Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur — Part 1 and Part 2 (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent Part I and Part II at iTunes
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Gangs of Wasseypur debuted on the festival circuit as a five-hour-plus Indian crime epic. When it finally released into theaters (and on DVD), the film was chopped into two halves, released months apart as Gangs of Wasseypur Part I and Part II. It’s a decision that makes sense from a distribution standpoint, but it does the film a disservice.

Gangs of Wasseypur is truly a single film written with a place for a pause in the middle to grab snacks, not for a break of several weeks. Like those who saw the film in the theater, I watched the DVDs weeks apart, and I think the viewing experience suffered for it. If you have the opportunity to watch both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur back-to-back, do it.

With that caveat, how does the film stand up as a cohesive work? Director Anurag Kashyap is something of an outlier in Indian cinema due to his willingness to let scenes breathe and unfold at their own pace. It’s wonderful to watch, but not indefinitely. There’s so much material in Gangs of Wasseypur that I would have enjoyed it more as two distinct films with two sets of midpoints, climaxes, and denouements. As it exists, Gangs of Wasseypur is a bit too much.

The plot chronicles a story of revenge that spans multiple generations of two families in the town of Wasseypur. After the British depart India in 1947, a young industrialist named Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) assumes control of the local mine. He hires a goon named Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) to force the local laborers to work in deplorable conditions.

One night, Ramadhir overhears Shahid talking to his son, Sardar Khan, and his cousin, Nasir (Piyush Mishra, the film’s narrator) about his plans to kill Ramadhir and take over the mine himself. Ramadhir acts first, luring Shahid to his death, though his plot to murder Sardar and Nasir fails. Young Sardar vows to one day murder Ramadhir in retaliation, eventually passing on his hatred of the industrialist to his own sons.

That setup encompasses about the first hour of the film. The remaining four hours deal with the ongoing power struggle between the Singhs and the Khans and the resulting bloodshed. This is a gory film by any standard, but especially so compared to other Hindi films.

The bulk of the story centers on the two most charismatic members of the Khan family: Sardar (Manoj Bajpai) and his second oldest son, Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Rather than murdering Ramadhir outright, Sardar plots to become his equal and destroy everything Ramadhir has built. Sardar makes a fortune stealing iron ore and intimidating the populace. This long game gives Sardar time to raise a family (or two) while plotting his revenge.

Sardar is an interesting choice for a lead character because he’s an awful person, regardless of his tragic beginnings. In addition to being a violent crook, he’s a terrible husband to his first wife, Nagma (Richa Chadda), whom he abandons to marry a second woman, Durga (Reema Sen), whom he eventually leaves to return to Nagma. At various times, Sardar neglects his four sons with Nagma and his one son with Durga. To varying degrees, all of his children hate him as much as they fear and respect him.

Such a negative character only works as a lead because Manoj Bajpai is so talented. Sardar shares moments of genuine affection with both of his wives when he’s not being a total narcissist. Bajpai plays Sardar with such swagger and menace that it’s easy to understand how he achieves the success he does.

Faizal is not much like his father. With an older brother, Danish (Vineet Singh), as Sardar’s natural heir, Faizal can waste his time getting stoned. Circumstances eventually force him to take a more active role in the family business, and Faizal proves to be unexpectedly ruthless.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui owns every scene he’s in. He’s talented enough to make scenes in which Faizal sits starring some of the most riveting scenes in the movie. Faizal’s conflicted feelings about his violent lifestyle make him more relatable than his father, and he’s downright charming as he woos the lovely Mohsina (Huma Qureshi).

The problem inherent in revenge films is that the characters often have little room for growth. Either they get their revenge, or they don’t, whether by choice or failure. Revenge is an okay motive for a shorter movie, but my interest waned after the third hour or so.

Also at around the three-hour mark, the story pushes two new characters to the forefront: Sardar’s two youngest sons, Definite (Zaishan Quadri) and Babua (Aditya Kumar). At that point — about 60% of the way through the film — I didn’t have the energy to get invested in two essentially brand new characters. Had Gangs of Wasseypur Part II been a proper sequel, the introduction of the new characters wouldn’t have seemed so late.

What ultimately makes the film worth seeing is Kashyap’s directing style. In addition to letting the scenes breathe, he uses music to incredible effect. He has mastered the montage. In addition to star turns by Bajpai and Siddiqui, Kashyap gets great performances out of the rest of the cast as well.

Gangs of Wasseypur would’ve been better as two distinct films, but I applaud Kashyap’s effort in trying to push the boundaries of Indian cinema.

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19 thoughts on “Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur — Part 1 and Part 2 (2012)

  1. Shah Shahid

    I’m glad you finally had the chance to watch this. I agree with most of your points, but disagree with the overall experience. Let’s chalk it up to the fact that I saw both back to back… so for me the 5+ hours of run time, did seem pretty cohesive from a story telling perspective. But I understand your issues.

    Check out Ram Gopal Varma’s RAKHTA CHARITRA. Similar theme of revenge, but a proper two-parter movie, and it also addresses and showcases some of the issues your raise about the typical ‘revenge’ story.

    What did you think about the Narration and the backdrop of India’s growth throughout GOW?

    My Review: http://blankpagebeatdown.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/movembers-moustache-movie-madness-gangs-of-wasseypur-1-2-2012-bollywood/
    I do gush a bit.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks for the link to your review, Shah Shahid. You’re right about the high quality mustaches on display in the film! I think the parallel story of India’s development told in the narration was lost on me, again because I watched both halves of the movie weeks apart. I was interested to watch it that way since that’s how most moviegoers who saw Gangs in the theater experienced it. It’s only a shame that I didn’t enjoy the actual movie as much as I think I would have had I watched it in one sitting. Glad to hear that Rakht Charitra is organized in a way that corrects some of the issues I had with Gangs.

