For those who doubt the state of Indian cinema, turn your attention toward Anurag Kashyap. While many Hindi movies are still cliched in their style, substance and structure, Kashyap has brought an incredible sense of realism to his films for more than a decade.
He does not shy away from the dark truths of India, and his newest project “Gangs of Wasseypur” might be his greatest accomplishment of this feat yet.
The two-part saga clocks in at about five hours and 20 minutes, and yet, neither part feels too bloated or overwrought with stereotypical drama. In fact, the pace of the film is comparable to an epic Quentin Tarantino flick at times, but with more emphasis on cultural, societal and familial issues.
Based on true events, “Gangs of Wasseypur,” which received the honor of being screened at both Cannes and Venice Film Festival, follows the brutal power struggle between three crime families in Wasseypur and Dhanbad of the Indian state of Jharkhand.
There are the Qureshi’s, the family that starts out with the most power, and the family of Ramadhir Singh. But much of the film’s attention is placed on the the Khan family, played in first part by Sardar Khan and then Faisal Khan in the second. All of families’ stories are told through a narrator, who recounts elements of India’s history, which become integral to the plot.
The three families are all trying to gain the power of their towns and state, and they will do whatever it takes to succeed, including betraying everyone they know.
Family dynamics are a huge part of both films, as we are told the story through different generations of the families. Mothers kill fathers, sons kill sons and the corruption of Jharkhand, and India in general, burrows deeper and deeper into the foundations of society at large.
And yet despite all the violence, there are moments of lightness and even comedy as Faisal initially stays away from the family business, thanks to his dreams of being in Bollywood and his weed smoking habits.
While Kashyap’s artistry is in top form and should absolutely be commended here, there is also no shortage of compliments for the stellar cast. The first part of the overall film is led by the always incredible Manoj Bajpai, an actor who is truly one of the M.V.P.’s of Indian cinema alongside Bollywood greats like Irrfan Khan, Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah.
As Sardar Khan, Bajpai, paves the way for his family’s desire for revenge against the Singh family for killing his father, and for their thirst for power. He also, of course, sets the stage for how Siddiqui’s Faisal takes over the family business, and the actor does not miss a beat or make us feel incomplete even when Bajpai is not leading the charge.
Both actors excel in their complicated roles, and the supporting players are no less competent. Pay special attention to actors like Tigmanshu Dhulia as Ramadhir, Huma Qureshi as Mohsina, Richa Chadda as Nagma and Rajkummar Rao as Shamshad. Rao only appears in part two but the actor is already making incredible strides in his career, and is one of the finest of the new crop of Bollywood actors.
Male presence is heavy throughout both parts of the film, but the women do contribute to the plot at times. The complicated husband/wife relationship between Nagma and Sardar, as well as, the love triangle created by Sardar’s second wife Durga (played by Reemma Sen) are integral to part one of the film. And Durga herself is a fascinating study of the duality and conflict placed on women in families where crime and bloodshed are proudly part of the heritage.
My only wish would be to see more contribution from the female characters outside of Durga as they are easily involved in the strategic plans for power. Since women have the ability for violence they could have had a bigger hand in driving the negativity and hatred between the three families.
There is one small critique that must be made about gangs. While the story progression and the truth at the heart of these events is prevalent, the film could have used more moments of subtlety.
The great thing about “The Godfather” trilogy, “Goodfellas,” “The Sopranos” or other mob stories depicted on American film and television is that they have quiet moments where character development is the only focus. It is not about the violence, it is not about the greed, it is not even about the crime. It is about humanity and the reason why they are the way they are. These moments do appear at times throughout the saga, but the problem is they feel few and far between.
However, this is just one small issue in an epic saga that proves Indian cinema is not all about fake fight scenes, cliched choreographed dance numbers, women who refuse to think for themselves and general corniness. “Gangs of Wasseypur” is the way true Indian cinema was meant to be made, and the way true Indian stories were meant to be told.
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.
“Don’t bully me with your kindness,” says Pi Patel (Hiran Abeysekera) to Lulu Chen (Kirstin Louie), from the Canadian embassy who is visiting Pi in his hospital room in Mexico. Pi was the sole survivor of a cargo ship traveling from Pondicherry, India, en route to Canada. His family and the animals from his zoo from back home all passed away, and Pi turned up after being stranded for 227 days at sea.
In this scene from the “Life of Pi,” that recently won in three categories at the Tony Awards, Pi’s sanity is being questioned as his account of what transpired at sea is too…fantastical. His vivid imagination and inspired attention to detail seem like a story a child would share. The character Lulu, from the embassy, is trying to gently nudge him into telling her the more ‘truthful’ account of what happened —one that doesn’t include a carnivorous tiger, a cannibalistic island, and a horrific Frenchman. Pi finally tells her to stop patronizing him. To stop bullying him with her perceived kindness. To actually listen to what he is saying.
