Gangs of Wasseypur turns 10: The sustained success of Anurag Kashyap’s gangster epic, one of the most influential films of the last decade

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Has there been a more influential Hindi film in the last decade than director Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur? No matter where you look—streaming, advertisements, memes—you’ll notice the crime drama’s lasting impact. At a time when most films, including some of the biggest hits, are forgotten after their opening weekends, Gangs of Wasseypur is the definition of cult success.

Presented in its entirety at the Cannes Film Festival premiere in May 2012, Gangs of Wasseypur was released in two parts in Indian theatres, in June and August. As the film turns 10, here’s a look at how it has shaped pop-culture over the last decade.

The actors

Kashyap has always had a knack for spotting talent, both in front of and behind the camera. But thanks to its sprawling length and a stadium’s worth of speaking roles, Gangs of Wasseypur had room for everybody. Actors who are now regarded as among the finest of their generation appeared in the film–either in blink-and-miss parts, or in starring roles.

For Nawazuddin Siddiqui, it was the film that catapulted him to international recognition, and made him a viable leading man in an industry that had so far relegated actors who look like him to the fringes. Siddiqui, who played the vengeful layabout Faizal in the film, would go on to achieve greater success with the Netflix series Sacred Games, director Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox and Photograph, and Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men.

Richa Chaddha and Huma Qureshi, who were introduced in the industry with Gangs of Wasseypur, are now both popular stars in their own right. Chaddha, in a 2012 interview to Mid-Day, claimed that she received as many as 11 film offers immediately after GoW, but in a 2020 blog post revealed that she’d been paid only Rs 2.5 lakh for her work on both parts of the film. Not that she was complaining.

Jaideep Ahlawat, whose Shahid Khan set the plot of the film into motion , became a bonafide streaming star with a lead role in Prime Video’s Paatal Lok. Vineet Kumar Singh, who played Danish in the film, would later be cast as the lead in Kashyap’s boxing drama Mukkabaaz, and after that, land a starring role in a show produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. Pankaj Tripathi, who played the hitman Sultan Qureshi in the film, is now among the most in-demand actors in the Hindi film industry, thanks to the success that he has achieved on streaming shows such as Mirzapur and Criminal Justice, and with box office hits such as Stree—which would reunite him with another GoW co-star, Rajkummar Rao—and Bareilly Ki Barfi. “We actors didn’t even know how the film was shot. The only thing we were aware of was the story. Only Anurag, the captain of the ship, knew what he was crafting. All of us would just do what he asked us to,” Tripathi said about the film to Hindustan Times in 2017.

We forget, but even Manoj Bajpayee, who played the lead in the first part of the film, wasn’t the Manoj Bajpayee that we now know. His career was in limbo, and without GoW’s success, there would be no re-emergence. There would be no role of a lifetime in The Family Man.

Behind the camera, Sneha Khanwalkar’s eclectic soundtrack, whose bangers are still popular today, pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved in a Bollywood album.

The milieu

When Gangs of Wasseypur was released, Bollywood predominantly catered to tier one cities, and in the case of Karan Johar’s popular films, to NRI audiences. The crime saga filled a void in the industry, and panned the camera towards underrepresented communities in Hindi films. In the decade since its release, stories set in small-town India have become increasingly popular, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the success of GoW. In fact, a direct correlation can be made to the film’s sustained popularity and the emergence of culturally specific South Indian hits that we’re currently seeing. The KGF movies, for instance, follow a similar time-hopping gangster epic template, but in a decidedly more ‘masala’ format.

The industry

Gangs of Wasseypur was a streaming hit even before the idea of making films and shows available to watch from the comfort of your own home was a glimmer in Reed Hastings’ eye. To put things in context, Netflix’s first original series, House of Cards, was released one year after GoW—a film that now seems tailor-made for the kind of storytelling freedom that streaming was able to afford filmmakers. It’s no wonder that Kashyap was the go-to candidate to participate in Netflix’s first Indian original, Sacred Games.

Like GoW, the show told a sprawling gangster story set across decades, and gave Nawazuddin Siddiqui probably the second-most popular role of his career. But GoW’s serialised structure, expansive cast, and nearly six-hour runtime almost seems like Kashyap had almost designed it to be consumed episodically by future generations. If you think about it, the same audiences that used to pirate his films online became the target demographic for streamers when they launched services in India some years later. GoW’s success encouraged the industry to push the envelope, or cynically speaking, discover that entire categories of audiences that they’d previously ignored now had purchasing power.

This has resulted in scores of crime titles like Mirzapur and Aashram—perhaps the two most popular series currently being produced in India. Both are gangster stories set in the Hindi hinterland, and can directly trace their lineage back to GoW.

The legacy

Kashyap has often said that the film’s enduring popularity was both a blessing and a curse. For the longest time, he was expected only to produce other GoW clones. In a recent interview with Mint Lounge, he said that the film’s success—even though Viacom officially calls it a ‘flop’, ‘derailed’ his career in a strange way. “Everything I do is compared to that. It confuses me, because I do not want to make another gangster movie,” he said.

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