Declassifying Gangs of Wasseypur – Part 3
Writing Violence: Zeishan Quadri on Making It New
The principal story and dialogue writer of Gangs of Wasseypur, Zeishan Quadri is a man of many words and disparate colors. It was his idea, desire, research and determination that pushed Anurag Kashyap, the film’s director and one of its producers, to make it. Like his mentor, Kashyap, he is bluntly honest about his views, visions and dreams. A man who has seen life, hardship, crime and the suburb of Wasseypur from very close quarters, Quadri excels in drafting steaming dialogues. He believes in communicating what he thinks and makes sure that not even an inch is left uncovered. In an intense interview, he reveals how the cult film was made and how it could alter the shape of Indian filmmaking.
After a BBA in Meerut and a stint in a call-center in Delhi, I came to Mumbai in 2009 to act in films. I struggled a lot, as I was unable to find acting assignments. I had the idea for Wasseypur then. I was watching a lot of world cinema and wanted to make films that stood out for their real treatment of characters and society. First I approached Hansal Mehta, but found him busy. Then I approached Anurag Kashyap in May. Anurag heard the concept, liked it and decided that he’s going to make the film. Upon being asked what I wanted, I told him that I’d want to play the character, Definite, to which he agreed and asked me if I could attend acting workshops with him. I agreed heartily. I then returned to Dhanbad for 35 days of research.
I came back to Mumbai in the first week of October and offered the 140 page story of GOW to Anurag. His response was enthusiastic as he felt that the story deftly traced the journey of the coal mafia in Wasseypur from 1940 to 2005. Anurag decided that no compromises were to be made to the story even if the film was long. After the shoot, the length of the film was seven hours. Finally, after editing, the film was of a length of five hours and twenty minutes.
How did the kind of world cinema you watched inspire you?
World cinema directors make their films real. Stylistically, while watching their productions, we feel that what we are watching something that is literally happening in a specific place and a specific time. A good example is City of God. I felt that I too could write realist cinema and that it would be really exciting to do something different. So I went along and wrote Gangs of Wasseypur.
Did anything else apart from world cinema lead you to write Gangs of Wasseypur?
Acting! I wasn’t getting chances to act in the industry and writing a good film to act in it seemed like the only way out. After I wrote the complete script of GOW, Anurag told me that although my acting was good, I was a better writer, and should, therefore, never give writing up. “Write whatever you want to write,” he told me. So I said, ‘Okay, I’m not going to leave writing,” and I’ve written two more stories now.
How long have you been writing in Hindi and what do you concentrate on the most while writing?
It totally depends. The language in which I write doesn’t matter to me. What I want to write is more central to my concerns, the subject matter. Issues such as how I can create emotion properly or how I can see with greater depth are important to me. I started writing just three years back.
How would you classify a film like Wasseypur which has so much blood and gore and such heavy use of vulgar language and cuss words?
Well, I don’t want to classify it. It is really simple. Jo bandaa boltaa hai ki film mein gaali bahut hai, realistic ke naam pe gaali bahut hai, uske kaan ke neeche do thappad maaro, sabse pehle wahi aapko gaali dega. Do we need to listen to such people? I’m sure you would have used cuss-words in your life too. That you feel embarrassed about it and say that you do not abuse and are, therefore, a good man is quite another matter. Everybody abuses! Then who are these people who say that a film abuses for the sake of abusing? Also, didn’t Delhi Belly have cuss-words? And Delhi Belly was greater in tones of vulgarity than Wasseypur!
Also, when people say that such a film has too much violence and gore, they need to understand that their comments are based on simply watching the film that represents a reality. If that itself is enough to make them feel uncomfortable then it would do them good if they imagined and took into consideration the fate of those who live in violent places like Wasseypur. I’ve spent two years in an equally bizarre Patna preparing for competitive examinations and known feared people such as Ranjit Don, Surajbhaan Singh from Mokaamaa and Shahabuddin from Siwaan. If you asked them, they’d tell you that they know me. So the thing is that these guys, you and I know about the realities they control, but those who live in the protected metros know nothing about it. If in spite of their lack of knowledge they level accusations, it is not fair. They should do some research and find things out.
On 10th August 2012 ndtv.com broadcast a video on the real gangs in Wasseypur. Have you seen it?
Yes, I have seen it too. It totally corroborates the film. It had Ranvijay Singh, his son Neeraj Singh who is currently the deputy mayor of Wasseypur, and Fahim Khan’s son Mahipal Khan. You could see how these men were openly talking about their respective stakes in the messy power politics of the area.
What cinematic, artistic and narrative roles did the abuses and cuss words play in the film? How do you think did they impact the audience?
