Starring Manoj Bajpayee. In Hindi, with English subtitles. Rated 14A.
It has taken three years since a 2012 release in its native India for the film to reach Vancouver audiences, but Gangs of Wasseypur was well worth the wait. This epic crime saga sprawls across seven decades and three generations of characters—like all three parts of The Godfather rolled into one, with an injection of boisterous Bollywood flavour.
Divided into two long halves, adding up to a fast-moving 320 minutes, the story tracks power struggles between three rival crime families, and how they intertwine with the history of Wasseypur, a town in the state of Jharkhand. The film smartly portrays how competing gangs interact with, and influence, the region’s politics and industry, with considerable attention to caste, dialect, and other realities. A battle over lucrative coal mines spawns a cycle of violence and greed passed on from father to son, until petty vengeance for past wrongs is the sole driving force motivating the characters.
For a genre film, the narrative is considerably dense, and requires close attention in order to follow the intricately woven plot. At its core, Wasseypur is a work of pulp fiction, but top director Anurag Kashyap (responsible for Udaan and other smaller-scale films) loosely based the film on real events and people. And even if he and his three cowriters transform the source material into something frequently cartoonish, his approach is not without insight and wit—even the action sequences approach excessiveness, with a bloody climax that rivals the showdown in Scarface. And veteran Bollywooder Manoj Bajpayee, as a central inheritor of this violent legacy, rivals Al Pacino at his most explosive.
The running time may be intimidating, but its scope and pace put most big-budget American flicks to shame. Packing a lot of story and a heavy dosage of brilliantly staged carnage, Gangs offers a blueprint for how to make an exciting action movie. With better music, of course.