Shootout at Wadala: A Welcome Overdose of Bombay, Brutality, and “Bhai-giri”

Note: To those unfamiliar with names/events/terms specific to South Asian culture & gangland history, there is a glossary of terms in the post before this one. The word preceded by an asterisk  word will be elaborated upon in the entry ‘Glossary for SAW Movie Review.’

Whenever a novel or a portion of it is adapted onto celluloid, the book is always better 80 percent of the time. The same goes for last weekend’s release Shootout at Wadala which selectively draws from 65 pages of S. Hussain Zaidi’s book, Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia.

Upon viewing the first SAW trailer via YouTube and reading reports of factual inaccuracies, I dropped all hopes for a truthful adaptation. Wishing for an honest cinematic depiction of events remotely connected to the years *1992-1993 is like writing a long letter to Santa Claus.

Back in February I devoted a whole post regarding the authenticity of the second Shootout feature. Initially Director Sanjay Gupta claimed that the film contained no fictionalization, but stories citing former *ACP Isaque Bagwan’s disapproval of excessive dramatization prompted character name changes and a disclaimer before the start of the movie (which fortunately stated ‘the film is a hybrid of fact and fiction’). Therefore, I will not delve into the myth vs. reality facets of the motion picture. Read Dongri to Dubai and Mafia Queens of Mumbai if you want to separate the fact from flack.

The spectacle starts off with gangster Manya Surve (John Abraham) being thrown into the back of a police van after taking 11 bullets from Afaque Bagran (played by Anil Kapoor, modeled upon Bagwan). Thanks to his immense strength, Manya still has some endurance to converse with the ACP during his final moments. Through flashback, he narrates how a broken justice system coupled with unfortunate circumstances transformed him from a brilliant college student to a ruthless, cunning hoodlum. Bagran also recounts the raging gang warfare between the *‘Mastan’ syndicate and the *Haksar Brothers (Manoj Bajpai as Zubair and Sonu Sood as Dilawar) amidst the backdrop of the same corrupt justice system. The audience watches the story of how the very first encounter came to be from the perspective of two men on opposite sides of the law.

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SAW is not for the faint of heart as the colorful language, grandiose violence, and lewdness would even make Quentin Tarantino squeamish. While the obscene language will require adults to earmuff their kids, viewers will also be treated to the most eloquent lines that any thespian would die to deliver. Thereby, Milap Zaveri’s dialogues are alone worth the ticket price.

The stunt sequences choreographed by Tinu Verma and Allan Amin take you back to the action of the 80s minus the ridiculous sound effects and high flying antics. The sheer physicality and violent blood baths have become staples of Sanjay Gupta films. Do not go into the theater expecting anything less.

The screenplay is fast-paced but it lacks the in depth analytical examination of the Mumbai Underworld featured in the 11 chapters from the source material. Although Surve’s image as Bombay’s first educated gangster is highlighted, his status as “Mumbai’s Hadley Chase” is completely ignored. Through inspiration from James Hadley Chase books, this Master Strategist robbed money from a government milk scam and plotted the assassination of the stealthiest Dons. Then again with SAW being a commercial flick for the masses, the tactician attribute of Manya’s personality would not resonate with every moviegoer.

Sanjay Gupta does a fabulous job of recreating the seedy Mumbai of the 70s and 80s. A grittier and comparatively realistic interpretation of the underworld’s formative years was long overdue for hardcore crime fiction buffs. He has done away with the awesome yet fantasized renditions of the mafia, a la Once Upon a Time in Mumbai. The slick editing (Bunty Nagi) and cinematography (Sameer Arya) make for some visually appealing cinema.

The performances will bring tough competition at numerous awards ceremonies next year. John Abraham has catapulted himself to the big leagues with his explosive portrayal of Manya Surve. Action Abraham puts his money where his mouth was when he compared his acting to that of Sanjay Dutt’s in Vaastav. Anil Kapoor offers the most powerful yet nuanced performance and he shows why he is still around. Sonu Sood is fantastic and really shines in the second half. Earlier Manoj Bajpai declared that he did not put much work into his role. That should come as no surprise as he naturally sinks into the skin of Zubair Imtiaz Haksar.