We used them to make the story telling in the film authentic and bring the film as close as possible to the real. If I’d written something without the cuss words, it would have seemed absurd. Had Faisal Khan entered after Danish’s murder, and said, “Mom, just chill mom. No issues. I’m gonna take that revenge. Who is Ramadhir? I’m gonna get him,” would you have enjoyed it? You would have probably plopped out of your seats. If Faisal Khan would have sat at the table, eaten with forks and knives and then said, “Main abhi din gin rahaa hoon,” you would have criticized the scene as crappy for its incredulity. Therefore, the language and the lingo in a film matter a lot.
The language of a film like Omkara has a specific form; its lingo, the way things are said colloquially, defines its content. It tells me that this story is based in a certain part of Haryana and points to people of that area as of a certain kind. This way, language and lingo get you into the story and ‘attach’ you to its environment and the emotions of its characters.
If we hadn’t used the kind of language that we have in Wasseypur, the audience wouldn’t have been able to feel that attachment. There would have been a gap between them and the film and their enjoyment would have suffered. In Delhi, people don’t treat cuss words as abuse, but as part of regular language. The suburb of Wasseypur has a similar attitude towards cuss words. We’ve put that attitude into the film’s language in every possible way. We never thought of cuss words as literal abuses, but as means of effective communication between characters. We wanted to bring out their way of speech, their idiosyncratic comments; their takia-kalaams if you were to use that word. Abuses, therefore, are important. Gaali zaroori hai!
What do you think does the future hold for your kind of cinema?
The future of our kind of cinema is bright. With Gangs of Wasseypur turning into a super-hit, it’s clear that it is capturing the market and creating its audience. The success of films such as Pan Singh Tomar, Kahaani, The Dirty Picture, and Delhi Belly, all reveal the same trend. Audiences are paying to see such cinema because it excites them as it brings them closer to reality. If you see carefully, in the contemporary times, actors are trying to prove themselves by doing something different. Emraan Hashmi did Shanghai. He’s now collaborating with Vishal Bharadwaj for Ek Thi Daayan and trying to go beyond the Mahesh Bhatt camp. Ranbeer Kapoor’s changed his look for Barfi, a 60s, 70s look. So why are these guys changing guard? To evoke a sense of the real! After all, what is real if not this evocation of a time and place?
Are you saying that a certain new form of realism that privileges observation over fiction is emerging in Indian cinema?
Exactly! We are making a new cinema; a kind of realist film that uses a compelling mixture of the psychological and the social and peels reality in every possible way with raw treatment of observed details. It wants to connect with the audience emotionally rather than sensationally. We must not think that such cinema is boring. Wasseypur wasn’t! Audiences thoroughly enjoyed its dialogues, drama and tensions. Its characters were both real and interesting. Out on the roads to murder, they behave in the fashion of regular criminals and talk about everyday things, such as buying fruits and vegetables. In fact, we refer to the mainstream Hindi films of earlier times as ‘infantile cinema.’ These are now slowly retracting their steps, and a cinema of mature people is slowly stepping forward. My cinema is almost totally observational. I fictionalize a little for arriving at the beginning and the end. I make the central plot interesting with clever use of what I have seen.
How would you describe your relationship with Anurag Kashyap?
Anurag is my Godfather, my mentor. He is the most loving person on set, but he’s also the cruelest one if I am wrong. If I’ve made a mistake when he’s around then I’ve had it. I’ve been with Anurag from the time I first came to Mumbai. He knows that I need to be taught. I too have given myself up to him completely. He, therefore, relates with me at that level when it comes to detecting mistakes in my writing and acting. His attitude is such that if there is a need, we spend nights discussing and correcting thing. If I do not get it right even then, he reprimands me. I apologize, pester him, ask him to repeat stuff, and he goes over it again and again.
What has been the response of those who loved and criticized you, your family, friends and acquaintances?
A week before the film’s release, three-four people accused the film of bad-mouthing Wasseypur. After the film became a hit, the clamor died. The film released on 22ndJune. On 19th July, a big consignment of arms was caught in Wasseypur by the police. They claimed that they had prevented a big ambush. After this incident, the detractors of GOW fell silent. The film is being screened in twelve theaters in Dhanbad that are all running houseful. Do you remember what had happened when Gangajal had released in Patna? The scene in Wasseypur now is something similar. And only Manoj Bajpai or I know about the euphoria that emerges when a village boy turns a hero. My parents are elated. Everyone I know has praised the film.
What was your toughest and your most fun experience while writing GOW?
