Gangs of Wasseypur

The small town of Wasseypur is located in northeastern India, absorbed in many ways by the larger city of Dhanbad. Wasseypur is sort of the Newburgh, New York or Camden, New Jersey to Dhanbad’s New York City or Philadelphia — a small, incredibly dangerous, largely lawless enclave attached to the outskirts of a much larger town. Or maybe like one of the many towns controlled by narco-syndicates south of the border. It was a coal company town. In the case of Wasseypur, its lawlessness was derived from when the British packed up and called it a day, and India was once again a sovereign nation. The coal mines, which had been entirely British-owned, were turned over to India, but they were basically dumped into the laps of a lot of people who may have been skilled laborers and assistant managers but had no experience whatsoever with how to run a single mine, let alone an entire network and industry. Sort of like the United States freeing its slaves with no real interest in actually equipping them for life, Great Britain folded its flag and wished the Indians good luck.

The result is that Wasseypur’s coal mines quickly began to resemble those of West Virginia in the 1920s. Bosses emerged, but devoid of the training they needed to operate the industry, they resorted to the time-honored tradition of exploiting the workers, working them long hours in dangerous conditions for meager pay, and calling in the heavies to bust some heads and burn down some houses when the workers started to get ideas about organizing or demanding more humane treatment. It is with a semi-fictional version of one of these bosses (Ramadhir Singh, played by director Tigmanshu Dhulia) and one of his heavies (Shahid Khan, played by Jaideep Ahlawat) that the sprawling story of Gangs of Wasseypur begins. Most of the events depicted in the movie are true, and most of the people were real, though the names have been changed (not to protect the guilty, but to avoid lawsuits and trouble with the censors) and sometimes the chronology of events and experiences have been rearranged.

Gangs of Wasseypur kicks off in 2004, with a gang of armed men gunning down members of a rival gang in the street and shooting up a house, only later to themselves get caught in a shoot-out at a police check-point. The film then abruptly leaves those events up in the air and, after a narrated history lesson on just how Wasseypur came to be a lawless gangster playground, we pick up events in the 1940s. Shahid Khan is in the midst of launching a promising career as a highwayman, robbing trains and selling stolen food under the guise of another famous but mysterious bandit. When that bandit resurfaces and takes umbrage to his name being used by the upstart robber, Shahid Khan is forced to leave the village and take work as a miner. When the company boss won’t let Khan leave to see the birth of his son — a birth during which Khan’s wife dies — Khan repays the overseer by beating him to death. Although this would seem to be the sort of thing that would result in an uncomfortable visit to the HR department, at the very least, Khan’s bloody revenge is swept up amid the tumult of Indian independence, and of Wasseypur beginning its long history of belonging to one province then another. Ramadhir Singh maneuvers himself into ownership of some mines, and he employs Khan as his number one skull-cracker.

It turns out that Shahid Khan is a very effective goon squad leader, so much so that Ramadhir Singh is threatened by the man’s ambition and ruthlessness. He orchestrates Khan’s murder, leaving Khan’s son Sardar orphaned and in the charge of Khan’s right hand man, Nasir (Piyush Mishra, Dil Se). The young boy swears to exact revenge against Ramadhir Singh. Once he grows up to become Manoj Bajpayee (Bandit Queen), he starts to make good on his vow by putting together his own gang and waging a decades long war with Singh, who by the time Sardar has become a man, has parlayed his position as a coal mine owner into a political career. Between Sardar and Ramadhir, the two control the entire Wasseypur underworld and a substantial part of its legitimate industry, which they parlay into tearing each other apart whenever the chance arises. The film continues through subsequent generations of the Khan and Singh dynasties, all of whom seem unable or unwilling to extract themselves from this punishing cycle of violence.

Director Anurag Kashyap’s relationship with Bollywood is a contentious one, and his “outsider on the inside” approach to the industry is one of the primary reasons he is so often compared to Quentin Tarantino despite there being no real stylistic or philosophical similarity between their films. However, both men are independent filmmakers who operate within the mainstream, making non-mainstream movies. It’s an odd and endless jumble of contradictions. The primary difference is that Tarantino’s films are often shocking, controversial, and wildly successful while Gangs of Wasseypur is shocking, controversial, and didn’t do very well in the domestic Indian market. For me, his style is less akin to Tarantino and more in line with Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To or American filmmaker Martin Scorsese, though the fact that Gangs of Wasseypur covers decades and four generations means the single film it is most often compared to is The Godfather (well, technically, The Godfather parts one and two), which is a fair comparison, though Kashyap (who names Coppola as one of his favorite directors, but for Apocalypse Now and The Conversation) employs a lot of technique (especially the use of music) that still makes me think more of films like To’s Election and Election 2 or modern Korean gangster films like Nameless Gangster.