      Reply
  2. Shah Shahid

    Ah, I see what you mean. I actually didn’t know that GOW debuted as 1 movie, but was split up when it hit theatres, until I read your review. I guess my perspective on it was wanting to watch it as the Director had intended, as one story, instead of two separate films.

    Still an amazing film/s nonetheless. Situations like these provide great instances of reflection on the conventional methods of the creative vs. business processes when it comes to the Film Industry.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Twice the movie tickets sold and twice the DVDs sold. It’s unfortunate that they couldn’t find a way to reconcile profit-making with movie-making.

      Reply
  3. Keyur Seta

    Wow! So finally you got to see GOW. I agree with you on most of the points. However, I don’t think I would have sat through the entire 5 hours. Just impossible for me 😀 I was glad I saw it with a break of few weeks. This is largely because I didn’t enjoy the first part. Found it unnecessarily lengthy and irritating at times! Thoroughly loved the 2nd part.

    I was suddenly sent for Son Of Sardar. I had some expectations from the film as I had just read your review before watching it and I agree with most of your points. I thought it was a bit over-done in the second half but overall, it was surely worth enjoying once.

    I am visiting your blog after a long time. Had been on a trip to Goa.

    Reply
  4. Vivian

    Hey!

    Just came to this site through IMDB and have read most of the movie reviews,especially of movies which I have liked. The reason was just to get an outsiders perspective on Indian movies.

    Of the movies you have reviewed my list of fav movies are Dil Chahta hai, Zindagi na Milegi Dobara, Udaan, Chak de India, Jab We met, DDLG, A japanese Wife,Wake up Sid, Love Aaj Kal, Rock On, Barfii, Rockstar. Except for Jab We Met and Tees Maar Khan I will agree with your ratings on all these movies.

    I would recommend a few more movies if u get a chance, do watch it and give your review. They would be Lagaan, A wednesday, Hera Pheri, Munnabhai M.B.B.S, Dhoom, Stanley Ka dabba, Andaz Apna Apna to name a few which I can think of now.

    Now that I know about this site, I would definitely be visiting it more often. Am a movie buff too,looking forward to Talaash this Friday. (Big Aamir Fan)

    Btw do you review Hollywood movies too? Would like to get the link of the site.

    Vivian.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Glad you found my site, Vivian. Thanks for reading so many of my reviews! Lagaan was the first Hindi film I ever saw, so it’s essentially responsible for this whole site. Thanks for the other movie suggestions as well. A Wednesday gets mentioned often as a film I need to see. I’m excited about Talaash, too. I’ll be reviewing it on Monday.

      I don’t normally write full reviews of Hollywood movies, but I try to mention what I’m watching in my Twitter feed:
      https://twitter.com/kathyfgibson

      Reply
  5. Neeraj SD

    I find it quite amusing that most western critics themselves straitjacket Indian cinema, and then when any movie comes along which is different from the mainstream it is always looked at as an attempt to ‘push the boundaries’ rather than as a separate piece of art.

    It is a very patronizing comment making it sound like it’s only an upstart in an industry filled with banality rather than the ground breaking work that it is, in world cinema. I mean, how many 5 and a half hour gangster films of this breadth and scale have you heard of?

    Was the Life of Pi or Inception looked at as attempts to push the boundaries of Hollywood? No, because nobody dares to define Hollywood or its boundaries.

    Regardless of your flawed review, I have little doubt that this movie will go down in the annals of gangster movies as one of the very best.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Neeraj, I’ll take to heart your advice about using the phrase “push the boundaries” sparingly, so as not to sound condescending. I stand by my use of the phrase in this instance, in terms of the positive impact Gangs of Wasseypur could have on the ability of Indian art films to secure funding in the future. Given what a challenge directors like Kashyap have had in the past in finding money to make films that aren’t guaranteed box office hits, the fact that Kashyap was able to find the money to finish such an ambitious project seems to be something of a watershed moment. I don’t, however, see the success of Gangs of Wasseypur leading to an increase in the number of five-hour-long films produced, in India or elsewhere. It’s not a commercially viable formula.

      Reply
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  10. Ajay Singh

    Hello mam.its first time i have been writing anything on internet.I have been following your reviews from the movie highway. And i think our views match a lot thats why after imdb rating its your review i go for.And i know you love thrillers alot. Well than you are missing a big one. Manorama six feet under (2007) its the best movie since a long time. I watched it last day and my mind said that i should suggest you. Well its the best bollywood thriller ever. Its a small budget but fantastic. I will beg you to watch this.please dont ignore. And if you are a fan of nawazuddin siddiqui, he is also in the movie when he was not famous. It took me a time to recognise him.please dont ignore i will be waiting for your reply and review . And other gems you might be missing are OYE LUCKY! LUCKY OYE, UGLY (2014, father of all bollywood mystery thriller,must watch), Shaitaan(2011).

    Reply
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  12. Bollywood_Fanatic

    Just want to mention than budget of this 2 part film was Rs 30 crs or USD 5 million (including promotion). I believe this Anurag Kashayap did a great job (and we can forgive him for movies like Bombay Velvet) :).

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Back in the ’80s, Toys R’ Us would give away shopping sprees where kids could grab whatever they wanted within a short time limit. The kids would prioritize things, heading first to the expensive stuff like bicycles and Star Wars toys. But then, with time running out, they would start to panic, just grabbing whatever was nearby: hula hoops, a bunch of footballs, etc. That’s how I imagine Anurag Kashyap when given his massive budget for Bombay Velvet: “I want Ranbir! And Anushka! And…and…I’ll grab Karan, too!” 😉

      Reply

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