Shootout at Wadala

Do you like gangster films? Did you watch every single episode of The Sopranos? Well, America is not the only country with gangsters. In Hong Kong there are the triads, in Japan there’s the yakuza, in Russia there is a mafia, even in India, the words Mumbai and mafia seem to go together.

A book entitled Dongri To Dubai: Six Decades of The Mumbai Mafia was published in the spring of 2012 In this book, the author, S. Hussain Zaidi, has attempted to chronicle the history of the Mumbai Mafia. In fact, the topic of crime lords has long been a staple of the Hindi film industry. I’ve seen a number of such films including: Gangs of Wasseypur, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, Sarkar, and two directed by Ram Gopal VarmaSatya (1998), and Company (2002).

Back in 1982, Indian police were ‘granted their first contract’. This wasn’t a call to bring any arch criminal to justice. Instead it was more like an order from the highest in command, to rid the city of these gangsters. Methods? Up to and including execution without an arrest or trial.

The film Shootout at Wadala, directed by Sanjay Gupta,  is the prequel to Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007) which I reviewed, and they are very similar movies. In fact the entire genre seemingly has a similar structure. We usually see a younger man rise from obscurity to an eventual position of dominance. Once that happens one of three things will follow. Either he will be taken down by either a competing gang or someone younger within his own gang, or the alternative, a take down by the police.

In Shootout at Wadala, one Manohar Surve is an intelligent hard-working college student. He has a nice girl friend, is idealistic and driven. But his family has always had problems – no doubt because of a philandering father. Manohar has a step-brother who was involved with the wrong people. On the day he finally introduces his girl friend to his family, an altercation breaks out on the street below. Manohar runs to the aid of this step brother who is being roughed up by some goons from a rival gang. When Manohar pulls a bad guy off his brother, he had no idea that this would result in the stabbing death of the goon by the step brother. Named as an accomplice to this murder, he is sent off to prison.

Naturally in prison, every day is a matter of survival, and Manohar, played by John Abraham is very fit. After being beaten by the prison Don – ie the toughest guy incarcerated, in a scene that looks like a direct lift from Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman fought George Kennedy, Manohar asks to become a disciple. Eventually, eight years later, Manohar and a prison pal escape while working in a chain gang, possibly another choice influenced by Cool Hand Luke.

He will then make some strides in the underworld before deciding that he didn’t want to work in some one else’s gang – he wanted his own gang.

The stronger Manohar, now called Manya, forms his own gang, collecting former prison pals and recruiting new tough guys. He begins to make a strong impact on the Bombay underworld. But the stronger and more well-known and feared he becomes, the target on his back grows proportionately. Other gangs are out to take him down, as are the police.

There’s your background and set up.

This shootout, is a very violent film. People are shot, stabbed, run over by cars. They also get pounded into submission with liquor bottles, and even wet laundry. Manya is, of course, a potent killer himself. Along with the violence one gets a lot of sound effects like guns shot noises, the sound of glass breaking over people’s heads, and even the sounds of fists hitting faces – all amped up to match the amped up visual violence.

The cop is played by Anil Kapoor (above). In real life, he is 53 years old, and has been in Indian films for a long time. He has 117 films to his credit as an actor.  He’s quite good in performing this role, but I think the chase scene on foot stretches credibility. In 1982, Kapoor would have been 23, but this is a current film, so what he does physically needed some directorial and editorial support.

Manya is almost comically muscular. It seems that he has bulked up considerably for this role. He does well in conveying menace and its accompanying physicality.

The female lead is Kangna Ranaut (above) as Vidya. She plays the college sweetheart who loved Manohar dearly, but while he is imprisoned, he commands that she forget him, and move on with her life. But he blames her because without her urging to meet his mother, he would have never been home that day. There were a few item dance numbers which seemed weak at best, and served no useful purpose other than to show off some shapely women (Sunny Leone performs Laila below).

The key elements of the film are the violence, and the concept of how the state via its police department, was leveraged into basically killing the crime lords, rather than taking the time to build cases, then have the trials. No doubt police corruption, as well as an indifferent (or cowed) judicial system, was a part of how the criminal element became so potent. The film makes no apologies for this situation and offers no judgments either for or against taking down criminals any way possible. So as you watch bullets, punches, and kicks hitting home, you are also asked to consider the conceptual side setting laws aside in order to make a city safe.

I might also make mention of the strong sexual content of the film – don’t bring the kids. I could also give the film my own tagline – Abraham, Anil, and Aviator glasses meet head on in Bombay!

Three point seven five is the rating. The film opened in May of this year, and received favorable reviews as well as doing well enough at the box office to be declared a hit.

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