Another reason Kashyap is often compared to Tarantino is because the history of film is crucial to the style of film they make, though they go about it in very different ways. Tarantino takes pieces of films and genres he loves and reassembles them into something familiar but different. But always at the core is a genuine affection for the original material. Bollywood plays a significant role in the lives of many Indians, and so it plays a significant role in Gangs of Wasseypur. Characters go to the movies, sometimes obsessively. Popular Bollywood songs appear as ring tones. Movie posters are strewn about the city. However, where Tarantino’s films are love letters to the films he adores, Kashyap goes at the Bollywood mainstream and the role of Bollywood films in everyday life with a keen viciousness. The central character of the second half of Gangs of Wasseypur, the sullen, brooding Faizal Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) models himself after similarly dark and brooding Bollywood matinee idols (specifically, Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakroborty). When he gets his hands on his first gun, he poses in the mirror with it. When he has the opportunity to help his criminal kingpin father out by handing an arms deal, he stage manages the entire meeting to look as much like a scene from a masala film as he can — only his experience ends with a pointedly unheroic, awkward arrest.

His younger brother, the improbably named Perpendicular (Aditya Kumar, and so named because he’s obsessed with using a razor blade as a weapon and knows the best way to cut someone) not only bears an uncanny resemblance to Shahrukh Khan, but also idolizes the next generation of Bollywood stars. His obsession with movies and being a movie style gangster leads to some bad business. Faizal’s eventual wife, Mohsina (Huma Qureshi) is similarly obsessed with Bollywood and Indian tele-dramas. And his half-brother Definite (Zeishan Quadri), so named because he is sure of his destiny as a killer (of his own father), idolizes not the dancing, singing heroes of Indian action cinema, but the villains, so much so that he casually dismisses a lover by quoting the villain from a film. When she points out that he’s using villain dialogue, he seems particularly pleased with himself.

The one character in the movie who lives the longest, makes the most money, and garners the most power is Ramadhir Singh, and he attributes his survival to the fact that he does not watch Bollywood movies. “Every fucker’s got his own movie playing inside his head,” he explains. “Every fucker is trying to become the hero of his own imaginary film. As long as there are fucking movies in this country, people will continue to be fooled.” And if Definite was quoting villain dialogue, then so too is director Anurag Kashyap, who in interviews has implicated the Bollywood dream factory in keeping a huge swathe of Indians content to live in impoverished, uneducated squalor. It’s a criticism to which I can relate as someone who can lose himself in the fantasy of what his life could be, in the attempt to stage manage situations. As someone who has a huge number of playlists saved for every potentiality, from “riding the subway home drunk in the wee small hours” to “walking down to the laundry room.” Heck, I’m playing my “writing a review” soundtrack right now.

When writers tag Gangs of Wasseypur as the next big Bollywood cross-over hit, they seem to be missing the point. First, Gangs of Wasseypur wasn’t a hit in India. It made a profit purely because the budget was tiny (US$3 million; in contrast, the budget for slick, shiny Bollywood action blockbuster Dhoom 3 was US$25 million, at least $10 million of which went to buying derbies for Aamir Khan’s Sahir), but it wasn’t loved by audiences, who — perhaps by design — found it too dark, too depressing, too violent, and too willing to show filth and misery instead of dazzling them with aspirational scenes of cleanliness and wealth. But more than that, Gangs of Wasseypur isn’t a potential Bollywood cross-over hit because it isn’t a Bollywood film. If anything, it is the antithesis of a Bollywood movie.

Its stars are not members of an acting dynasty. There are no Bachchans, no Kapoors. The action does not take place in some sizzling high-tech haven like Dubai or Singapore or a meticulously scrubbed and polished Mumbai. It takes place in an ugly, polluted industrial enclave that reminded me of the first part of the Korean film Yellow Sea, which is set in Yanji, a bleak industrial town tucked into the border of China, Russia, and North Korea and populated by a large population of ethnic Koreans (in much the same way Wasseypur is populated by a large group of Pashtun Muslims). Even Ramadhir Singh, Gangs of Wasseypur’s most powerful character, lives in a villa that would be considered, by Bollywood standards, depressing and run-down. Gangs of Wasseypur dwells int he spaces Bollywood does not want to show. The mines, the scrap yards, the slums, perhaps most fittingly an abattoir streaked with grime and blood and offal (not all of it from slaughtered animals). Rather than being a slick fantasy world, Wasseypur takes place in a world that screams, “No one gets out of here alive.”

