Friday, July 31, 2015

getting through Gangs of Wasseypur three years late


Carla of Filmi Geek and I watch-along-ed both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur earlier this week and then had a chat. She put a lot of other thoughts at the beginning of her post, whereas I have mostly grown weary of these movies—not out of dislike but more out of "I get it already" and "this is just generally not my bag, though I do think the films are pretty well made for what I understand them to be"—and don't have much else to say. Oh, except that I love love love the soundtracks to these films and think Sneha Khanwalkar is an absolute genius. It's so rare that I think a film's songs work as well and matter as much on their own as they do in situ, but hers always do.

Carla:
If I had to summarize Gangs of Wasseypur in one sentence, I'd say that it demands more attention than it rewards. What do you think, Beth?

Beth:
I think that would probably be my averaged-out assessment – there were parts I found boring and parts that were great, parts that were too complicated and others that were really satisfying.

Carla:
Yes, I agree with all of that. What did you find most satisfying?

Beth:
Two things. One, thinking about what kinds of choices and power the (very, very few) women had/chose to exercise. Two, all the direct conversation about movies and their role in the lives of the characters. For example, the big baddie says that as long as India has movies, people will be fooled. But in the end it's one of the biggest movie nuts who triumphs – or two of them, depending on how you define "triumph."

Carla:
Yes, or none of them, depending upon how you define “triumph.”

Beth:
What were the high points for you, if any?

Carla:
I am trying to think about the times when I felt most engaged, because much of it did not engage me especially well. Nawazuddin Siddiqui's character, Faizal Khan, has the most arc, the most complexity – the most conflicting desires and goals. And so the parts that worked the best, for me, are some parts of his story.

Beth:
Based on how many times we said "Oh FAIJAL" while watching, he was more sympathetic to us than anyone else.

Carla:
Yes, and given how removed the lives being portrayed are from the lives of most viewers – certainly from yours and mine – Faizal being sympathetic is essential.

Beth:
I've been trying to figure out how much of his sympathetic-ness is the written character, and how much is just pure Nawaz, who elevates, if not flat-out saves, so many things he's in.

Carla:
As you know, I don't generally get a lot out of stories that are primarily about men expressing masculinity in its most toxic and destructive forms, for its own sake. There's only so much uninterrupted dick-waving I can take without throwing up my hands and saying “Good God, I just don't care what happens to these people!”

So yeah, there is definitely something in the way Faizal Khan is written and/or the way Nawaz performs him that, sometimes, can overcome that reaction for me – those moments when the movie is not just about the dick-waving itself, but about something else, of which dick-waving is a part.

Beth:
As much as I...liked? Faizal, I was not sad at the end. Because, DUH.

Carla:
Well, it's inevitable.

Beth:
But he came off as someone who tried, at least sometimes, in his own way. And he knew it.  That little speech he has with his wife on the balcony.

Carla:
One of the points of the film is the pointlessness of that cycle of violence – Faizal expresses that explicitly in that speech you just mentioned.

Beth:
Pointlessness yet LET'S SHOW A WHOLE LOT OF IT ANYWAY!!!!!!

Carla:
That's why I said earlier that maybe no one triumphs, because what is triumph in this context? Just that you get to be the top guy on the other team's hit list for a while, until they get you.

And yes, a whole, WHOLE lot of it. I think I said to you while we were watching that it don't think one needs five hours to make the point that the cycle of revenge is pointless.

Beth:
For viewers like we are, who don't want to see splatter and gore and suffering, this felt a little bit like a bait and switch, because at the end of Part 1 we thought "Yeah, okay, we can do this," but then preeeeetty soon into Part 2 it got gross. So at first I thought maybe Kashyap was going to make some points about the futility of it all without showing it, but no.

Carla:

There is a notable uptick in the grossness when Faizal takes over, when he beheads the friend who set up his father. And that uptick itself means something – Faizal is a new generation, and the rules change a little when he takes over. Everyone becomes more ruthless.

Beth:
And he's shown to be quite different from his father or older brother and man I feel like I'm talking about The Godfather.

Carla:
Surely Kashyap knows that you will think these thoughts while pondering his film.

Beth:
Oh of course. Faizal is at first kind of pleasingly weird. But then we see it manifest itself as psychotically violent at times instead. Whereas his dad was mostly...efficient? Rather than with a flourish?

Carla:

For Faizal's grandfather, violence was a means to an end – he used it for survival. For his father, it was all in the service of revenge. For Faizal, it is still revenge, but there's something else, too, isn't there?

Beth:
For Faizal and Definite it's for their moms. In different ways, but still for their moms.

Carla:
Yes, that's a good way to put it. And, it's a good segue to talk about the women in the film.

Beth:
After we finished Part 2, it occurred to me that I don't think we really see the women parlay any social power, do we? It's not as though they choose to be with these men – and I do think the younger generation chose pretty freely – because they gain a lot that we can see. They're not leading cliques of aunties or anything. They still do housework. Etc.

Carla:
Another comment I made while we were watching is that half of the lines spoken by women are turning down men's requests for sex. That is one power that they have.

