Thursday, August 09, 2012

Gangs of Wasseypur 2 Review: An underwhelming resolution

There is a moment in GOW2 where Faizal Khan huddles his family in a room as gunmen tear at the doors and he then disappears in the darkness of some stairs leading to the roof. From the cacophonous hailing of ten thousand bullets, the protagonist ascends to a silence where he immerses briefly in its deep watery pit as he dips his hands in a pool of water and splashes his face. He then makes his way through narrow corridors, terraces, peeping over the parapets calmly, jumping from one terrace to the other, limping, and landing in another jump with a pain that takes all his strength to stifle to a silence. It is a long scene of perfect silence and just when it was on the brink of becoming one of the most brilliant scenes I have seen in Hindi cinema, Anurag Kashyap inserts another of his gratuitous raucous songs and kills the moment.

I have appreciated Anurag Kashyap over the years for his courage and undeniable talent and even felt that he came close to greatness sometimes (especially Satya and Black Friday). But I believe he drags his iconoclastic loudness too far too many times. He creates deliciously implausible characters and sets the ground for the sizzling chemistry between them to burn the screen, but it seems that his intent is only an all-consuming conflagration and nothing else. Moments of quiet nuances, tinged with our human fumbling hankering to love and be loved, are rarely or too feebly realized. As a filmmaker, I believe, he sometimes displays too little an empathy for the audience. 
That is why I believe his DevD was a patch on the original, a poignancy reduced to attitude-struck posturings. The protagonist's connection with Paro was never allowed to grow on us but forced down the throats of the audience right from the very first scene with tu-tadaak language. Let it build. If it is there, the audience would see it. If it is not, not a thousand protestations, not the most intimate dialogues in ma-behen language would bring it together.
It’s the same reason why I rejected my once hero, Salman Rushdie: because I felt SR regularly fails to create, even within the constraints of magic fiction, believable relationships between his main characters (and the fact that he could never get his pen around his female characters.)
I believe this is so, I refer to AK specifically but a little to SR too, because
1.) either the auteur is too cynical or too afraid to confront the depth of his humaneness, and
2.) he definitely ultimately underestimates his audience.

When GOW came out, I read almost all the reviews published in respected national dailies. I felt that the majority of the critiques were not able to break the boundaries of convention the movie had; many times, the critic just did not have the intellectual heft to take on the movie, and sometimes, perhaps constrained by a limited exposure to the actual cowbelt heartland and the theth Hindi spoken in the movie, they did not get vital bits of the movie to be able to appraise it. Even Raja Sen made the unpardonable mistake of attributing the story of the son of a minor character killed by the nemesis and teeka-ed with his father’s blood to that of the protagonist, Sardar Khan. [Tigmanshu Dhulia's portly and effortlessly sinister Ramadhir Singh kills a fearsome foe and anoints his bereaved son with a drop of his dead father's blood. The son, vowing to keep his head shaved till he finishes Singh off, grows up to be Sardar Khan, played by Manoj Bajpai.]
While the reviews were disappointing, the comments were a revelation. I realized that there exists a vast intelligent audience, better equipped than the critics in understanding their cinema, momentarily formed into a collective against the thoughtless jaded reviews of a brilliant movie which had offered them a glimpse of what Hindi cinema can be beyond Bollywood.
How this very collective would feel cheated now by this conclusion. It is so because AK was talking over his audience and not to them. He was not perhaps even looking in their eyes.
Cinema or performing arts can be described in many ways, but I would still venture to say that any brilliant art invites the audience to complete the picture. It is not passive viewing. Hence, the auteur needs the audience to realize his work, besides the usual commercial reasons.
However, AK never seems interested in playing the game with the audience. Instead, he would rather keep surprising you (like RGV did so disastrously in Aag) but he does not. Instead, he makes you feel foolish ­ for making you hope that after years and years of inanities, a truly honest brave and intelligent movie has been made, for people like you, and you have been invited to come and realize it with the auteur. Instead, you are left standing with your pieces while the auteur works on his own jigsaw puzzle, ignoring you.
Let me state a fundamental. There is a reason why Veeru had to cry over Jai’s death before he goes after Gabbar. Losses have to be acknowledged, with overflowing sentiments perhaps, or a numb delayed reaction, any way, but the acknowledgment has to be honest. ­ Trust me, the audience will always pick out the fake from the genuine. Similarly, love can be silent and does not need to be underscored by Piyush Misra's lyrics all the time. The fundamental is that what makes us human has to be respected. Rocks and stones do not make their cinemas. We do, the humans. Cinema has to be human. If we anticipate a closure, it has to be given, unless the unresolved stub is deliberate and the questions it raises are important enough to deny the audience that catharsis. If they are not, it becomes an empty laugh not at the audience’s expense, but the auteur’s own creation.