Then there’s the music. Any time an Indian film doesn’t have musical numbers, writers feel the need to point it out, which is fair given how rare it is. Heck, the Indian music industry as a whole is almost entirely dependent upon film music, and after celebrity gossip, the thing Indian reviewers tend to focus on is the song and dance. The fact that I count so many Bollywood movies near and dear to my heart (to say nothing of Hollywood musicals from the 30s, 40s, and 50s) should be a good indicator that I’m not scared of, and often quite enjoy, the musical interludes, however silly they may sometimes be. Gangs of Wasseypur may not have musical numbers, but just as in, say, Goodfellas, music is extremely important to the mood of the film. The original songs are an expert mix of traditional Indian music and modern electronic beats. Some of them are unspeakably beautiful. “Keh Ke Lunga” performed by Amit Trivedi and Sneha Khanwalkar is my favorite song of the year int he same way Gangs of Wasseypur is my favorite movie of the year (and this was a very strong year for movie viewing for me). So much of the music is just sumptuous, haunting, gorgeous — and then you really listen to them and realize that, in almost every case, the lyrics are horrifying.

Rather than extolling virtues or love or flirtation, they reflect on the brutishness of life, the stupidity and cruelty and black-heartedness of the film’s characters, the corruption of the human soul. They can be downright harrowing. The two most effective uses of music are the song “Kaala Rey,” again sung by Sneha Khanwalker, that compares the blackness of her lover’s heart to the blackness of the dirty coal that built Wasseypur and birthed its criminal underworld; and a song sung during a wedding celebration when the women of the Khan clan have gathered together. Brightly attired in saris and dancing happily, it seems a joyous occasion until the song, being sung by Nagma, becomes a reflection on self-destruction and violence, during which she breaks down briefly even as the other, younger women are determined to continue celebrating, if somewhat more awkwardly, like some absurd moment from an Alejandro Jodorowsky film (and though he isn’t brought up the same way Tarantino or Scorsese are, there are a lot of moments in Gangs of Wasseypur that remind me of Jodorowsky, who similarly shot films with a lyrical, epic scope on what was barely a television budget.

It may seem at odds with his career as a filmmaker for Kashyap to be so antagonistic toward movies, but he is really taking aim at only a specific type of movie. Without a doubt, Bollywood produces the occasional film that challenges its own conventions — Dil Se, Bombay, The Terrorist, even the early “angry young man” films of Amitabh Bachchan were daring and risky and upsetting to people — but the bulk of Bollywood’s output (like the bulk of Hollywood output), is pretty predictable. A machine has been established, a very profitable and effective machine, so why mess with the formula? Kashyap sees it as the producer of a false happiness that keeps Indians reactionary and lethargic about improving their country and their own lives. There is plenty of space for escapist entertainment, and everyone needs it from time to time. Kashyap’s argument is that Bollywood offers nothing but escapism.

Gangs of Wasseypur doesn’t just take aim at Bollywood action heroes. The women in the movie — most notably Richa Chaddha’s Nagma (Sardar Khan’s wife and Faizal’s mother) and Huma Qureshi’s Mohsina — are both deliberate assaults on the roles of women in Bollywood films. In the case of Nagma, she is the antithesis of basically every self-sacrificing righteous mother that has littered the Bollywood landscape, where mothers are almost always the inspirational symbol for a love of tradition and India. Nagma is only Mother India if “Mother India” had a steely eyed gaze and expected her sons to slit the throats of their enemies. Like her son Faizal, she seems initially to take awkwardly to the criminal lifestyle, but she soon emerges as the smarter and often stronger partner in the long gangster history of the Khan family. Not a cartoon villain spewing endless hate and proclamations, mind you, but a very realistic, complex matron of a criminal family not willing to tolerate insult or defer to authority, whether it be from the police, her husband, or any of the other men in the family who were raised to think women have a subservient place in the house.