It is this one line from the show that has become one of the most surprising and thoughtful lines I have encountered in all the art I have consumed in 2023 thus far. In fact, surprising and thoughtful are words that I would use to describe the overall musical itself. Directed by Max Webster, and adapted by the playwright Lolita Chakrabarti from Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel, “Life of Pi” is so enchanting, charming, and fantastical that with every beat of the show, I would hear gasps emanating from the crowd. The 24 cast members, many of whom were puppeteers, brought the different animals to life as we switched between the two timelines of Pi recounting his life at sea, in the hospital room, and Pi living out his life at sea.
Dreamlike to the audience and a nightmare to Pi, the scenes depicting his challenging, lonely, and magical time at sea beautifully depicted the magical realism of the novel. The choreography of the different cast members puppeteering the animals added a sense of whimsy and movement that lent itself to Pi’s childlike imagination. The lighting, the sound, the set, and the actors all came together to create a musical that is like almost being in a drug-induced trip — the set moves seamlessly from the hospital room to the boat, and back to the hospital room, and then the boat; sometimes both at the same time. You can feel the waves when Pi is on the water and see the little fish moving about. It’s as though you are with Pi throughout his journey — you feel scared when he is attacked, you feel inspired when he is in bliss, and you feel pain when he longs for his family.
The biggest marvel, though, is Richard Parker. The puppeteering behind this character is excellent — he is at once menacing, vulnerable, scared, and strong. The transformation of Parker is such that he starts out as such a grand animal and when we see him finally arrive on the island, he looks so frail and thin. You root for him as much as you root for Pi. And Pi himself is the heart of the musical. Abeysekera imbues Pi with so much confidence, playfulness, wit, and fear, that it makes you believe his stories and his relationship with the relentless tiger.
When Pi tells Lulu to not bully him with her kindness, he is telling her to not shatter his perception of the world he has lived; either it be real or constructed. Pi eventually shares with Lulu and Mr. Okamoto (Daisuke Tsuji), a representative from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, a version of events that is devoid of animals but one that is darker as it depicts human beings in their primal, selfish states. He then asks them, “Which story is better?” Lulu and Mr. Okamoto are speechless, as is the audience. In the end, it’s not about the story they believe but the one he believes. For the one he believes is the one he lived. And no one can bully him into thinking otherwise.
It is the strength of both British and South Asian cinema that every few years, and with increasing regularity, a film comes along that is able to successfully and thoughtfully bridge the highs and lows of both cultures. With the recognisable cross-cultural DNA of films like “Bend it Like Beckham”, “Bride and Prejudice”and others before it, Shekhar Kapur brings to the silver screen an honest and comedic representation of East meets West with “What’s Love Got To Do With It” — an exploration of love and marriage across international norms.
Written and produced by Jemima Khan, the film draws from elements of her own experience of marrying then-Pakistani cricket star and now ex-Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and relocating to the country for 10 years.
“Particularly in the West, Pakistanis would quite often be seen as terrorists, fanatics and backwards,” says Khan, as she reminisces about her time spent in Pakistan over Zoom. “My experience of living in Pakistan was very colourful, vibrant, and fun. I always felt like the rom-com side of Pakistan was more surprising than anything else.”
A film not just about the heart, but with a lot of heart of its own, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” touches on South Asian families, culture, individuality, and marriages in the 21st century. Set in the UK and Pakistan, this is a feel-good and fun story about childhood best friends and neighbours, Zoe and Kazim, AKA Kaz. And as the narrative unfolds, new light is shone on their friendship and questions are asked about the cultural norms and practices we have grown to accept.
It isn’t your usual ‘boy-meets-girl’ tale. On the contrary, they’ve known each other forever; the fabric of their lives intertwined. Kaz is a British-Pakistani doctor of “marriageable” age, opting for an “assisted” marriage set in motion by his own desire rather than parental duress.
“I think we’ve replaced the term “arranged” with “assisted” because South Asian parents now trust their kids more to make the right decision for themselves,” said Shahzad Latif, sitting next to Lily James, who nods in agreement. “It’s still a process. Some parents may have more confidence in their kids than others, but we’re getting there.”
Zoe – played by Lily James – is a professional documentary maker living on an inexplicably fancy houseboat (bit of a stretch for somebody having difficulty funding projects, but, at this point, a crucial ingredient for London rom-coms). As a white British woman, her method of finding love isn’t one that involves parents or family.