GOW is not a spaghetti Western where men fire more bullets in a day than texts on their new mobile-phones and people die like leaves falling from a tree, and exciting as much concern, and life goes on without any human acknowledgment of the tragedy. It cannot be. The West of this genre, vastly imagined, was a brief anomalous transitory point in history as the Western front was pushed faster than the law and society could keep pace with it. GOW purports to be a story of a people who have lived over many, many generations and survived despite the lawlessness. Coppola realized this: that an organization which has silently survived over the centuries cannot be because the men like swinging their dicks around all the time. Killing indiscriminately does not make survival sense. No, something deeper, more human, more deeply embedded in our instincts is at play ­ our families. We kill in lawless societies to ensure the survival of our families.
Sardar Khan was an orphan, without a sibling, and was a careless father till his son was shot. He could afford the lighthearted thoughtless flamboyance with which he strutted over his enemies. However, Faizal Khan was a man betrayed by his friend, his father and brother murdered by enemies. You have to change the game. Because it has changed, despite yourself, and the audience knows it. Listen to this audience, see the direction it is looking at, anticipating; ­ no, you insist on keeping the same comical, raucous mood even as a dynasty these folks have seen build over generations, children grow into the men, fall now like a pack of cards; ­ brothers, sons, mother, wives murdered; the clan ultimately reduced to the same frugal fugitive trio where the tale of vendetta began.  Just shut the damn songs for a moment, they are all beginning to sound the same anyway, linger more on the pain, and let us mourn.
Perhaps AK’s greatest sin in GOW2, as a director he has failed Niwazuddin Siddiqui greatly. Niwaz's silent burning eyes communicate the pain more than anything else. But AK fails too many times to lift his cinema to his performance. Worse, his film-making gets in the way of this bravura performance. Faizal cannot be as joyously menacing as Sardar, his father. His childhood is too burdened with an unspoken secret. His menace is silent, brooding and fixated on his mother, the victim of his father and his own private sinner. He is an arrow, the string of whose bow has silently, silently been drawn so far back over the years that everyone had started to believe that the string had broken. The audience is waiting for that string to be released in silent respectful deference and finally the thumb and the forefinger holding back the nock release (There were whoops in the audience when Faizal swears revenge to his mother). 
You cannot clamor his moments with the same recycled Womaniyas as Sardar. The game has changed. You cannot take away his scenes of silent brooding and keep only the rushes from the trailer. You cannot give him a flickering moment of on screen-time as he closes the bazaar where his mother was gunned while giving minutes to fatuous exchanges as Ramadhir gives a litany of all the stars over the years for a minute when all he had to say was, ‘I do not watch cinema. Hence, my head is not on the clouds.’
I believe Godfather 2 was even better than the prequel precisely because it allowed us to see Michael and the younger Vito brood and weigh the consequences of his actions against the greater good of the family. Perhaps the only moment that Faizal gets for this, where he, like Michael, realises that he was sucked into this game of violence despite his will, is crowded out again by the irritatingly-facile and no-longer-original theme that defines his “deep” relationship with his wife (another tu-tadaak approach to compensate for a valid build-up.)  
Perhaps, it was a deliberate decision to not take the inspiration from the bellwether of organized-crime cinema, to avoid comparisons. But cinema is not an exercise of ego and about not getting caught looking over someone else’s notes. It is not about being original just for the sake of being original. The original idea has to have some meaning. Otherwise, it becomes a gimmick.