Mohsina represents the growing tide of women’s liberation, but not in some fantasy way in which she becomes a kungfu powered super-heroine Zeenat Aman. Gangs of Wasseypur grounds itself in reality, after all, and that sort of high-flying ass-kicking heroine just didn’t exist — though Mohsina and her obsession with film certainly yearns to be such a character. Her feminism is expressed in more modest, more realistic terms. A wry attitude, a fondness for sunglasses (and man, can she ever rock a pair of Aviators), the insistence that Faizal treat her with respect and ask her permission for things rather than assuming the right to take liberties with her. To conjure the spirit of Mad Men, she is sort of the movie’s Megan Draper, a genuinely smart, hip, and sweet individual who does not deserve to be dragged down into the violent, hopeless world of the self-destructive lunatics that populate the world into which she has been dragged. She is also substantially larger than her husband, both in terms of her mental strength as well as physical presence.

Contrary to the continuously swelling male models physiques of Bollywood action stars like Salman Khan (seriously, have you seen Dabangg? He looks like he squeezed himself into a child’s police costume), Faizal Khan is a scrawny, diminutive (and frequently stoned) man who is dwarfed by nearly everyone around him, including his beautiful, statuesque wife. Where she is cool and hip, he is hopelessly disheveled and nervous looking, though certainly not without his charm (at least when he isn’t busy decapitating someone). His gangly, awkward appearance is just one of many ways Gangs of Wasseypur seeks to undermine the increasingly outrageous, hyper-stylized Bollywood action film, where kungfu fights and shoot-outs are packed with dramatic posing and over-the-top super-punches that send bad guys flying end-over-end fifty feet. Perhaps reflective of the fact that India had to learn almost overnight how to be an independent country again after the British left, the gangsters in Gangs of Wasseypur actually have to learn how to be gangsters. They do not step into the role bristling with studied confidence and super-human skill explained away by the always trusty “ex special forces” excuse.

I’ve invoked the name of Johnnie To, but perhaps just as recognizable is the style of Japanese filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku, who made a name for himself by taking the overly romanticized and stylish yakuza films of the 1950s and 1960s and turning them into desperate, ugly, much more realistic gangster films, like the landmark Battles Without Honor and Humanity series. There are scenes in those films of brash, boasting yakuza suddenly becoming panicked and desperate, flailing and falling and freaking out during knife and gun battles — because that’s often what happens. Gangs of Wasseypur has a similar feel during its many action scenes. They are frantic and sloppy and unnerving. The men taking part in them are frequently terrified and clumsy. The two best examples of this are when Sardar Khan first tries to arm his gang with pistols, all of which blow up when fired; and the scene in which his eventual illegitimate son Definite seeks revenge against a long-time enemy of the family, a hit that is a totally confused disaster from the very start.

Which is yet one more way Gangs of Wasseypur seeks to subvert the conventions of the average Bollywood action film: righteous revenge. Bollywood action films are full of tough heroes who seek revenge against a mustache-twirling villain, probably because they offended India or the hero’s mother. The death of a character inspires the hero to righteous revenge, and that revenge somehow settles the matter. Not so in Gangs of Wasseypur. Acts of vengeance almost never bring any sense of satisfaction. Justice is never served. The characters are never righteous heroes. They are just one group of horrible gangsters we know slightly better than the other group of horrible gangsters. Revenge killing usually just results in a reciprocal killing, an endless cycle of violence that accomplishes nothing. Death has no point, no lesson to teach us other than “watch your back.”

“How can these guys be fighting over nothing for so many years?” Kashyap wondered in regards to the real-life gangsters and events that inspired the movie. But that is, ultimately, what the fight is about: nothing. And that’s what it accomplishes. No one seems to benefit from the power they amass. No one suddenly lives an incredible super-criminal jet-set lifestyle. They live marginally better off than the people around them, but with a much higher chance they will be randomly shot in the head at some point. At the end of the day, none of it seems to have been worth it for them. And indeed, at the end of five hours of relentless criminal suffering, Gangs of Wasseypur admits that after four generations of Khans killing Singhs, nothing was accomplished. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Which is not to imply that the journey of Gangs of Wasseypur itself is pointless. It’s a fascinating movie, a landmark in my opinion of Indian filmmaking that fully deserves to be mentioned alongside — if not relentless compared to — The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II or Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America as one of the best, most ambitious crime epics ever made. I found it mesmerizing, so much so that not only did the combined five-hour run-time not faze me; I was sad when it was over. It’s a mesmerizing film with natural, effective performances and a plot that is both expansive and complex while being international and comprehensive. There is much, culturally, to be extrapolated from Gangs of Wasseypur that glides over my head, especially when it deals with the dynamic between Indian Muslims and Hindus. At the same time, though, it speaks a very understandable international language, not just of gangster film conventions that have become common across the world, but of human struggle and conflict, of hopeless poverty and ruthless ambition. There is an endless well of relatability to Gangs of Wasseypur.

