Color, 2012, 320m.
Directed by Anurag Kashyap
Starring Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadda, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Jaideep Ahlawat, Tigmanshu Dhulia
CineliciousPics (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Color, 2012, 320m.
A two-part crime epic unlike any other, this sprawling, profane, very violent Indian saga covers a decades-long feud between two families spanning three generations. It's tempting to draw analogies to famous English-language gangster films as points of reference here, some of them pretty appropriate ones like The Godfather, Once Upon a Time in America, and Scarface, but this one stands on its own as an ambitious, blood-spattered chronicle from director Anurag Kashyap, best known to Westenr audiences for working with Michael Winterbottom on Trishna and producing The Lunchbox.
The bullet-spraying opening sequence in 2012 sets the tone as gun-toting thugs disrupt the nocturnal streets of the title town, where the locals sit around watching cheerfully melodramatic TV soaps. They're looking for a man holed up in his house, and they intend to get inside by any means necessary. Of course, this soon turns into a fire fight complete with shattering windshields and bodies galore, after which we leaps back decades to how it all started. In Wasseypur, the residents earn most of their income from coal and are largely Sunni Muslims. They also live in fear of the Quereshi clan of butchers who have turned intimidation and crime into an art form with no one to oppose them. However, that all changes in the '40s with exiled robber Shahid Khan (Bajpayee) and the man who will change the course of the entire area, his son Sardar (Bajpayee), who sports a shaved head, a pitch-black mustache, and a terrifying gaze. Now that the British have left India to its independence, the stage has been set for people to take advantage of the new society with Khan and his descendents locking horns with the Quereshis, who soon merge with the equally ruthless Singhs led by Ramadhir (Dhulia) and drag the adjoining town of Dhanbad into their increasingly deadly battle.
Laced with diegetic Bollywood music (but no full-on musical numbers) and cinematic references galore, this richly textured masterpiece essentially halves the story when it hits the early 1990s, with several power shifts in place involving the most powerful but flawed Khan son, Faizal (Siddiqui), a drug addict bent on taking down the head of the Khans. The two parts were released separately in India but it has generally been promoted as one piece, including an epic-length screening at Cannes where its international reputation began to take off. It has since become a major cult item in its native country for obvious reasons, with its ferocious, fast-paced aesthetic camouflaging the fact that very little explicit violence is shown on screen. The bloody shooting and stabbings are more impressionistic than anything else, which actually makes the cumulative effect even more harrowing.
In addition to its warm reception in India, the film has also become popular in several European countries. In particular, it's had two separate Blu-ray and DVD releases in Germany, first in an edited-down version of both parts under its original title and then in a complete edition from Polyband as Asian Godfather, neither of them with English-friendly language options. It was also released in France and Scandinavia, also with no English subtitles. Fortunately the American edition is the one you want for English subtitles, and it generously spreads the two halves onto separate Blu-rays; there's no DVD counterpart, but you'll want to see this in the highest resolution possible anyway. It looks fantastic throughout, but be advised that it leans heavily on digital color grading at times with some pretty intense yellows that might make you need to give your eyes a break every now and then.
As anyone who's seen any Bollywood productions on Blu-ray can attest, Indian filmmakers really love their aggressive sound mixes and this one is no exception. The Hindi DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is a real beast with an intense array of dynamic surround effects, giving your rear and front speakers an almost nonstop barrage of ear-tickling activity including plenty of support for the pulsating score by Sneha Khanwalkar. The sole video extra is the theatrical trailer, but incredibly enough, the entire film (yes, all five-plus hours of it) has an English audio commentary with Kashyap, actors Huma Quereshi and Richa Chaddha, Khanwalkar, lyricist Varun Grover, associate director Anubhuti Kashyap and assistant director Neeraj Ghaywan. As you'd expect, it's an incredibly dense and informative track going into detail about recreating the period details of India over the course of over half a century, the censorship restraints they had to face, the location scouting, and the choices that went into the intelligent use of both preexisting and original songs within the film's soundscape. Also included is an illustrated booklet containing family trees for the two clans and a liner notes essay by Aseem Chhabra, who breaks down the film's treatment of classic Bollywood cinema as an integral element in its portrayal of India throughout the years. You definitely get your money's worth with this one.