Beth:
But even that doesn't seem to add up to much does it? I mean one of them STILL has four kids.

Carla:
Indeed, despite her best efforts. But I think you're right, we also talked about why a woman would want to be married to a man like Faizal, and there must be some social cachet to it.

Beth:
I don't know what social power would look like in their world but I don't think we saw it, either. They do get refrigerators? And TVs? But Huma's character had a TV in her room before she got married.

Carla:
Even in a mad patriarchal society, there are spheres where women can wield power in different ways, and there are occasionally stories that are about that – but Gangs of Wasseypur isn't one of them.

Beth:
No, it's not.

Carla:
It is about a wholly male set of interactions, and the women are marginal at best. I guess the social cachet in being Faizal's wife, for Huma Qureishi's character, Mohsina, wouldn't necessarily be in the form of things, but in the form of regard and respect of other people in the community. But that is speculation, because Gangs of Wasseypur didn't find a way to squeeze any of that into its five hours.

Beth:
No, there's pretty much no sense of community in this, except for perhaps before the weddings and at the funeral. But that's special occasion community, not everyday. They don't even give birth to women. There is no place in the family for them.

Carla:
That's right, I noticed that too – no daughters, at least none that we get introduced to.

Beth:
Yeah only the enemy family has girls, don't they? And one of the few female characters, Durga, has to be set up as the enemy of one of the others, Nagma.

Carla:
Of course. Pit women against each other, in competition for what? A man – Sardar Khan, Faizal's father. A man who, incidentally, doesn't treat either of them with a ton of respect. Remember the scene where he tells them he wants them all to live in one house, and he can't even fathom what the objection would be?

Beth:
He's one of those "well, he doesn't literally beat his wives, so I guess he's a catch" kind of characters – though at least the women seem to know it.

Carla:
That dynamic around the first and second wife is probably the only thing Gangs of Wasseypur has to say about how women's lived are damaged by the norms of the society they live in. The rest is all about the damage inflicted on men.

Beth:
I think the last scene between Mohsina and Faizal shows some. Or, implies it, anyway.

Carla:
Yes, Faizal's wife tells him she is pregnant, and he says, "say hello to my kid," and you know they both know he isn't coming back.

Beth:
I don't know how they managed to convey so much there, but they really did. But of course we knew the run time of the film too.

Carla:
They both do a lot with their faces, as actors. But all that interaction does for me is reinforce the question, what does Mohsina get out of being married to him?

Beth:
I think perhaps they're just genuinely attracted to each other. He's clearly amazed by her in the cinema. And then she's so flirtatious at the...engagement party, I think it is. Maybe she likes having him dance to her tune. Actually maybe she just finds the whole thing filmi, and we know she likes that.

Carla:
Oh yes, that is definitely true. They really dig each other. That's what makes the scene on the balcony work, even though it's a bit heavy-handed – he is imagining a different life in which he could just enjoy his amazing wife, without having to worry about killing and revenge and which family member he's going to lose next.

Beth:
A rare moment of clarity for Faizal when he's not high on drugs or killing.

Carla:
Yes.

Do you want to talk about those filmi connections some more?

Beth:
Sure! For example, the flat-out outlining of generational heroes by Ramadhir is kind of funny.  And how he tells his son, "You just can't hack it as a gangster because you're too busy watching DDLJ, you dope."

Carla:
It's clunky and clueless, which is very funny – he doesn't follow them himself, and doesn't remember them all.

Beth:
He remembers enough as sort of cultural signposts, but yeah, he does not connect with them. And we get different people identifying with different heroes. Faizal likes Mithun, right?

Carla:
Aww, yeahh. (But Faizal also does a Travis Bickle sort of thing in the mirror.)

Beth:
So I guess by default Sardar likes Amitabh but I can't recall if he says so. Oh and there's that GREAT moment where Faizal turns around in his chair and it looks like the start of the warehouse scene in Deewaar. And Mohsina likesMaine Pyaar Kiya, and also Amitabh – she's a cool girl that way, maybe even a Cool Girl.

Carla:
Perpendicular and Tangent are also big Sanjay Dutt fans. They are engrossed in an almost homoerotic fantasy about him when they are set upon by the goons who kill Perpendicular.

And Mohsina is definitely a Cool Girl. She can afford to be, because she knows Faizal digs her.

Beth:
And the whole family likes the TV serials apparently. There were like 20 people watching that!

Carla:
"Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi" ... that one line of melody is repeated so many times and gets stuck in one's head.

Beth:
And to open with it and then repeat it in the second film.

Carla:
So, when the ultimate male explosion happens, this huge raid on the Khan house with automatic weapons and bombs, all the women of the house are gathered watching some saas-bahu serial, and the repeated line is all about the relationships of household women. Everything the movie is NOT about.

Beth:
True. Many of the men are watching it too, interestingly. Maybe it's a reiteration of Ramadhir's point: If you just sit around watching movies/TV, your house is NOT in order and it makes you stupid.

Carla:
That's very bleak, though, because most of these people are collateral damage. They are not responsible for this war, just because they are watching TV.

Beth:
(Also a marker of changing technology, I would think, which the film likes to do.) Collateral damage is always part of stories like this though.

