Reel or real? A poster of Gangs of Wasseypur, and (below) students from Wasseypur
Raju Singh Anuragi is in no mood to follow in the footsteps of Zeishan Quadri, the writer of director Anurag Kashyap’s latest film Gangs of Wasseypur. Anuragi believes that his neighbourhood has been given a bad name — and he has to do something about it.
Quadri and Anuragi are both from Wasseypur — a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad. And they are both working in the entertainment industry — but with a difference. Quadri shot to fame with the film dealing with gang wars. Sweetshop owner Anuragi is an aspiring Bhojpuri actor-singer and the star of the new film Rajuwa Ban Gaya Gentleman (Rajuwa becomes a gentleman).
Anuragi is hurt — like many others in Wasseypur — that a film which portrays his neighbourhood in an unflattering light is hogging the limelight. The film — released on Friday — has clearly got the locals’ hackles up. Even before many had seen it, rumours started enveloping the neighbourhood like a whirlwind.
The dusty lanes and bylanes connecting a scraggly assortment of non-descript houses of Wasseypur —named after businessmen brothers Wassey and Jabbar in the 1950s — are echoing with rancour. As the film hit the halls, a group called the Wasseypur Ekta Manch, headed by Jawed Khan, chief of the Dhanbad minority cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party, burnt an effigy of Kashyap and smeared posters with blank ink.
“Kashyap must tender an apology to our residents,” says Khan, who filed a writ petition at the Jharkhand High Court earlier this month, asking for a change in the film’s name.
“We also object to the language used in the film. It’s mafiaspeak! We don’t use cuss words at the drop of a hat,” argues Khan. Indeed, the people are generally polite and hospitable and speak a language that is a cross between Hindi and Urdu with a strong regional accent.
What’s also true is that rival gangs have been operating in Wasseypur for long. “Crime or gang rivalry has been going on for the past many decades,” says Quadri, who studied in Dhanbad. “I have evidence to back my script. But at the same time, my story is purely fictional,” he adds
Khan is not convinced. He is mulling legal action against Kashyap’s recent remarks at a press conference, where the director had described Wasseypur residents as “foot soldiers” — a phrase that has taken on an ominous ring in the area.
“Foot soldiers mean pickpockets — so we have been called pickpockets,” thunders Congress worker Babubhai, who refuses to accept that the phrase has a different meaning.
Social worker Farooq Khan would like Wasseypur to be feted for its strengths. “Our area is known for its exemplary communal harmony,” he says, adding that Hindus account for about 10 per cent of the population.
Septuagenarian Mohammed Yunus Ansari, whose family settled in Wasseypur 60 years ago, cites the example of local Muslims providing food and water to Hindu revellers passing through Wasseypur to visit Durga Puja pandals in neighbouring Bhuli. “No one has ever complained that our men misbehave with women from other communities,” says Ansari, a retired government contractor. “So how could you possibly say that Wasseypur residents are nothing but criminals?”
But Quadri seeks to stress that the film does nothing of the kind. “People should understand that this film is not about all the people of Wasseypur. It’s about two families — but it’s a universal story,” he says.
Some fear that singling out Wasseypur will leave its scar on the area. “If we are branded, our future generations will suffer. Our students won’t get jobs outside and no one will do business with us,” says Mohammed Nisar Alam, whose wife is a ward councillor.
The locals point out that Wasseypur has been churning out doctors, engineers and civil servants. “We have had two IAS officers, 30 doctors and 40 engineers,” rattles off Rizwan, a journalist working with a regional paper.
That’s not a mean feat, considering that the area has only a handful of private schools and government-affiliated private colleges. On top of everything, it reels from an acute water crisis and has no primary health facility. It seems that the winds of development have bypassed Wasseypur.
Yet, students in Wasseypur seem to be a motivated lot and seek a clean break from the murky past. Most of them focus on cracking the civil service exams. Take history graduate Mohammed Israr Alam. “I am preparing for the Jharkhand Public Service Commission exams,” says Israr, who along with his friends has set up a tutorial home where students study together to prepare for competitive tests.
In recent times, Wasseypur indeed has taken a turn for the better. Gang warfare was rife in the Eighties when rivalry between two criminal gangs was at its peak. The police say one group was headed by Fahim Khan, currently lodged in the Hazaribagh Central Jail because of a murder case, and the other by Saabir Alam, who’s out on bail. “Even now, two gangs are operating in Wasseypur. We keep tabs on their activities and carry out frequent raids,” says a Dhanbad police officer.
Some residents recall the dark times vividly. “Gangsters indulged in all sorts of crimes and functioned like the famous mafia of Mumbai,” says local advocate and trade union leader N.G. Arun. “Families running the business of crime exacted revenge on rivals,” he says, however, adding that the situation is better now. “Whatever the film is showing is absolutely real,” adds P.K. Bhattacharya, a senior advocate at the Dhanbad civil court.
The war over the film continues. Meanwhile, Anuragi hopes that his latest venture — where he plays a Hindu orphan growing up in a Muslim family — will help Wasseypur wipe the stain off its name. The film underlines communal harmony, says Anuragi, who has churned out a host of hit Bhojpuri music albums such as Jai Ho Daaru, Jai Ho Mahraru (roughly Hail booze, hail women).
“I hope this sets the record straight and will let people know that there’s more to Wasseypur than its so-called gangs,” he says.