India gets its own answer to The Godfather in this explosive crime saga.
With the epic running times of many a recent blockbuster causing them to spill out of their once-tailored, four-times-a-day cinema slots, it’s not just exhibitors who find themselves bemoaning the annual epidemic of indulgent winter bloating.
So when a film comes along that clocks in at well over five hours and isn’t called Sátántangó, you’d be forgiven for thinking that now’s the time for Jane Fonda to dust off that leotard and star-jump these muffin-topped movies back into some semblance of shape.
But to do so would be to misdiagnose Anurag Kashyap’s undeniably scale-tipping Gangs Of Wasseypur, as underneath its plussized vestments lies a sweeping crime saga carved almost entirely from muscle, with barely an inch of flab in sight. Released in two parts but worth making every effort to catch in a single sitting, Kashyap’s film takes the homegrown Masala formula of genre cross-processing and stirs a wealth of Western influences into a pot that’s already simmering with those from the East.
Yet, as fluent as it proves in the cinematic idioms of a Leone, Coppola or Scorsese, Gangs is no post-Tarantino amalgamation of hat-tips and winks to its forebears. It’s integrated stylistic fusion stands in complete service to a barnstorming depiction of multi-generational blood feuds all of its own.
Beginning in media res amid a gun battle that announces the death of one Faizal Khan – a character we won’t even meet for another two hours – Gangs catapults us back to 1941 to introduce us first to the character’s grandfather, our narrator for the next 320 minutes and whose death ignites the fuse that sends a bloodsplattered cannonball of vengeance spiralling through the next 50 years.
Serving up a coherent introduction to the social and economic landscape on the cusp of Indian independence, it achieves more in its opening half hour, than Salman Rushdie managed in the entirety of his unfortunate exercise in botched home-surgery, Midnight’s Children. In contrast, Kashyap expertly weaves his labyrinthine character-driven narrative against a shifting backdrop of local and national political instability and change.
But Gangs Of Wasseypur is no staid history lesson. If ever evidence were needed of the relaxation of censorships laws in Indian cinema, it’s surely to be found in the visceral, unflinching violence frequently on display here. As territorial battles escalate to near operatic levels, Kashyap displays a directorial arsenal as wide-ranging as that of his characters, his killer use of music often leading the charge with inspired employment of anything from ringtones and clips of soap operas to full-on Bollywood-styled interludes, all to brilliant (often lyrically charged) effect.
With Gangs, Kashyap has crafted a ferocious crime epic that entirely justifies its monumental running time, a Bollywood movie for people who don’t like Bollywood movies, one to challenge those of the belief that Indian cinema died with Satyajit Ray.
It’s not hyperbole to suggest that this is what Once Upon A Time In The West could look like in the East, as inspired by local antecedents as those further afield. Consider notice served to anyone developing a crime saga in Hollywood right now: Kashyap’s after your turf and his slumdogs are armed to the teeth.
Part 2 is released in cinemas 1 March.
320 minutes? This had better be good.
A pulse-pounding crime epic that grips to its final beat.
A star is born in Anurag Kashyap. Blistering, audacious and if anything… just too darn short.