As Anurag Kashyap's entertaining, stylish and influential two-part gangster epic turns 10, it's easier to see what in it really clicked. FC editorial team lists 10 things we love about the films.
Of the several meme-worthy scenes in Gangs of Wasseypur, one has stood the test of time – routinely used as Whatsapp gifs, as the live-action equivalent of an exasperated emoji. I laugh every time I watch it, largely because it's not supposed to be funny; it's pure situational humour, where the viewer is amused by the fact that the characters involved don't even intend to be funny. Sultan Qureshi walks out of Ramadhir Singh's house, rankled by the fact that Ehsaan Qureshi has just sold him down the river. Both men say nothing for a second. The poker faces stay on, till they exit the gate. Sultan, not so subtly, takes off his slipper while walking, prepared to thrash the living daylights out of Ehsaan. The timing of both the actors – Pankaj Tripathi (who we barely knew then) and Vipin Sharma – is exquisite. Ehsaan starts running a split second before Sultan chases him, anticipating his reaction, and turning the scene into a moment that even true-blue comedies can only aspire for. Sultan eventually catches up with Ehsaan and uses the slipper, but the sight of two adults conditioned to bloody violence on an everyday basis resorting to something as amateur as a chappal-thrashing…is movie gold.
Faizal's introduction is perfect: he is watching a Bachchan entry scene on the big screen, simultaneously being inspired and dwarfed by the larger-than-life-ness of it. It's fitting that Nawazuddin Siddiqui's star-making performance began with a riff on the tallest of our film stars: Siddiqui is everything Bachchan isn't. He weeps at the movies, and it takes the murder of his father, and then his brother, in broad daylight, for him to wake up from his ganja-induced stupor (or does he lose himself further)? By the time Faizal mouths those iconic lines ('Baap ka, dada ka, sabka badla…'), he has essentially become Michael Corleone from The Godfather – 50 this year – the younger son who gets inducted into the family business somewhat reluctantly. It's a nod to gangster film tradition, Anurag Kashyap style – Faizal is just a stoner who didn't have a choice.
It's during Sardar Khan's first meal after his jailbreak that he sets his eyes firmly on Durga, the Bengali woman brought to Wasseypur to be "pimped" by the local butcher. As the gangster savours his first taste of freedom after a spell in prison, he's also trying to feed another form of hunger. 'Womaniya' starts playing in the background and there's a wordless exchange that begins between them with lust being the overpowering emotion. Their first conversation (although only Sardar speaks) is as poetic as any double meaning pick-up line can ever be. He grabs her wrist and asks if she's married, and, later, if she's ever been touched. She's holding onto a metal bucket when this interruption takes place and Sardar asks, "thumhara bojh uttale?". "Bojh", as in the weight of her entire life and not just a baalti or bucket. What makes this scene worth revisiting is also the tone in which Sardar says "Suno", with the tenderness of a teenage lover-boy, as she walks away. Their romance progresses pretty quickly and the lustful gaze gets reversed when we start seeing it through Durga's eyes as she stares at Sardar's bear body through the gaps of the haystack. The sexual tension here can power all the coal mines of the area.
'Beta, tumse na ho payega', Ramadhir Singh says, voice thick with impatience, weariness and frustration, after his son JP tells him that he went to the movies last night and watched Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. That one line captures a world view. It biting, sad, unexpectedly hilarious and an instant classic. A decade later, it remains unsurpassed in the art of saying so much with so little.
In the movie-mad universe of Wasseypur, one line sums it up all: 'Hindustan mein jab tak Cinema hain log chutiye ban te rahenge'. It's as funny as meaningful in the context of the story:. throughout the film we see characters act like Hindi film heroes – whether it's Faizal Khan, Definite, and of course Ramadhir's own son J.P – leading them to make rash decisions. As J.P. puts it, everyone's got their own movie playing in their head where they are the main character.
By the time Faizal scales the wall to Mohsina's bedroom in Gangs Of Wasseypur 2, he is a certified gunda and an unquestionable heir to Sardar Khan's vast estate. And yet, to Mohsina he says, "Ek permission lena chahta hoon tumse" before asking her to have sex with him. He is promptly kicked out by her only to be teased about it the next day. This push-and-pull romance and the man Faizal is blooming into is perfectly encapsulated in the song "Kaala Rey", sung in the sensuous voice of Sneha Khanwalkar. With lyrics such as "saiyaan kaala re, tann kaala rey, mann kaala re, kaali jabaan ki kaali gaari," the song weaves a hypnotic tale of lust, danger and heady power – qualities so very distinctive to the universe of Gangs of Wasseypur. To me, it remains one of the most gloriously accurate representations of reckless love.
Using the gamcha, the cotton cloth that men in North and Central India wear around their necks to wipe off sweat, as a marketing ploy at Cannes was an inspired choice. The photograph of the whole cast and crew wearing the gamcha over their black suits and cocktail dresses at the Cannes carpet produced a memorable image. The fact that it was even handed out at the premiere of the film at Cannes like freebies is an anecdote unto itself. Both rooted and quirky, striking and odd, like the film itself.
According to Sneha Khanwalkar, the music director of the two-part Gangs of Wasseypur films, the sound of revenge doesn't always have to be one loud explosion. Khanwalkar and Amit Trivedi's slithering vocals in "Keh Ke Lunga", written by Varun Grover, mirror Sardar Khan's (and then Faizal Khan's) dogged quest for vengeance, one that's been brewing for decades. Piyush Mishra's lyrics are full of stunning dissonance, drawing up images of a milk-spewing dagger and a poisonous lullaby among other things. Similarly, Khanwalkar's vocals underscore the intensity of the punchline — "Keh Ke Lunga" — a threat that is whispered repeatedly until she launches into a falsetto towards the end. Almost seeming like closure, the falsetto sounds like a wail rather than a euphoric celebration. It's interesting how Anurag Kashyap uses the wail with some spunky dubstep added to it in the climax of the second part, fully complimenting the visual of Faizal emptying dozens of magazines into Ramadhir Singh. In this tale of intergenerational violence, it's during this crescendo of "Keh Ke Lunga" that Khanwalkar's vocals feel like a spirit floating over Wasseypur, mourning the cursed circumstances so many of the film's characters are born into.
Aided by landmark casting by Mukesh Chhabra, Gangs of Wasseypur was an antecedent to the kind of sprawling ensembles we see in series format on the Indian OTT today. Kashyap unleashed characters on us that felt like they were straight out of a graphic novel – from the folklorey Sultana Daku, to a Salman Khan worshipping guy called Definite with a Tere Naam hairstyle.
Talk about setting the tone. Talk about intertextuality. The stunning opening of Wasseypur ushers us into the opening credits of Kyunki Saans Phi Kabhi Bahu Thi – that mega serial of all serials – and then fires bullets through the TV set playing it. The camera zooms out, from one family to another – the affluent Viranis from India's favourite TV soap circa 2002 to a Muslim family in Bihar around the same time. Few films are able to announce its intent with as much style and statement.
Rahul Desai, Anupama Chopra, Kartik Bhattacharya, Rhea Candy, Tatsam Mukherjee, Vishal Menon, Prathyush Parasuraman and Sankhayan Ghosh have contributed to this list