There is a reason why people could empathize with both Michael and Fredo because the story, actually ageless, still holds meaning for us and spoke to us directly and honestly. I sometimes got the feeling that AK was hell-bent on taking GOW to the direction of showing the meaninglessness and even comicality of violence, while it really acquired a meaning beyond the violence.
Niwaz does not have the imposing presence of his grandfather (Ahluwalia in the tallest, most explosively still presence on screen since Bachchan). He is a small, frail man who nevertheless brings an intensity, a smoldering stillness, not seen since the younger pock-marked days of Pankaj Kapoor. No actor could have done more justice to the immense complicatedness of Faizal Khan. But the auteur fails many times to give him the dignity and seriousness of an almost noble hero. Despite being almost the antithesis of his father, he has to port his consumptive rage to the same flippant score. Even as he rejects the pleas of a pregnant wife and walks out to brace his denouement, the tiresomely clever song that is disastrously made his signature tune blares in the background. His moments with himself, his relationships with his mother, siblings, are all snipped away as AK opens too many stubs that, unlike Salman Rushdie earlier bracketed with him, he cannot resolve. Let us take the case of Perpendicular, a brief interesting cameo in the form of Faizal’s 14 year old brother murdered by his rival. What purpose do this character and his death serve when there is hardly one intimate moment between Faizal or his mother with this brother/ son? Just one other villain raping Mithun’ sister. For that matter, what purpose did that pseudo-ideological reference to exploitation of workers by unions in the first installment mean? Why even broach something so, so heavy when you did not know where to take it from there?
If these various subplots are there to stick as close to the real story as possible, this is not the function of cinema. Documentaries do that. I will not say that cinema is only an illusion, but it still needs to have meaning in its structure. Unless the purpose is to convey the meaningless. If that was so, your actors were too intense, their humaneness too meaningful. You cannot ride two boats at one time.
Lastly, GOW becomes what I feared it might after watching the first installment. It discredits its characters with another kind of Bollywoodness that imagines (like in Udaan) that people in the cow-belt only think in terms of Amitabh, Salman, and Sanjay Dutt. Where was Mithun, where was Bhojpuri cinema, where was the bloody Muslimness of the characters, where was the straight from the Bihari-heartland songs stuff that was such a revelation to the broader audience? Why did you reduce so many dimensions to a single clichéd track? Why does every goddamn 90's blockbuster need to be trussed in the dialogues? Why do you shortchange not only your audience, but even your characters?  GOW sometimes seems to be on a raid, foraging Bihar for its lawlessness to showcase a different kind of macho-hood rather than making any meaningful statement about it.
Not that it does not try to, this is one of the bravest movie ever made in Hindi cinema, but it seems too busy with other distractions. GOW is flawed because it attempts too much, it is not a straight-as-an-arrow tale of a man without a past as Satya was, but a confused medley of too many brilliant isolated moments, too many brilliant isolated performances and too many interesting, potentially brilliant, but in the end unresolved subplots. Its message of the meaningless of revenge is almost lost against the Bombay skyline as the audience does not even see the eyes of the survivors.
If you only had listened to us, Anurag. Or just to the story. Sometimes you just have to play the game the way it shapes, even if it’s not quite what you anticipated. Cinema is about communicating to the audience, looking in their eyes. It is not self-indulgence.
You have denied us one of the greatest movies of Hindi cinema of all times. I will have to see it again and again and sigh at the lost possibilities.


Alam said...

Bhai Hindi mey saransh bata do

Bland Spice said...

अच्छी मूवी है. पर जहां पर एक पूरे हरे-भरे परिवार का एक-एक कर के सर्वनाश होता है, वहाँ पर अनुराग ने हीरो को इसका शोक मनाने का मौका नहीं दिया. निवाज ने बेहतेरीन एक्टिंग का प्रदर्शन दिया पर अनुराग ने येहाँ भी काफ़ी निराश किया. अंततः दर्शक-गण को थोड़ा खाली-खाली लग सकता है, जैसे कहानी अधूरी ही दिखाई गयी, या फिर उसके भावनाओं का मज़ाक उड़ाया गया हो.