Carla:
Yes, it is. What I am saying is that it is very bleak if Ramadhir's critique that TV and movies makes people weak gets taken out on folks who aren't directly involved in the war at all. It's one thing for him to harass his son for watching movies; he'd rather have raised a son who is a strong general in his army and a worthy successor. It's a very different thing to apply that criticism to people whose only crime is being part of the enemy household.

Beth:
His soldier actually says that, remember? Kill them all, even the cook, the washer boy, the pets (or something like that).

Carla:
Yes. By that time, after Ramadhir's sister and Nagma have been killed, the rules of engagement (such as they were) are out the window. This is no longer an honorable conflict.

Beth:
The scope of the violence expands with technology, too. Sardar's dad starts out mostly hitting people, I think, and burning their property.

Carla:
Very true.

Beth:
And then Sardar has...knives and swords, etc., and then guns come in, and then bombs.

Carla:
The first time Sardar's father sees a gun up close, it is used on him. It's all downhill from there.

Beth:
And somebody, maybe him, has a line about "Wow, now every Tom Dick and Harry has a gun."

Carla:
Ah, interesting.

Beth:
So here are two questions to wrap up: 1) Why did we watch this and 2) do we think those rationales will actually be met or pay off?

Carla:
What are your answers?

Beth:
For me, this was a movie I felt like I Should See, capital letters – that somehow it's an Important Film from an Important Filmmaker. And I will admit that after Bombay Velvet was SO disliked by so many people but I loved it, I was more intrigued to see this one, even though I'd tried once and been turned off instantly by the violence.

I don't know the answer to my second question yet. If Gangs of Wasseypur keeps showing up in conversations, I'll be able to participate more than I would without having seen it, and I like that feeling. But honestly, do I see it come up all that much now? I'm not sure I do.

Carla:
I don't think I see it talked about much either, and there may be a bit of a backlash against Kashyap because of Bombay Velvet (which I also did not think was as bad as all that), that will make people stop talking about Gangs of Wasseypur for a while.

However, my answers are very similar to yours. When I write, I put myself out there, and the more I have seen of the works that are significant and interesting, the less likely I am to make a complete idiot of myself. Also, while I don't like gangster films as a rule, I generally do like films about political machinations in India. And films that focus on areas other than the big cosmopolitan cities are also of great interest to me.

Beth:
I have definitely had enough of hinterlands assholes at this point.

Carla:
I would very happily watch more movies about how the machinations of hinterlands assholes affect women.

Beth:
If I had to watch hinterlands assholes, that would be the slant I would appreciate, I guess. But I'd rather not watch any at all, at least not for a while.

Carla:
Give me more Mrityudands, more Revolver Ranis, more Godmothers. Even more Gulab Gangs, if not that exact film over again.

I definitely don't regret watching Gangs of Wasseypur, even if I didn't find it thoroughly engrossing. It's a five-hour investment in the big picture and I do think it will pay returns.

Beth:
I don't want those hours of my life back, but I don't think I'd be particularly missing out in ways or arenas that I personally car a lot about if I had not decided to watch it. "Timepass" isn't quite the right word for me for this film, but it's somewhere in that general neck of the woods.

Carla:
And with those ringing endorsements...

Beth:
Carla, nobody cares what we think about these movies three years after they came out.

Carla:
WHAT????

This was really fun and interesting, Beth. With this chat, Gangs of Wasseypur is already returning on the investment.

Beth:
Good! We always make our own fun, don't we?
Share:

5 comments :

Pankaj said...

No, we do care, who love reading anything both Beth and Carla write :) Great discussion, interesting points on the role of women in the film. The film was good, but did not like it much personally. But Sneha Khanwalkar is just amazing. Looking forward to more discussions :)

Nikina Maqsood said...

I liked Gangs of Wasseypur, but thought the first part a bit of a drag. It felt a lot like the first few chapters of any one of several Salman Rushdie novels, which tend to make for great reading but not particularly riveting cinema. Part two made it for me. Violent movies aren't really my bag, either, but then again I enjoyed the largely similar Ram Leela, Reshma Aur Shera and Shakti: The Power, as well, so maybe they are my bag after all? Thinking further, I really enjoy the OTT shoot-out sequences in Hard Boiled (ie, about half the movie) as well.

Dpk 2017 said...

Hi Beth,

Could you review Rangi Taranga please?

http://www.rangitaranga.com/countries/united-states/show_timings

Dipika

Beth Watkins said...

Pankaj - More Sneha all the time! :)

Nikina - I agree with you very much about the drag in the first part. Just yesterday I was telling someone to just watch part 2, or at most watch the last half hour or so of 1 before going on to 2. I think for me the fun part of violence in movies is if there is strategy involved OR creative use of weapons or locations etc, which is why I liked the giant battle in Baahubali so much and some of the James Bond fight sequences (and of course Matt Damon hitting people with rolled-up reading material in Bourne).

Dipika - It's not playing near me, unfortunately.

Dpk 2017 said...

Thank you Beth for your reply. If you feel like catching up on a good Kannada movie, here's one

http://www.hometalkies.com/lucia/watch/