Review: Mirzapur is not a Gangster Drama


But the real wars in Amazon Prime Video is new Web series are bloodless and don't involve gangs; they are Class Wars. These are staged not in violent lanes or death pits but in living rooms, where, surrounded by antler heads, rhino mounts, and other masterpieces of taxidermy, the old Indian Ruling Class tries to make sense of the new Indian Middle Class and its freshly acquired panache and fighting spirit.

Prominent among the Ruling Class sceptics is Kaleen Bhaiya, who has on his vehicles' number plates those magical words 'The King of Mirzapur but whose crowned head, these days, lies uneasy.

The busts and full sized portraits that Bhaiya once proudly occupied have lost their lustre they are now symbols of discredited nobility and Boy Emperors more deserving of his throne have started to bloom in households elsewhere.

Kaleen Bhaiya may be self-styled but he is mostly free of vanity (which is precisely why he had to be played by someone as meditatively great as Pankaj Tripathi), and he understands that if he can't bring down these middle-class households, he has to knock at their doors, enter them, and corrupt them from inside.

This commentary in Mirzapur  about the changing class dynamics in small town India  is what gives the Web series that something extra and pushes it beyond such generic descriptions as 'a saga of violence'.

When Fellini was filming 8 1/2, he had taped a note above his viewfinder that said, 'Remember, it is a comedy,' and a note of this kind was perhaps inscribed by the writers of Mirzapur on top of its script's every page.

Its violence notwithstanding, Mirzapur is essentially a comedy about paranoia; which is to say, a comedy about the fear of losing that which one knows one doesn't quite deserve to own, but owns nevertheless.

It is high comedy when Kaleen Bhaiya chides his son Munna Tripathi (Dibyendu Sharma) for talking roughly with a police inspector.

"Treat Gupta with respect," says Kaleen Bhaiya fuming through his eyebrows, "Gupta is a postman bringing you the news."

Inspector Gupta is left with no choice but to wince at the honorary position he has just been accorded with.



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In this lawless land, hooliganism is an absolute virtue and the good possess it as much as the bad.

With no time for grandiose lectures and no patience for those who may wish to bend him, an upright lawyer, Ramakant Pandit (Rajesh Tailang), keeps a revolver with him at all times.



IMAGE: Shriya Pilgaonkar in Mirzapur.
The women in Mirzapur know the petty tricks of their men, and the posturing that colours their big lines.

They may conquer lands and rewrite folklores, but when these men return to their mansions, to their women, they behave like defeated generals, weak before temptation.

The women are bored by all this, and they let it show.

Shweta Tripathi plays Golu Gupta, a college going girl, who believes that ideal men can be found only in books, where they come at you with a leather belt and later soothe your wounds.

When these misleadingly demure women drop their ghoongats and settle down to indulge in acts of adultery, the force of their womanly exertions cause the men to quake in their photo frames.

Watch out for that sequence where Kaleen Bhaiya makes a basso-profundo speech about No Badtameezi With Women, and his wife (Rasika Dugal) responds with a grunting noise: The point of the grunt being that Bhaiya is so cold in bed that a little Badtameezi would have come as relief.

Director Karan Anshuman and his team of writers want us to befriend the most interesting of the oddballs, avoid the dullards completely, and dip into a world where people are constantly surprising each other and themselves.

In a terrific scene set around a dinner table, a mousy housewife (Sheeba Chaddha), adept at handling cutlery, suddenly points her husband's revolver at the goon-bunch led by Munna Tripathi who barge into her home one night  her swift action setting off a mini gang war in her hall room.

Mirzapur is a product of the post-Sopranos era of home-entertainment which got us into the habit of welcoming despicable characters into our cozy abodes and then drawing, in our heads, the contrasts between these characters' blood charged, testosterone filled lives and our own dry existences. (The Sopranos's masterful 'half-ending' was in all likelihood a protest against this post-millennial obsession).

It may have borrowed The Sopranos's marrow, but, unlike its spiritual predecessor, Mirzapur is not cinematic, not exactly. Which means there’s nothing quite like the splendor of a densely framed shot to experience here.

In the best gangster cinema  say, the two Godfather films, Mean Streets or Goodfellas the big fiestas are so affecting because they seem to emerge naturally from a crowd of small details: A sausage here, a cannoli there, a crumpled 10 dollar note, the faint echoes of a carnival, tiny feet at a wedding there's so much life in the fringes of every frame that when blood's spilled, or when the thumb of power is activated, you feel the jolt more acutely.

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