke lenge uski,” we had our own “I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker, say what one more goddamn time.”
Image Credits: Anurag Kashyap Films
As the theatre lights came back on after two hours of riveting gangland drama, I was staring at the screen with my mouth agape. I cast a glance at my friend, who had a similar expression on his face. We’d witnessed an utter miracle.
I went back home that night and channeled my inner critic to shower praises on the film, posting statuses like “Gangs of Wasseypur 2 is a rare, visceral classic.” Then, like every honest-to-God engineer, I went ahead and torrented the hell out of Gangs of Wasseypur – Part 1. I’m sure Anurag Kashyap won’t mind that; he’s even admitted that he owes the cult status of his films to torrents. Watching Part 1 made me appreciate the film I’d just seen, even more. I saw the story as a single, carefully crafted mosaic, as it was intended to be. What GoW also made me realise was that Kashyap’s films don’t have cardboard cutout “heroes” and “villains” who fit perfectly in moulds. What they have instead, are people. And yes, eight years later, I still maintain that the Gangs of Wasseypur franchise is a rare, visceral classic.
The dialogues, penned by Zeeshan Quadri, are hyper-realistic, matching the slightly heightened reality the movie itself operates in, but their delivery is surprisingly grounded.
It took me quite a while to process the sheer scope of storytelling in GoW. Here was our very own gangster epic, with all the style of Goodfellas, the violence of Scarface, and the storytelling of The Godfather, with a generous splash of Tarantino thrown in. But despite its obvious influences, GoW was its own thing – a hinterland story about the coal mafia, revolving around Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee), his arch-nemesis Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia), his son Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and a host of characters who are now imprinted in our psyche. Ultimately a story of revenge, it’s a multigenerational crime saga, elements of which are inspired from the real-life coal mafia of Dhanbad, whose roots were sown back in the early 1940s.
But perhaps even more than the characters, it’s the quotable dialogues that have cemented GoW’s place as a cult classic. “Yeh Wasseypur hai. Yahaan kabootar bhi ek pankh se udta hai, aur doosre se apna ijjat bachata hai,” remarks Sultan Qureshi (Pankaj Tripathi) at one point in the film. There are more such gems, peppered throughout the film, heavy with metaphors. The dialogues, penned by Zeeshan Quadri, are hyper-realistic, matching the slightly heightened reality the movie itself operates in, but their delivery is surprisingly grounded. This is what makes it sound not like “dialogue” but something a character would naturally say.
It’s also the mark of a great actor, and the GoW franchise has no scarcity of them. Tigmanshu Dhulia makes “bhosdi ke” sound poetic while Manoj Bajpayee takes everyday cuss words and elevates them to something Voltaire would be proud of. With GoW, Indian cinema had finally come of age. In Sardar Khan’s “Maarenge nahi saale ko. Keh ke lenge uski,” we had our own “I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker, say what one more goddamn time.”
Looking back, it’s not even like GoW brought something strikingly original to the table when it came to telling stories set in the hinterland. Vishal Bhardwaj had done so more than five years ago in Maqbool and Omkara, perhaps two of the finest modern classics. But GoW did what none of those films could manage to do — make an indisputable cultural impact. Its characters are still loved and often quoted. Bhardwaj’s films were adaptations, and can be termed as slightly niche and inaccessible for audiences unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s work. But GoW didn’t operate under any such baggage. It brought hinterland to the mainstream and made it cool. And what is cooler than critiquing societal perils through memes? Yes, modern meme culture owes a lot to GoW. Not a day goes by when I don’t see a Facebook post, an image, or a doodle, recalling the famous “Beta, tumse na hoga,” with Ramadhir Singh’s deadpan face. The deliciously meta, “Jab tak is desh mein cinema hai, log chutiya bante rahenge,” is the go-to reference every time there’s a new Salman Khan release.
If Bollywood was a sea of turgid, star-studded bummers, GoW came like a boat of hope. Its legacy is still unblemished, and the people involved in the film have gone on to do bigger things. Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pankaj Tripathi are now household names. But times change fast. We’re in 2019, at the cusp of another renaissance, perhaps. The audience might soon get tired of overly stylised, hyper-violent cinema set in the heartland. Is it time for another Kashyap masterpiece to change the tide?
Amal is a screenwriter, bookworm, and a cinephile constantly in search of meaning in life and failing. He drowns his worries in copious amounts of tea. He tweets at @jerun_onto.