As much as my ego likes to think it knows about film there is always something that I am not well versed in. Take India. I hear India and I think of frivolous Bollywood films. Very short sighted of me I know. Despite this myopic view, I attended the Indian Film Festival’s opening night at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood for IFFLA alum Anurag Kashyap’s epic Gangs of Wasseypur.
I got my ticket, my program and opened it up to see what I was about to get myself into, as I did not do my usual due diligence in researching this film. At first I thought the 320 minute run time was a misprint. Then I saw that the film would be split into two parts over two nights and realized that it was no typo. I felt like Joffrey at the Battle of Blackwater, I wanted to run into my mom’s arms for protection.
After the opening scene, I stopped caring about the length of the film. I soon realized I might be watching one of the best films I have EVER seen! Visceral, raw, brilliant and riveting were the first words that came to mind. Then the story found its legs, starting in 1941 and spanning all the way to 2009 amidst the revolution, political turmoil and religious discord across these seven decades. It is about the feud lasting three generations between rival families and the tolls of vengeance both in blood and spirit. If I were attempting to pitch this film I would call it, with great confidence Godfather meets City of God.
But even that assessment sells this masterpiece short, because it is entirely Indian, and could only occur the way it did by being filmed in India. Incredible folk music, history and a guerilla style that narrowed my vision in such a way I was actually lost in that world for a bit. After part one ended, I could not wait for the next evening to see how this huge story concluded. Ironically, that would be my one complaint about this film. The story is so huge, with so many characters and covering such a long period of time, I thought it could be a bit longer! The director even said during the Q & A that his first cut was over seven hours long, and that if he made this in America it would have been a series. I shudder with nervous hope that somehow he will be able to do this somehow, perhaps not with this story but something else. After this film I would watch this guy’s film of a children’s birthday party like it was Holy Mountain.
Funny that here I was worried about seeing a silly Bollywood movie and I find the one that rejects that niche. One of the gang leaders even makes a quip that the reason he has survived so long is because he does not watch Bollywood films. The director seems to have an ambiguous relationship with the films from Mumbai, and it is apparent with the violence, references to Bollywood films, and how thematically disturbing this film can be, and I say this with the highest regards.
So after dining on crow and washing it down with my pride, I would stick this film in my top ten of all time, somewhere between Stalker and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Though I already feel as if I have seen the best that this film festival has to offer, I will be coming back this weekend refreshed that a new genre I otherwise would not have bothered to become familiar with has taken hold of me, and I believe I am just a bit more worldly and knowledgeable because of it. It’s like Alice Walker said, ‘If art isn’t there to make us better, then what on Earth is it for?’
The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles runs April 9-14th, visit IFFLA for a full schedule.