Saturday, August 11, 2012

Four Kinds of People in Wasseypur

STATUTORY WARNING: Gives away some of Part II. Watch the film!

Gangs of Wasseypur begins with a Tolstoyian  declaration: “Baat yeh hai ki insaan do kisam key hotey hain. Bewakoof aur Harami…” (It is like this, human beings are of two kinds, fools and bastards) says the narrator. Then it systematically goes on to disprove (or at least confuse) its starting thesis. Till in the end pretty much every apparent harami including Ramadhir is dead, an at least one of the last men standing, JP,  had all through looked like a certified fool.

I disagree with this world-view. Primarily because I think there are four kinds of people, not two. I know my view is wrong too, but I think its less wrong.

But before I explain that, let me get my objective feelings about this film out of the way quickly. The Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW) is an original and cult film. Yes its yet another gangstaah, gaali & goli film, but one with a difference. Its takes to guts to release a 6 hour film (the clever fellow got you to buy tickets twice!), with no name stars, plenty of bizarre black humor, limited to an adult only rating, yet with no (live) flesh or items on display. It has no “message” (as Anurag Kashyap the director correctly claims) but it’s the kind of film that would get even a piece of furniture to think. Because it has given Indian cinema a new idiom, it will be remembered 50 years on from now. Maybe not like Shree 420, Sholay or DDLJ; but perhaps like Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy (yes I said that).

Here is the view: Shorn of hyperbole, human behavior is driven along two sets of forces. The first set, or axes, has self-preservation (which extends to self-interest) at one end and “pity” (Adam Smith actually called it that) or empathy for others on the other extreme. If the former did not exist, we would not have arrived here to read and write blogs; without the latter too we perhaps would have perished as early as Adam (the Eve wala) because we would have devoured our offspring without instincts of care-giving, empathy, and “pity”. The “GoW Thesis” is a take on this primary axis. However, there is a another axis; the “Fight-Flight” axes. Irrespective of what our primary goal is (survival of self, or helping another) we constantly assess the ‘danger” level in the environment and decide whether to engage (fight) or disengage (flight).

With the intersection of these two sets of instincts, we derive four types of behaviours. For simplicity and recall we will call them: Selfers (survival-fight), Submitters (survival-flight), Staker, (empathy-fight), and Safer (empathy-flight). Irrespective of personality, each of us is capable of these behaviors; circumstance and personal choice decide where end up being most of the time.

Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW) lends it self to a case study of human types an behaviour, partly because characters are quite well sketched out and the casting is spot-on. The movie is full of Selfers who are out to fight for all kinds of (real or imagined) survival motives like money, revenge, lust etc. Ramadhin, Sardar Khan, Sultan, and even the initially reluctant Faisal perhaps, are all extreme examples of egoistic Selfers in action. Now and then these guys may momentarily turn in to Submitters, who flee when they are outwitted or outnumbered. But never is there sustained restraint, which is why the feud continues endlessly across three generations. However, the ultimate submitter is JP, Ramadhin's son, who is constantly appeasing his dad, doing stuff on the side, and making Shakuni style alliances. Then there is Nagma, the fiery take-no-nonsense wife of Sardar Khan and later the powerful mother figure. She is the defining Staker in the film. She acts from instincts of care (for family), loyalty (to husband; mostly), engages in her duties in spite of setback after setback, and yet has the stomach for a fight when all limits are exceeded. After Sardar’s assassination she chides the sons “tum logon ko khaana kaisey hazam ho jaata hai” (how are you guys able to eat after all this). In the end she too is shot in the open market place. Finally, the man who perhaps could have made the greatest impact to end the feud, Farhan, the family care-giver and guardian, chooses to play mute witness to horror. The quintessential Safer, he cripples himself though his choices – inaction in deed and word – and silently watches the destruction of the family he supposedly is loyal to and cares for; whipping himself endlessly for his momentary lapse of loyalty (in coveting Nagma) – he escapes all the bullets but suffers just as much.

India today has some good things going for it, but in many ways it is a Wasseypur too. The powerful  - those who have votes, money, or guns - are busy pursuing a Selfer agenda of amass-at-any-cost. Those of privilege, who could have challenged them at their own game, have become aligned Submitters, and are sharing the party. The majority Safers (the middle-class, our PM, our institutions, media) watch the butchery as mute spectators, mindful of escaping the bullets. A solitary Anna Staker rises every now and then, and then he is shot in public. 

In the movie the Submitter and the Safer are alive in the end. So they are certainly not bewakoof. And we all know who the haramis are. However, if Wasseypur is to change it's the fourth kind we need more of. Many many more.

But they don't live till the end.

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  1. India has an abundance of a fifth type - the Rakers. They rake up past controversies, notional insults, religious insecurities, cultural differences and a variety of historical snippets that should have no bearing on our present in the first place. These Rakers will put their perceptions above the common good, and although they will remain disadvantaged through their "protests", they consider themselves the torchbearers of their "culture" - rather a perverse interpretation of it.

  2. To me s/he is a talkative mute. A safer assuaging guilt through noise.