Several months ago, I had received this SMS from one of the regular readers of this blog: “Your blog has been mute about ‘7 Khoon Maaf’, ‘Shaitan’ and ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots’. I expected you to say something. Please sum up the experience if you can.” The reason why I never talked about these films, and several others, is that I was hugely disappointed after watching them. If I wrote anything, it would be all negative, and hence I did not. I would rather write something positive about the cinema around me. Over the last three months the two parts of ‘Gangs of Wasseypur (GOW)’ got released. And anyone familiar with me or my blog would have expected some sort of reaction from me on these. I, however, chose to keep silent; silent, because I was not very happy with these films, and because I didn’t know what to write. Now I do, and hence this post.
I eagerly awaited ‘GOW – I’, not because of its promos or songs, but the fact that it was an epic without any stars. A film of this scale without a popular star is almost an unforeseen thing in our industry. I was intrigued to know that a major studio had backed the film and extensively marketed it. When I watched the film, I enjoyed it in parts, but overall it left me unaffected. I felt there was nothing extra-ordinary about it. A few weeks later, just as the sequel was about to hit the theaters and the reports from Cannes said that it was better than the first, I suddenly felt the urge to watch the first film again. I wanted to ‘revise’ it to enjoy the sequel more, but mainly to enjoy the first part ‘again’. Somehow, the movie had grown on me. When Part-II came, I was disappointed further. I felt it was weaker than the first. Surprisingly, within a few days the urge to watch it again kicked in. Today, I would love to watch both films back-to-back. ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ have found their way into my life. The latest draft of my screenplay (also set in Bihar) has improved tremendously because of these two films, and I know I’ll keep learning a lot from them.
So what’s this reaction? How can I explain this? And how can I explain the superlatives that some of our film-makers use to describe these films by Anurag Kashyap. I was having a chat with Sudhir Mishra, and he said that he believes Anurag to be the only film-maker in our industry. I appreciate this compliment, but don’t really understand it. Why, for Sudhir Mishra, are the two films on Wasseypur brilliant? I don’t know.
I understand that these two films were important. Perhaps we have just witnessed a watershed moment in the history of parallel cinema – where reasonably big-budget films have been made, extensively marketed, and made more money than any other film without stars. Actors of great caliber, but not ‘star-like features’ can now find hope – that they can be part of not only character roles and good content, but also something that is rich in style and worthy of claps and whistles and cheers. More stories from distant corners of the country may find their way to the big screen. A lot of good may happen. But then, if only these films were truly great, if their narrative had the power and the punch a revenge saga should have, if the numerous indulgences wouldn’t have had interrupted the storytelling, these films would have turned into classics. Imagine a screenplay like that of ‘Satya (1998)’, Kashyap’s first film as a storyteller. What an impact it would have created if it were as well-structured, cohesive, and purposeful like that! The revolution against the formula and the star-system would have just won a major battle, because then even the collections would have soared. My regret is this – if only the thrust in the main story would have been preferred over the numerous anecdotes it had, we would have witnessed a great achievement in cinema.
And as soon as I utter a sentence like my last, some movies start raising their voices in my head – films of Fellini and Bunuel, of the French New Wave directors like Godard, and lately of Tarantino, Kiarostami and Jarmusch. These film makers have made several films which are more a collection of episodes rather than one cohesive whole. These films defy the Classical Narrative, and often bear the blame of being over-indulgent and esoteric. But over time, they earn the reputation of classics. Some film-makers, perhaps, excel in creating exciting and mesmerizing short-films within their features. They purposefully let go of their responsibility to tell one long story – they would rather say a lot more than that, and in more exciting ways. Perhaps they prefer the Mahabharata over Ramayana, or Marquez over Shakespeare. And when they do this, we really find them in the best of their form. Should we then complain, about the lack of cohesiveness? My brother loved the Wasseypur movies because of one simple reason – he got to see stuff he never had on cinema screen. Isn’t this reason sufficient then? And perhaps, this is why I long to watch these two movies again – to watch the numerous short-films within them: ‘Perpendicular and Tangent’, ‘Definite and the Snake-Charmer’, ‘The Assassination of Sultan at a Sabzi Mandi in Bhagalpur’, ‘Permission Lena Chahiye Na’, ‘Raamaadheer Singh and Cinema’, ‘Sardar and the Lady from Bengal’, ‘Aakhiri Vaar’ and so many others full of the colour and cinematic fervor which is not only rare and exotic, but also immensely entertaining.