This speedy, intelligent crime drama, with more than a passing interest in real-life issues, is the first part of a five-hour-plus Indian epic that first grabbed the world’s attention at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. This first episode traces the lives of several criminal families in the small north-east Indian town of Wasseypur from the 1940s to the 1990s. As in ‘The Godfather’, writer-director Anurag Kashyap is matter-of-fact about blood-letting and gun-play but cares just as much about family relationships and the social conditions that breed gangsters.
The storytelling is brisk and the language and violence are surprisingly frank for popular Indian cinema. As the years flash by we’re reminded of the national events and movements playing out as the background to this localised, intensely personal story. Our main focus is Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpai), the sworn enemy of a corrupt politician, Ramaadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia), who was responsible for the death of Sardar’s father, Shahid (Jaideep Ahlawat) – a chancer with ambition and resolve, early in the story. The hard-faced local Quereshi clan proves to be another violent spanner in the works.
The wealth of events and characters mean you have to let yourself go with the flow at times. But ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ is always compelling, and the charisma of Bajpai as Sardar – shaven-headed to mark his desire to avenge his father’s death – means there’s always a colourful, steely presence right at the heart of the drama.