“It was a no-brainer for me to be part of the script,” says a smiling James in response to whether any culture shocks were encountered during filming and table reads. “Pakistani culture is so rich and colourful, and it was important for me to showcase this side of the country. So no, no culture shocks per se, just more singing and dancing in comparison to British culture!”
Zoe’s camera is the vehicle through which the film examines Kaz’s “contractual love”, as she trawls dating apps while following her best friend down the assisted aisle.
Emma Thompson’s Cath plays the comedic matriarch to Zoe, eager to witness the conclusion of her daughter’s swiping days by being with someone suitable. She’s found a family in Shabana Azmi’s Aisha Khan – a more layered mum — one that is embracing both tradition and modernity. It would be fair to say that Azmi successfully sells cinema-goers on the difficulty of that struggle.
“Today’s society is slowly coming to terms with providing children the space they rightfully require and deserve to make decisions,” says Azmi, reflecting on how scripts and films have evolved over time. “Gone are the days when parents would blackmail their children into marrying the first person they come across. Just because they are their kids doesn’t mean they are actually children. They are adults with views and minds of their own.”
Kaz is then introduced to Maimoona (Sajal Aly); a shy introvert from Pakistan, unsure about the idea of moving permanently to London. She’s dealing with internal battles of her own; battles between personal desires and societal expectations.
“Maimoona may not have verbally said much, but her face said everything,” explains Aly, looking beautiful and radiant as ever. “She is torn between what she wants and what society silently shoves down at her and eventually, she goes with what the latter expects.”
The film navigates between London and a fabricated Lahore filmed in the suburbs of the British capital; a feat that comes as testament to the film’s production design. Kaz and Zoe’s jaunts across Lahore, backdropped by its magnificent architecture, set the stage for Pakistani music legends to shine, including the mesmerising voice of Rahet Fateh Ali Khan.
And if this wasn’t enough, Nitin Sawhney and Naughty Boy add further melody to the film’s music, as they talk about their experience of creating appropriate tunes such as the foot-thumping “Mahi Sona”.
“It was a great process and experience to create an appropriate language and expression of music which added elements and flavours to the film,” says the duo enthusiastically. “It’s also an ode to our South Asian heritage.”
Even though the tone of “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is distinctly feel-good, the film thoughtfully explores the unconventional ways that relationships may be built, and what multiculturalism can teach one another. Is it, in fact, more sensible to be practical about relationships? Is it possible to learn to love the person we’re with? Is love really the only ingredient needed for a successful marriage? Why was Kaz’s sister shunned for marrying outside of their culture? And do Western relationships draw more on the ideas of assisted partnerships than we realise?
A clever reference is drawn from the moment Prince Charles shattered many royal dreamers’ hearts with his dismissive “whatever in love means” comment upon his engagement to Princess Diana, thus proving that these notions may be closer to home in the West than one might believe.
James and Latif are a charismatic pair, with Zoe married to her independence and Kaz gently questioning her prejudices. The film is also a vivid demonstration of British talent, with Asim Chaudhry playing a hilarious yet questionable rishta uncle, comic duo Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen appearing as a pair of TV commissioners with a briefcase of ridiculous ideas, and Nikkita Chadha as the confrontational Baby — the film’s feisty rebel, in love with dancing.
“It’s incredible to be part of such a diverse and stellar cast,” smiles Chadha animatedly, while sipping on tea at Soho House in London. “My character is defiant and nonconformist — perfectly conflicting with the name “Baby “. I’m really excited for everyone to watch the film.”
Divorce is still stigmatised in South Asia — a theme often carefully avoided in desi films and television. Khan gently addresses it as a twist in the film – with a reminder that be it love or assisted marriage — amicable and mutual separations are a possibility.
As a complete package, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” deftly wraps up all the emotions associated with love and family in its joyful, musical, and vibrant 109-minute runtime. With its cast, music and direction, this classic rom-com is set to make you laugh, cry and, even more importantly, make you think about the multi-dimensional nature of love within and across cultures. The film is now showing in cinemas worldwide, and we highly recommend it.
Desk bound by day and travel bound all other times – Queenie thrives on her weekly dose of biryani and chilli paneer. She recently released her first book called The Poor Londoner, which talks about comical expat experiences people face worldwide. With degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing, her work and research on gender inequality in the travel industry is taught in universities across the globe. Her travels and everyday fails can be found on Instagram (@thepoorlondoner) and YouTube (The Poor Londoner).
Originally from Karachi, Pakistan and now blended into the hustle-bustle of London, Marium is a trainee technology consultant, by day and sometime also night, and also finishing her bachelors in Digital Innovation. In the midst of striving to be someone, she enjoys dreaming about the impossible (impossible according to desi standards and sometime Harry Potter impossible as well), and writing about them. She enjoys baking, decorating things and a cup of chai!