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Even though Tushar Kapoor enacts his part with gusto, he just does not physically fit the bill of *Sheikh Munir with his boyish looks. His role was tailor made for someone like Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Kangana Ranaut delivers a controlled performance as the object of Manya’s affections. Ronit Roy, Sanjeev Chadha, Siddhanth Kapoor, Karan Patel, Raju Mavani, and Raju Kher lend able support. The music is definitely memorable but the risqué item songs are totally redundant. Only one item number was necessary but as always, nothing sells like sex these days.

Whether you reside in Jersey City, NJ or Dadar, Mumbai, head to the nearest theatre to catch this compelling fare which offers a cinematic take on history. Aside from the truth which was promised awhile back, you cannot ask for more from this flick. A third Shootout film installment based on the incident that turned one of Mumbai’s premier hospitals into a mafioso warzone seems inevitable. Shootout at JJ Hospital? Bring it on!

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How to Gain a Filthy Awesome Literary Experience from Mohsin Hamid (for the third time)

Spoiler Alert: This post contains a few plot details from The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

*Desi – term that refers to people from South Asia, namely India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh

As the sun rises in the east and arguably dwindles in the west, South Asian youth would be blind not to see the opportunities Rising Asia throws in front of their eyes. Fading are the times where ambitious *Desi youth yearned to pursue one of the North American Dreams or infest the lands (and airports) of the British .

In this rags-to-riches narrative, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, the nameless city of prosperity which could be Karachi or Mumbai is a mere 2-4 hour bus ride away from our opportunistic hero’s rural village. A city in which the have-nots are slowly becoming the soon to haves.

Through the same second person narrator voice used in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, author Mohsin Hamid lets us wear the hat of one of the pivotal characters of his latest book. In TRF, the protagonist Changez referred to the foreign visitor in the Lahore café as ‘you.’ The reader was placed in the position of the American visitor conversing with him. The reader/visitor listens to Changez share his story about why he returned to Pakistan to become a debatably dogmatic professor after renouncing his life as a glamorous Wall Street executive. As the professor walks the foreigner back to his hotel, the visitor reaches into his pocket for a shiny metallic object. Then the novel abruptly ends.

The cliffhanger ending implicitly permits the reader to decide what that object was. Some claimed it to be a fancy business card holder while others believed it was a gun. Depending on your opinions of Changez’s decisions and the evolution/degradation of his beliefs, you have the final say in Changez’s fate. If you sympathized with him, the metallic object could have been that business card holder. If you absolutely despised what he had become, you could be an undercover spy disguised as a tourist sent to put a bullet in the extremist professor’s head.

While you and the principal character are synonymous in How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, nothing is left to your discretion nor can you cater the unnamed protagonist’s fate to your own ideals. Consequently Hamid is candid in outlining the 12 lessons you need to go from being a have-not to a have it all. Each lesson below takes the form of a chapter listed below. They are certainly not meant to be satirical but rather instructive.

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The writing is brutally direct like the cut-throat environment in which the central character has to brave. Even if the reader may not be underprivileged, the author wants you to experience the harsh struggles and realities (financial and political) that motivate the have-nots to better themselves. Hence, Hamid constantly reminds us that to succeed in rising Asia you must have the same fire that fuels the economically disadvantaged even if you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. Therein lies Mohsin Hamid’s brilliant ability to make us root for the novel’s hero since we are absorbed into the soul of this cunning underdog.

Many comparisons have been drawn between How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and The Great Gatsby as they share common elements such as the pursuit of material wealth, damsel in distress, and spiritual symbolism. For those familiar with F. Scott Key Fitzgerald’s literary gem, remember the pair of bespectacled eyes on the decrepit Billboard which symbolized God’s judging eyes towards society? Likewise in Hamid’s novel, there is a drone satellite that circles around the city skyline which possibly represents the high tech omnipresence of god.

