GANGS OF GORAKHPUR
Starting with Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya (1998), the gritty gangster epic has wooed audiences away from bubblegum romance. More recently, Anurag Kashyap redefined the genre with Gangs of Wasseypur and took it to the small screen with Sacred Games (with collaborator Vikramaditya Motwane)—and the floodgates don’t look to be closing anytime soon.
Following Eros Now’s middling Smoke and Amazon Prime’s Mirzapur, Zee5 in December unveiled Rangbaaz—a mould-breaking gangster series set in Gorakhpur in the 1990s. Talented Saqib Saleem stars as Shiv Prakash Shukla, a dreaded criminal who’d dipped his hands in the blood of 20 victims before he turned 25.
Surprisingly, Rangbaaz blows against the wind, with limited doses of blood and sex. The characters are so real that it sometimes becomes difficult to remember you’re watching a fictional portrayal by actors, rather than a documentary. Even the gangster’s girlfriend Babita is not a bimbo by that yardstick. The dialect is consistent, the period details from 1990s Lucknow and Bangkok are spot on, and the film offers a compelling portrait of the nexus between caste, politics, and crime that strangles the Hindi hinterland like a python.
Best of all, like Satya, the character who arguably started it all, Shukla has his share of weaknesses that make his guts all the more endearing. Though he starts out with a bang—becoming the most dreaded ‘rangbaaz’ of his time in Uttar Pradesh—his life ends in a whimper. More than any of the realistic details, it’s that ending that shows the boldness of Director Bhav Dhulia and Zee5.