Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Note on GANGS OF WASSEYPUR II (Hindi; 2012)

I hadn't thought there would be much to write on Gangs of Wasseypur II; in the sense that I'd thought it would be just like the first film (my review HERE; discussion thread HERE) -- indeed director Anurag Kashyap had gone to some lengths in stressing that we were dealing with one film here, and that the second film was simply the latter half of a whole. This, to my mind, and especially because I had enjoyed Nawazuddin Siddiqui's character the most in the first film (he looked to be the lead protagonist in the second), was, in my mind, a good thing.

Ouch. I didn't enjoy the second outing very much. The most glaring problem is the rather poor characterization, compounded by the rather un-cinematic way it is brought about. Unlike in the first film, Piyush Mishra's voice-over routinely provides a substitute for it: for instance, he tells us that Faisal Khan is greedy and obsessed with money, and the film immediately acts as if that were true. But nothing that has gone before shows any such thing (indeed, the first film located the source of the shadow that hangs over Faisal in a childhood trauma associated with seeing his mother intimate with his uncle). So too with Ramadhir's son, who is consistently depicted as weak and spineless -- except when he suddenly isn't that way. There's more shoddiness as additional sons of Sardar Khan sons are introduced -- Perpendicular and Definite -- but the former without any purpose: he hogs the screen for his thirty minutes, before exiting the story, without any discernible impact. Ditto for the way in which various characters are bumped off; it all seems rather rushed, and by the end of it all, this viewer was left wondering where the interesting, twisted Faisal of the first part had vanished.

And then there's the long awaited climax, Faisal Khan's reckoning with Ramadhir, a pornography of blood, gore, and guns devoid of any dramatic impact. [Or necessity: the film ends because at some point, Faisal Khan decides it's time to take out Ramadhir, without regard to any of the constraints that presumably prevented him from doing so over the preceding couple of hours.] Ramadhir, easily the most interesting character in the second film, deserved better. Much has been written on Kashyap's de-construction of the Bollywood epic mode, of his eye-rolling at the pretensions of these preening characters who imagine themselves heroes and kings -- certainly that's the only way to make sense of Ramadhir Singh's extended aside on cinema, and how it makes chootiyas of us all -- but Kashyap's vision suffers from a lack of clarity. To be blunt, the film can't decide between such "de-construction" and the titillation of the gun. And titillation there certainly is, the sort of wild-eyed, orgiastic shooting that is the hallmark of what puerile men imagine other, more violent (secretly admired and desired) men do, whether in the underworld, or somewhere out there in Bihar's badlands. For all the references to cinema that, a la Iruvar, enable the viewer to date the proceedings, Kashyap's gun-play allows us to meta-date his position in the RGVerse of a decade ago, and films like Satya and Company. Ah, for the days of Gangs of Wasseypur I, when the katta meant a different pace. There's no denying that the rhythms of gun violence are surely different, and have presumably made a difference to Wasseypur, but precisely because these are susceptible to mere on-screen sensationalism, representing them in cinema requires greater thought than this film displays.

But then there's the final scene, with the three survivors in Mumbai in 2009, leading a rather normal life, before the camera pans left to rest on the large mosque in Goregaon. Kashyap compresses a whole narrative about migrants, about the histories they are heir to and carry with them, about the way in which the metropolises that we imagine are far removed from those histories are themselves shaped by them, into a few seconds, some of the best film-making in either movie. The scene can't make up for the film's failings, but it does remind us that Kashyap has the potential to be his industry's leading director; this film does not make good on that promise.

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