Naturally, Mohsin Hamid’s powerful verbiage is evident through Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. However, the ‘self-help’ aspect of this book definitely draws from management thinkers who emphasize on political skill instead of talent. Those fond of idealism-bashing management gurus such as Jeffrey Pfeffer will definitely enjoy this piece of literature. For instance the first paragraph in the chapter ‘Be Prepared to Use Violence’ highlights the Darwinian aspect of capitalism:

“Distasteful though it may be, it was inevitable in a self-help book such as this, that we would eventually find ourselves broaching the topic of violence. Becoming filthy rich requires a degree of unsqueamishness, whether in rising Asia or anywhere else. For wealth comes from capital, and capital comes from labor, and labor comes from equilibrium, from calories in chasing calories out, an inherent, in-built leanness, the leanness of biological machines that must be to your will with some force if you are to loosen your own financial belt and, sighingly expand.”

Also, the chapter ‘Avoid Idealists’ is sure to evoke nods from those who believe that mainstream leadership/management literature offers unrealistic guidance. According to these realists, such guidance is embellished with rosy spin on how conditions should be during the journey to success instead of how they are. It is that peachy outlook towards human nature which can destroy you in Rising Asia. That’s why Hamid is justified in stomping on the rose-tinted sunglasses through which the reader may or may not view the world.

The only complaint I have from this book is that Mohsin Hamid deviates from his clear-cut tone in that very chapter. That chapter is not solely about staying away from those who live life according to how things should be. The first paragraph reads:

“Surely ideals, transcending as they do puny humans and repositing meaning in abstract concepts instead are by their very nature anti-self? It follows that any self-help book advocating allegiance to an ideal is likely to be a sham. Yes, such self-help books are numerous and yes, it’s possible some of them do help a self, but more often than not, the self they help is the writers self , not yours. So you’d do well to stay away, particularly if getting filthy rich tops your list of priorities.”

The ‘self help book advocating allegiance to an ideal’ diplomatically refers to any religious text. Religion is sometimes the sole force that keeps someone from compromising their ethics when the moral compass no longer functions. For that reason, why could not Hamid just boldly tell the reader to refrain from religion? The book already offers strategic proposals that are either ways bound to make some uncomfortable. Maybe Hamid did not want to draw the ire of mullahs through the explicit suggestion of abandoning religion for the sake of affluence.

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On the whole, this book is definitely worth the time and money especially if you appreciate hard-hitting, succinct prose. Mohsin Hamid has definitely scored a hat trick with his third novel so I suggest you run to your nearest bookstore to buy this prospective bestseller.

Do you think How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia was a forgettable and insipid one time read? Feel free to tell me why or why not below.

Shootout at Wadala: Once again, another round of ‘true’ rumors

“January 11 1982, till that day nothing so memorable like this ever took place between the Bombay police and the underworld. I had that longing to rewrite history. My name, Manya Surve.” Manya’s Achilles-like wish to etch his place in history would come true through his own death. A death which gave birth to the brutal but necessary and sometimes abused evil euphemistically dubbed as the ‘encounter.’ Now comes a motion picture rendition of arguably the most formative years in the history of the Mumbai underworld which predated the first ever police extra-judicial killing.

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The minds behind Shootout at Wadala (namely Director Sanjay Gupta and Producer Ekta Kapoor) will attempt to chronicle nine years of the Bombay underworld’s history based on the S. Hussain Zaidi authored novel pictured above. For the full 60 years and beyond, grab a copy of Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia. It is worth a read for anyone fascinated by the multi-national enterprise that is D-Company and the Indian law & order landscape. While Zaidi is an accomplished crime journalist due to his vast networks comprising of the stewards of Mumbai’s underbelly, some will take his narrative with a grain of salt. With the movie however, I am definitely going to take the whole salt shaker as the book’s cover contains endorsements from the glamorous Shootout at Wadala star cast rather than distinguished intelligence/law enforcement figures. To be fair though, the talented crime reporter’s buddy and brilliant author, Vikram Chandra, wrote a glowing legitimate preface for the book. Why wouldn’t he? Chandra’s marvelous novel, Sacred Games, drew heavily fom Zaidi’s research and repertoire.