This is aided by the fact that the cast looks like actual human beings instead of artfully sculpted mannequins. The acting, combined with the expert use of music, a meandering but never uninteresting epic narrative, and direction that manages to be stylish and poetic (even amidst the decay and violence), makes for what might be the very best Indian film I’ve ever watched, and certainly one of the best crime drama produced anywhere in the world. Manoj Bajpayee is terrifying without even trying and never needs to go over the top. In fact, the quieter he is, the more menacing he becomes. Nawazuddin Siddiqui possesses all the smoldering, dangerous charisma of young Amitabh Bachchan that seems to have escaped Bachchan’s actual son, Abhishek. Siddiqui is a nervous bundle of unsure machismo, awkwardness, menace, and vulnerability. Huma Qureshi is a moving, engrossing character without ever resorting to histrionics or overt statements of how tragic it all is. I want big things for her. And though he plays a smaller (but still very important) role than Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Zeishan Quadri’s Definite is a fantastic character, the most feared killer in Wasseypur but also, as we see when we follow him around, a clumsy, distracted guy whose reputation depends somewhat on luck and on being competent only in relation to the incompetents around him. He may be a stone cold killer, but he’s not the sort of hyper-efficient, perfectly choreographed killer movies usually give us.

They also dress like normal humans. Bollywood has a well-earned reputation for fabulous, lavish, and sometimes astoundingly absurd fashion. As with everything else, the clothes are aspirational, either fabulously expensive or hilariously over the top. But always out of reach of the people watching the movie. Most of the characters in Gangs of Wasseypur dress pretty realistically. The most opulent dresser is Definite, and that’s because he owns a Abercrombie & Fitch shirt. As for technology, well…so the remake of Don starring Shahrukh Khan is a movie I love (something I didn’t expect since I hold the original very near to my heart). There are few movies as indulgent in the shiny fantasy world as Don. Everything is velvet smoking jackets and chrome and glass and ultra high-tech everything. In Gangs of Wasseypur, the single most amazing piece of technology that makes an impact on the story is when Faizal sees his first pager.

The three things that got Kashyap’s directorial debut in trouble with Indian censors were the sex, the violence, and the drugs. Either things have change din India, or he’s simply gotten cleverer because all three of those things are present in abundance in Gangs of Wasseypur. The violence is bloody and realistic and often abrupt. When people are hurt, they bleed. The violence is never glamorous or stylish. Like the city of Wasseypur itself, it’s grubby and mean and brutal. Rather than making the main characters seem cool or tough, it often exposes them as clumsy and fearful. When the second half of the film eventually returns to the shoot-out that opened the movie, we follow Faizal as he escapes the besieged compound and makes his way through its labyrinth of halls and stairways to the ceiling so, we assume, he can mount a counter-offensive. But that’s not the case. He’s merely hiding, trying to survive, reverting to a base animal instinct. It’s not a moment that exposes him as particularly vile; merely human.

Faizal’s drug use is also frequent, but other than a few accusations that he was too stoned to get some important stuff done, drug use is never really vilified. It’s merely a part of life, no better or worse than any other vice. Kashyap seems to be saying, perhaps directly to movie censors, that it seems ridiculous to ts-tsk a neutral portrayal of drug use as evil in a film industry that glorifies the most insane excesses of violence, and further reduces that violence to something cartoonishly harmless when, of course, violence usually hurts in real life. As for the sex — there is some. Both Sardar and his son Faizal are randy fellas, and while we don’t get a Western style sex scene, we do get a sex scene (which is played for laughs). The relationship between Faizal and Mohsina is an interesting one, partly because it’s as close as this movie gets to something sweet, and partly because, despite Faizal’s drive to get laid, Mohsina calls the shots. He touches her hand when she’s ready. They kiss when she’s ready. And if he gets out of line, the fact that he’s a criminal kingpin and murderer doesn’t intimidate her.

Still no kissing, though. After all, there have to be some standards.

