Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Notes on Gangs of Wasseypur - I

Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) / Anurag Kashyap

  • The film has been praised for being a sincere depiction of rustic life – the lower-class villagers are no longer weak or noble, but are vicious and self-serving within the universe of the film – as such, Kashyap has revised the filmic representation of the villager in Indian film, or even better, empowered them via-film. This is all hogwash – firstly, Wasseypur only rarely deals with the 'underprivileged' villagers that the film is assumed to revise – his characters are political leaders, gang leaders, the sons of gang leaders and owners of slaughterhouses/butcheries. Kashyap merely replaces social poverty with moral poverty - where they were poor and therefore, inhabitants of a land the middle-class didn't really understand earlier; now they are seen with an even more sinister eye: as people who can murder and mutilate you in a second. It isn't as if Kashyap gave them any real personalities/ambitions – they merely exist as vessels of different modes of violence. This is not empowerment; this is misrepresentation.
  • One may argue that the film has a genuine class-based unrest – but actually, the initial promise it makes of social/economic upheaval through a scene where a first generation criminal discloses his secret desire to usurp power (and is found out through the most convenient contrivance of Hindi films: a passing bystander who happens to overhear this disclosure) is soon replaced by personal vendetta and mano-a-mano upmanship. The son of the aforementioned criminal does not wish to climb up the social ladder (scenes depicting his ascent are done very tardily and lazily; unlike the picaresque dexterity that Goodfellas or even Deewar bring to the fold) because of a deep-rooted social ambition, but his life, as he states, has only a single motive – revenge. As such, he exists not as a social object (or symptomatic of a larger town, as Kashyap would have us believe), but as an isolated case – a person who has devoted his entire life to picking a historical bone.
  • The whole publicity of the film and the manner of the film itself sells Wasseypur as distant exotica – even worse than the likes of Boyle or Lang at their worst, because in their cases, atleast the director admits to not-knowing. The characters in the film are always bragging about the eccentricities that prevail in Wasseypur - so that us city-dwellers can laugh  and snicker at them without ever having to face the real danger of actually being in such a gangland because well, Kashyap, ever the documentarist of ‘real life’ - has ventured into that territory and shot footage, the rad-director that he is. The truth is, the film is merely 'replacing the urban cool with a rural cool' – as such, it is, at best, an ‘artsy’ Dabangg.
  • The Wasseypur of the film is as a mythical land that exists only to become a pop-culture object. So what if there really is no real geographical location of the town or it seems almost as if historically/politically severed from the rest of the country (the final sequence of the film that this film takes its name from, Gangs of New York, in which the skyline makes multiple-transitions to finally take the shape of the present, situates the place specifically within a historical context – and it is done with the simple precision that great directors always possess) – the publicity of the film tells you that if you are a fan of the film, you too can become a ‘Wasseypuri’. This sort of identification or syndrome of allowing the audience to place themselves in ‘someone else’s shoes’ is symptomatic of a comics convention (where fans step into the attires of their icons), but not of a film that claims to offer a kaleidoscopic-view of a real, existent social situation somewhere.
  • The directorial voice is perpetually amiss throughout the film – there is no texture that Kashyap as an artist lends to the film, there are no signs of a conscious intelligence behind a tale that runs throughout on autopilot mode. The truth is, even if your story is ‘solid’, ‘sprawling’ or ‘epic’, someone’s still gotta direct it. If, as Perkins said, cinema as an art that is a yield of a number of clear decisions made by the director – then Wasseypur has very few. In order for a film, any film, to exist as a real, tenable object – it must be something (good, bad, anything), but the problem with Wasseypur is that it exists as a nothing-object, it exists in some sort of a peculiar vacuum – as a result of which, you cannot call the film good, or bad, or anything else. It is strange to watch a film so terribly devoid of a(any) personality – yes, the film has all the crude sexual humour that you may associate with a Kashyap film, but it is critical to remove the script from its direction and see them as two separate functions. While there is former, which is why there is a film, there is no latter at all. If there are directorial decisions, however, they are ones like the following,
  • In showing a character who lusts after women and looks at them merely as sex-objects, Kashyap actually shows us all the women in the film from the character's point-of-view, thereby letting us, the members of the audience, share in the lust-show, instead of allowing us to merely look at a strange lustful eccentric from a distance and then, perhaps, putting him under the scanner, where he can exist both as an eccentric, a comic object or someone worthy of our disgust.
  • The huge myth that Kashyap has created around himself, a huge bubble of appreciators that follow his every move very dangerous - because while what someone else does is not my business, but I feel a lot of earnest cinephile interest is investing itself in the pursuit of an ordinary director - and such a large collective can make such mistakes only in the age of the internet. Earlier, if a large group of people would like one guy, you could be damn sure he is bloody good, but now, it could just be hype.

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