The relevance of Gangs of Wasseypur
Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) and its sequel are perhaps the Indian answer to American gang-war movies and mafia epics. Drenched in violence, betrayal, and brutality, the film series was not only a huge success but also became a subject of controversy. For many, the film was an attempt to defame the small locality of Wasseypur. It is located in the town of Dhanbad, in the state of Jharkhand. The fear of a tainted reputation is even more deeply rooted due to Wasseypur being a predominantly Muslim minority populated area.
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Dhanbad is the “Black Diamond City” or the “coal capital” of India; Jharkhand holding the record as the highest coal-producing state. Still, it was only after the movie that most people came to know about Dhanbad, leave alone Wasseypur. For those familiar with Dhanbad, stories of conflict between members from Wasseypur gangs and members of the Singh Mansion are quite commonplace. Singh Mansion is of vital political importance in Dhanbad. Many of its members have held public office on BJP tickets.
The characters in Gangs of Wasseypur
In March 2017, a man named Neeraj Singh was gunned down with as many as about 67 bullets, by assassins on a motorcycle. The murder happened close to his home, while he was inside a vehicle. Apart from being Dhanbad’s former deputy mayor, he was also the nephew of Suraj Deo Singh.
Suraj Deo Singh is one of the many names that still echo in Dhanbad. He came to Dhanbad from Uttar Pradesh as a humble worker seeking a job in the coal town. He allied with B. P. Sinha, a then-renowned mine owner. Eventually, Singh went on to form his gang, which resulted in his clash with Sinha and the latter’s murder in 1978. A Member of the Legislative Assembly during this period, Singh rose to power as a coal mafia. He is the one who established the Singh Mansion. It is his character that the antagonist Ramadhir Singh is based on.
Among the locals of Wasseypur, a well-known topic is a rivalry between Suraj Deo Singh and Shafiq Khan. This rivalry is the subject of the first movie, with Shafiq portrayed as Sardar Khan. The opening scene of gunfire is from a 2004 incident that conspired against Shafiq’s son, Faheem Khan. In the movie, we see the once-dreaded Faheem appearing as Faizal Khan.
Truth and fiction in Gangs of Wasseypur
The director of Gangs of Wasseypur, Anurag Kashyap, approaches these events with his dramatic aims. Indeed, the movie series perfectly manages to impact its viewers cathartically. The plethora of regional songs also enhances this impact. They accompany several moments in the movies and do not appear as distracting insertions typical of Bollywood.
The film series has an elaborate historical context. However, Gangs of Wasseypur is only loosely based on actual incidents. Although Wasseypur locals have asserted authenticity to the gunning down of Shafiq(Sardar) Khan, as in the movie, at the Topchanchi petrol pump, events like the death of Suraj Deo(Ramadhir) Singh are fictitious. The coal mafia succumbed in 1991 to a heart attack, unlike Ramadhir’s brutal murder in the second movie. Moreover, Faheem Khan is reportedly, still under imprisonment. His son, Iqbal Khan, exclaimed that Faheem faced imprisonment for murdering Shafiq’s assassin. This, he said, was not in the movie.
Instead, Gangs of Wasseypur portrays the revengeful murder of Faizal(Faheem) Khan. It is perhaps significant of the fact that the cycle of revenge related to the coal town is perpetually recurrent, if not of historical accuracy; and indeed, Iqbal has now joined the ranks plotting against Shabir Alam, who, like Sultan in the movie, murdered Faheem’s family. Nagma Khatoon and Shahnaz Khatoon, Faheem’s mother and aunt respectively, were murdered in October 2001. The killings happened on open streets at Diamond Crossing in Dhanbad, while both were returning to Wasseypur. The film portrays this murder.
Iqbal’s rivalry with the Singhs is due to their assistance in Shabir’s deeds. There were seven people accused of this murder. In 2018, Shabir Alam’s brother, 54-year old Shahid Alam was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Arriving towards the actual scenario regarding Wasseypur
The Dhanbad police assert the conflicts in Wasseypur to that of Muslims fighting amongst themselves. There are internal conflicts among the members of the Singh Mansion as well. An instance would be the murder of Neeraj Singh, whose family held Sanjeev Singh, Suraj Deo’s son, responsible. Alongside this, the coal town of Dhanbad has also witnessed various murders throughout history in association with these conflicts. Citizens, even school students, in Dhanbad pride over any association with either the dreaded families in Wasseypur or the equally dreaded Singh Mansion, indicating at the conflicts’ still echoing relevance. However, the conflicting motives have found other ways to exercise themselves -mainly through politics.
Anurag Kashyap, on the other hand, exercises his artistic liberty in the movies. He takes the rivalry between Faheem Khan and Suraj Deo Singh as his core subject and builds his film mainly around their conflict. He masterfully establishes the cause of this conflict through the much-discussed locally, yet lesser-known rivalry of Shafiq Khan and Suraj Deo Singh.
The dramatization of this conflict had immense and varying impacts. While many locals claim that the films mostly adhere to the actuality of the events depicted, others oppose the exaggeration of violence in them; and indeed, the film series does have its share of exaggerated events, plots, and highly superficial characters. One particular example can be Perpendicular’s character. Moreover, the movie series is also responsible for the heightened dread that bringing Wasseypur into the limelight has achieved. More than what it is that the films do, the major concern is how they do it.
Consequences and search for truth
A film may highly be responsible for impressing upon its viewers’ minds an eternal and unchanged notion about a place, especially more if it is about an actual location. Gangs of Wasseypur presents Dhanbad, in large, as a vicious battleground, which, irrespective of the time of its setting, is highly responsible for shaping one’s notion of this town; however, if one visits the town in contemporary times, one would know that the opposite is true. Still, a resident of Dhanbad may have a high probability of bombardment with questions by non-residents about how this town is. Often, such inquires are along the lines of the events that this commercially successful film series depicts. True or not, the films are markers of the historical actuality in a non-resident’s conception regarding an actual place.
However, Gangs of Wasseypur is a cinematic, and not a documentary, series. In its portrayals and narrative, the series shows notable influences of the “Old Western” genre and films like The Godfather. What Gangs of Wasseypur does is shape a plot of revenge and conflict, colored in regional undertones. As of the depicted region itself, little is known.
The search for substantial evidence for the films’ portrayals in this bustling and dirt-obscured town will only blind one with coal dust.
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