Gangs of Wasseypur is not, contrary perhaps to how I’ve made it sound, a grim and joyless affair. Kashyap is smart enough to understand that such a complex plot, with so many faces and such a long run-time cannot sustain itself on relentless grimness. Characters are allowed to succeed. They are allowed to be happy and enjoy that happiness — which makes the sudden explosions of violence and tragedy more meaningful. There is obvious anger behind Kashyap’s work, but there’s also a sense of humor, even if it’s somewhat dark. Much of the violence, for instance, is realistic but also comedically sloppy. In particular, the lackadaisical crime spree of Perpendicular and his friend Tangent, which includes a robbery in which the two young gunmen keep mixing up their flip-flops (which they were polite enough to remove before they stepped in and held guns to everyone’s heads), are as funny as they are unnerving. Definite’s stealing a cobra from a snake charmer and walking around with it draped across his shoulders is similarly absurd and lends the film an emotional texture that it needs to keep itself and it’s changing and evolving cast of characters interesting.

Kashyap makes sense as a Bollywood outsider who makes no sense. He wasn’t raised as part of a filmi family. He was a zoologist from Varanasi who became interested in film and involved himself in the small but talented Indian independent cinema scene. It was there that he first encountered Ram Gopal Varma, himself a former maverick who bucked every Bollywood tradition he could while still working within the studio structure — sort of like Seijun Suzuki, who while working at Nikkatsu Studios in Japan would get saddled with very mundane, formulaic yakuza movie scripts and turn them into works of art purely by staging them in such bizarre fashion. Varma hired Kashyap to write the script for his gritty 1998 crime drama Satya. In 2002, Varma would make an even more striking, not to mention controversial, gangster film called Company, which dispensed with musical numbers and took a much more realistic approach to the crime film than was common in Bollywood.

Kashyap’s own first feature as director, Paanch, was completed in 2000 but remains unreleased. It’s frank depiction of sex, drug use, and violence amongst a group of rockers was way too much for Indian censorship boards. He pulled a John Milius, working as a very in-demand screenwriter and occasional director of critically acclaimed films that never the less met with all sorts of obstacles. Now that Varma has sort of lapsed into mundanity and given up the fight, Kashyap is the single most important figure in Indian indy (how many “in’s” is that) cinema. While he plies his trade technically in the Bollywood machine, it seems a tangential relationship at best (he overcame the miniscule budget for Gangs of Wasseypur partly by using familiar street locations, including his own house, instead of sets). Most of the actors in Gangs of Wasseypur are experienced, but they are not glamorous superstars. And a few are relative rookies but don’t seem like it. The film purposely tweaks its nose at Bollywood conventions, sometimes to the detriment of its own box office take. Kashyap takes that Bollywood experience and parlays it into the independent film scene, financing and mentoring hungry young filmmakers the same way Ram Gopal Varma cultivated him in the late 1990s.

OK, I should correct the ship a little. This isn’t a movie that needs to be endlessly defined by how it is different from the average Bollywood film. It succeeds as a skewering of Bollywood, and as a satire of it at times (the singer who keeps appearing at funerals singing cheery Bollywood tunes), but that’s hardly all it has to offer. As a crime film, as an epic drama, it succeeds very well on the merits of what it is as well as what it isn’t. But despite favorable reception at international film festivals, I doubt Gangs of Wasseypur will become the runaway international hit some have predicted. It’s not the next Slumdog Millionaire, another film that focused on the poverty of India but, unlike Gangs of Wasseypur, used it as a backdrop for the inspirational triumph of the human soul. Gangs of Wasseypur has no interest in making you feel good about crushing misery.

Every few years, we recycle those “Bollywood is the world’s next big thing” articles, and it never comes true. Although Gangs of Wasseypur is substantially shorter than the combined first two parts of The Godfather (which run nearly seven hours) and, in its parts one and two division doesn’t run any longer than Kill Bill or the average comic book superhero movie, there is a perception in the West that “Bollywood” movies are intolerably long and full of singing and dancing in the Alps. The people who hold these opinions usually aren’t familiar with Indian films beyond what they’ve heard from elsewhere, but overcoming these misconceptions (these things aren’t even entirely true of straight Bollywood films) is a monumental task I don’t think will be accomplished by Gangs of Wasseypur, regardless of how deserving it might be of the success. Still, some people will stand up and take notice, and every voice raised in its support is another voice that helps fuel divergent and inventive “outside of Bollywood” filmmaking in India, and that diversity of voice is important for any medium of art and entertainment.