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How Gangs of Wasseypur Changed Indian Cinema?

Gangs of Wasseypur

Gangs of Wasseypur will always remain India’s foremost gangster movie. According to the Guardian, it is in fact the best film from Bollywood this century. Don’t give any importance to the list though. Like most comprehensive lists, it too is useless and wrong.

Gangs of Wasseypur is what happens when art meets craft. It is an example of the possibilities there are if someone in our film industry doesn’t hide behind the garb of ‘art’ cinema to show something real.

Usually, art circuit films don’t succeed for one simple reason – they’re not interesting. If there is one fundamental rule of storytelling, it is that the story being told should be interesting. That’s it.

Many people have the same approach to films as they have towards books. They will watch and read movies and books that are inherently boring. Most people don’t want to watch semi-documentaries. They want entertainment.

Anurag Kashyap goes against everything mainstream Bollywood films do. He rejects all conventional tropes of romance, action, drama, and instead finds something interesting and honest. In Gangs of Wasseypur, Kashyap and Zeishan Quadri bring us gangsters who are clumsy, horny, funny, even capable of kindness and rank evil.

Usually, Bollywood paints gangsters as ‘good’ bad men in gangster movies. Think of movies like Company, Shootout at Lokhandwala, or Raess. The protagonists are serious men who are criminals but have a heart. They help the poor, don’t lust for women like maniacs, and are normally very calm and measured.

Kashyap tells a different story with Gangs of Wasseypur. In doing so, he opens up a new space in the Indian gangster film genre.

Relatability – The Most Fraudulent Idea Storytellers Believe

Why do gangster movies in India always have the ‘good’ bad man acting like a serious man? In Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, Ajay Devgan is more similar to a suave CEO of a Fortune 500 company than a gangster. Shouldn’t a man who grew up on the streets and runs his business on the same streets have some rough edges?

Take Walter White in Breaking Bad. Walter is smart, but he always misjudges how chaotic and random the world can be. The showrunners put Walt in all types of bad situations to clearly show his descent into malevolence.

The Good ‘Bad’ Man and the Bad ‘Good’ Man

This brings us to why the ‘good’ bad man is so common. The blame for this lies solely with a stupid idea called relatability.

Writers in Hindi cinema think moral Indian people will never accept a criminal gangster as a hero unless he has some qualities they like. Some of these qualities can include loyalty, love, respect for women, sympathy for poor people, disdain for elite rich people, and so on.

At the end, the values an Indian gangster in Bollywood movies are the same middle class Indians want to see in their sons and daughters.

This notion of relatability being important is fraudulent because we know the opposite is true. Take a movie like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara as an example. The three heroes of the film are the rarest types of men in India.

One is the son of a billionaire father. Another is an overachieving workaholic with a great body. The third is a goody ad executive. How many of your friends fit these categories?

Relatability in a myth. Strip away the nonsense about relatability and arrive at the core essentials. Indian audiences, like other audiences in the world, are looking for something interesting.

Gangs of Wasseypur Makes ‘Art’ Interesting

People who made art films used to say a film shouldn’t always entertain.

I couldn’t agree less.

All the media we consume, even the daily news we watch, it’s all for one purpose – entertainment. Just look at the excitement of people when they watch election results. It’s as if their wedding videos are being aired on television.

Non-entertaining media is no more important than textbooks.

Gangs of Wasseypur is not a mainstream film partly because it involves people who made their name in Indie cinema. Great actors like Manoj Bajpayee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui are not names one expects to see in a Dharma or Yash Raj movie.

Through Wasseypur, Anurag Kashyap and his team of writers tell a story which is above all else, interesting. It talks about revenge, crime, corruption, violence, rape, divisions between communities, divisions within communities, loyalty, the government, and so on.

All these issues, you will notice, are things we generally see in art films from Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta, and Nandita Das. In choosing these topics, Kashyap was moving away from mainstream cinema and venturing into the art circuit.

Here’s where he drew the line. Unlike most art films, Gangs of Wasseypur doesn’t take itself very seriously. It is raw, like life, sometimes serious and dangerous, and other times downright hilarious.

Art Films

From the way I talk about art films in this piece, you will get the impression I hate the people making them.

No, I don’t think all art films are bad. There is a movie called Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi which is an art film and yet interesting and insightful as well.

However, when I see bad films overrunning Hindi cinema, I don’t blame Salman Khan or Rohit Shetty. I blame the people who are supposed to show us good films.

There is a bad saying about Indian audiences I’m sure most people have heard. Indian audiences are not mature.

I don’t buy this premise. Sure, some films don’t work because they are ahead of their time, but this happens everywhere, not just India.

So when art film directors smile sheepishly and explain how the immature masses don’t understand art, I disagree respectfully. Cinema has always been a medium for entertainment. If you keep making films which are slow and predictable, people won’t pay for tickets.

Will Movies Change After Gangs of Wasseypur?

The one achievement of Gangs of Wasseypur is raising the bar for Indian filmmakers. Indian audiences finally saw the true potential of long-form and interesting storytelling with GOW.

The success of the film raised expectations from other top films. Many top actors have had big flops in the last few years. Audiences are maturing as they see better films.

You could say this day would come eventually. Cringe and nonsensical films couldn’t last for long.

However, the greatest achievement of GOW is making it difficult for art filmmakers to explain their failure. They now have to write stories that don’t just pick a cause but build a story around it.

In his film, Anurag Kashyap manages to portray the futility of revenge, sharp communal divisions, an insight into the criminal mind, and many other things art films have talked about for decades. Yet, he does it in a way people like.

How will movies change? I think they have changed. They’ve changed because people can watch more movies on OTT platforms than ever before. They can question the bad stuff put out by lazy directors in their own country.

Only a change in the audience can begin a change in movies. Gangs of Wasseypur was the bellwether film that started this trend. Let’s hope it reigns.

Also read: What is Speculative Fiction?
Also read: Indian Fantasy Novels: The Best Fantasy Fiction From India

(Featured Image Credits: Wikipedia)

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