There were numerous myth versus reality complaints after the first awesome Shootout movie, Shootout at Lokhandwala. Will this upcoming film be the truthful outlier among the police-underworld dramatizations even with Gupta’s friendship with seal of approval from S. Hussain Zaidi? That is highly debatable because early reactions from the trailer have prompted the name changes of pivotal characters such as the Kaskar brothers and Isaq Bagwan. Even Bagwan, the man who carried out the first encounter claims that the film is not devoid of inaccuracies.  Apparently, Ekta Kapoor deliberately kept the original character names when filming in spite of Gupta’s protests that the names ‘Dawood’ and ‘Sabir’ would rub new salt on old wounds. This new buzz concerning these changes makes me second guess Gupta’s due diligence with respect to the facts. Well, it certainly would not be the first time. Plus, the first trailers with original names may have been used only to create a fake controversy so that news of these changes could further publicity.

As crazy as this may sound, it is almost as if pre-production for this movie began before the completion of Dongri to Dubai. For all you know, the fictionalized version of the 1992 JJ Hospital shooting (where D-Syndicate Lieutenants Sautya and Chota Shakeel turned one of Mumbai’s premier hospitals into a battleground to assassinate the killers of Dawood’s brother in law) is in development right now. Another interesting piece of information is Hussain Zaidi’s disdain for Bollywood itself as explained in a New York Times India Ink Blog Interview. When asked by blogger Malavika Vyawahare regarding his writings that divulged the Bollywood-Underworld nexus, he replied, “The film industry people are shameless people — anything they do or say is like water off a duck’s back.” This is the same film industry that has cemented Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar as the national Bin-Ladenesque villain indirectly associated with most terrorist activity in India.

Look no further than Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, a very ‘fantasized/non reality based’ account (according to Gupta himself when he proclaimed that Shootout at Wadala is more geared towards the truth) of the monster named Shoaib created by the Mumbai police to topple principled smuggler Sultan Mirza. Shoaib was obviously nothing more than an alias for Dawood whereas Sultan Mirza was modeled after Haji Mastan with shades of Madrasi gangster Varadarajan Mudaliar and Pathan Don Karim Lala. Who produced that movie? That person would be none other than Ekta Kapoor. Mastan, Mudaliar, and Lala did stick to their ‘old-school’ values by not crossing the lines Dawood did, but their Robin-Hood images have always been exaggerated. On celluloid, they are portrayed as: 1) thieves with principles 2) the voice of the voiceless and 3) averse to drugs and prostitution, a la Vito Corleone. The Varda Bhai-Haji Mastan duo made fortunes not just from smuggling goods imposed with unnecessary import duties, but from anti honorable thief operations like prostitution and illicit liquor. This by no means detracts from their philanthropy and generosity towards the underprivileged nor does it absolve Dawood of his crimes.

Nonetheless, Bollywood never fails to cash on old school gangs’ legacies as the lesser of the two evils forsaken by the police for the greater evil that is the D-Company. When asked who Mumbai’s misunderstood gangster was in another interview, even Mr. Zaidi reluctantly retorted, “Misunderstood and gangster don’t go hand in hand. Gangsters make themselves understood very well! If you insist, then Haji Mastan who was Scrooge personified but portrayed as a magnanimous Raja Harishchandra of his times.” While Dawood may have initially been the illegitimate child of the police’s agenda to subdue the Pathan stronghold on Mumbai, politicians are just as guilty of nurturing the D-Company regime (cough cough Sharad Pawar). You never see Bollywood depicting that do you?

Zaidi’s first book Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts and its cinematic adaptation were not the usual desi-masala fares. Although same cannot be said for Dongri to Dubai and Shootout at Wadala. Regardless of whether Director Sanjay Gupta and Producer Ekta Kapoor may be exceptions to his stance on the Indian film industry, Hussain Zaidi’s journalistic and literary profile is sure to receive a boost on May 1, 2013. Not in the slightest way should this be interpreted as a knock on the S.A.W. team’s cinematic talents or efforts as it looks like one heck of an action flick. If not for the facts, this movie will be one to watch for some solid entertainment.