Research was the toughest part of writing GOW’s script. The story spans the period from the 1940s to the 2000s. You’d find many storytellers who’d tell you about historical occurrences post 1970. But you’d hardly find any who’d be able to tell you in detail about things that occurred between 1940 and 1970. To find old people who had lived in those times, get details out of them and record those details as valid narrative proofs was my hardest task. It was important that I keep their recording, as I had to bring it over to Mumbai as corroboratory evidence.
Writing GOW’s dialogues was great fun. After going through the rough draft of the dialogues, Anurag asked me to change their dialect and bring about any other necessary changes. That suggestion triggered a host of changes, and elements, such as “hazraat, hazraat,” “ek laapaa maarenge ki dhuaan-dhuaan ho jayega,” “kya baawaaseer banaa diye ho,” and “yahaan kabutar ek pankh se udtaa hai,” came in. I filled the script up with humourous lines wherever I could and Anurag went mad laughing, calling it a maddening script. And we all knew what was going to happen when the unparalleled Manoj Bajpai delivered these lines. Apne level pe ‘sabki keh ke le lenge’ wala chakkar hai unka. So, mazaa bhi hua, aur sazaa bhi hui.
What’s the most important, most essential element in a script?
A gritty story with strength of plot is the most important element in a script. For a story, you need a concept. You need to know what interests you. That’s something that totally depends upon the writer. My interest is in representing crime and employing realism.
Could you please explain the difference between writing a screenplay and writing a story and its dialogues? Which do you do and why?
A script is divided into story, screenplay and dialogues. I write stories and dialogues, not screenplays, as they are a complex matter. Even now, I need someone to write a screenplay. Anurag Kashyap, undoubtedly, is a great writer of screenplays. Directors generally want screenplays to their tastes and preferences, to their ways of directing the film. So it’s better for a writer to write the story so that he could discuss it with the director and then start writing the screenplay. Issues, such as linearity or non-linearly of depiction and stylistics, crop up when you write a screenplay. Writing a screenplay is like creating a map, which is fun. But I think the fun is greater when you don’t have a map and you are free to assign positions creatively to the pieces of a story. In a screenplay, you search for why something isn’t fitting perfectly. Therefore, it involves a lot of stitching around, fishing around and brainstorming with a group of people. It heightens the creativity in your story.
What kind of cinema do you want to write in the future?
I want to write realist films. I can’t and don’t want to write stories on larger than life themes as I haven’t lived such a life. I can’t write horror films or films about royalty and upper-class lifestyle because I can’t situate them. They are not a part of my experience. All that I can write about is my journey, the life that I have lived and seen.
Which characters did you like the most in the film and during writing?
They were Sardaar Khan, Perpendicular, Definite, Faizal Khan, the pair of Faisal Khan and Mohsina, and the pair of Ramadhir and JP Singh. Sardaar Khan was such an interesting and hilarious central character that I used to repeatedly crack-up while creating him. When I had finished the story, the fun elements involving Faisal Khan and Mohsina were not there. Those things, the permisan incidents, filtered in gradually. I’m talking about the two incidents in which Faisal Khan first does not take permission to hold Mohsina’s hand and is therefore rebuked by her, and then later in Part 2 asks for permission to have sex before marriage and is turned out once again. We discovered them during the workshops fifteen days before we hit the floor, and finding them amusing and hilarious, Anurag asked us to incorporate them into the story. Creating Sardaar Khan, therefore, was the funniest and whackiest thing during writing.
How did you resolve the creative issues that cropped up between Anurag and you during the process of filming and writing GOW?
First I wrote the story. Then Anurag started writing the screenplay. He would write a part of it and ask me to read it. He’d then ask me to fill lines in certain places in the screenplay and then take it from there and add to it. We managed with great ease.
After the script was ready, we needed to change the timeline and the characters’ names. As Anurag knew that I was from Wasseypur and knew everyone’s real names, he asked me to introduce those changes. We made things easy for each other. Also, Anurag is such a good writer! I was principally interested in learning from him. Almost always, whatever he wrote was crystal clear. If you read his writing, you couldn’t find things that were misplaced. I thoroughly enjoyed the flow we achieved while writing GOW. Our intention was to be so clear and so meticulously suggestive that a reader or an audience couldn’t ask us why something was the way it was.
The only thing that surprised and forced discussions between us was the name of the film. As initially we didn’t have a name for it, we called it The Untitled Bihar Project. We often thought that it would be fun to have a striking name like Gangs of Wasseypur, but until the newspapers started writing about Anurag making Gangs of Wasseypur, we never paid it attention. Once that name had been hyped, we felt that it would be in the film’s interest to keep it.
Did you introduce changes into the story while filming?
Apart from the Faizal Khan and Mohsina permisan scenes, none. But we had incorporated those into the script ten days before the shoot started. So it would be fair to say that during the shoot we didn’t introduce changes to the script.