EXCLUSIVE: After launching in June, newbie indie/art house distributor Cinelicious Pics has struck a deal to bring acclaimed five-and-a-half-hour Bollywood new wave crime epic Gangs of Wasseypur to North America. The film is the latest from Anurag Kashyap (Black Friday, Dev D, Ugly, and Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna), the Indian filmmaker whose bullets ‘n’ blood-soaked saga has earned him a reputation as the Scorsese/Tarantino of Bollywood.
Kashyap co-wrote, produced, and directed the Godfather-esque pic tracking 70 violent years in the lives of two mafia families battling for control over the coal mining town of Wasseypur, based on the real-life gang wars between two families in the cash-strapped industrial region. Cinelicious will release the film this fall in NY and LA in two parts, to be presented stateside by film producer Adi Shankar (The Grey, Lone Survivor).
So how does a neophyte specialty distributor strategize the release of a 319-minute foreign language picture? One of the film’s producers, Guneet Monga, produced The Lunchbox, the Irrfan Khan starrer that’s become the most successful foreign-language movie of 2014 in the States. Monga and Kashyap turned to Indian-born Shankar to help bring Gangs to the action-hungry U.S. audiences that connected with his R-rated actioners Dredd, Killing Them Softly, Machine Gun Preacher, and The Grey as well as the viral Marvel superhero fan videos Shankar has produced and released online. Shankar will boost the pic to his fan base online and at events like New York Comic-Con in October, where he’s scheduled to appear.
“Gangs is such an important and monumental movie for my people – it marks our emergence as an international cinematic powerhouse,” said Shankar. “America has The Godfather, Korea has Oldboy, Japan has Battles Without Honor & Humanity, Hong Kong has Infernal Affairs, Brazil has City of God, and now India has Gangs of Wasseypur.”
LA-based Cinelicious Pics, which opened its doors this summer under film restoration expert Paul Korver and former American Cinematheque programmer Dennis Bartok, will take cues from last year’s two-parter theatrical release of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Gangs will launch in a platform release in New York and LA with Part I and Part II hitting theaters a week apart, while theaters will have the option to screen both parts in a single five-and-a-half-hour block. Cinelicious is also hoping to draft off buzz for Kashyap’s James Ellroy-inspired neo-noir Bombay Velvet, which 20th Century Fox is releasing worldwide November 28.
Inspired by the multi-generational power struggle between the families of Fahim Khan and Shabir Alam, Gangs begins in the 1940s with the bandit-like career of Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) and continues through the ruthless rise of his son Sardar (Manoj Bajpayee) and his offspring, the surreally-named Danish, Perpendicular and Definitive Khans, as well as their numerous wives and girlfriends. Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Tigmanshu Dhulia also star in the sprawling pic which features a Filmfare Awards-nominated score by Sneha Khanwalkar. The film world-premiered in Cannes in 2012 before opening in India, where it was met with protest from local Wasseypur figures, and released in the UK, France, Spain, and other territories.
“Gangs of Wasseypur is definitely India’s Great Crime Film and a watershed moment for Indian cinema in general,” said Bartok. “I’m an enormous fan of contemporary and classic Indian cinema, which for U.S. audiences is still criminally unknown. Gangs of Wasseypur should change all that. The film combines the best of Scorsese, Leone and Tarantino into an incredibly kinetic saga filled with moments of unexpected tenderness and shocking violence. Even at 5 1/2 hours, you never want it to end.”
From Director Kashyup: “I had always wanted to make a film about the parts of India unexplored in cinema, the parts of India where I grew up. When the writer Zeishan Quadri told me about this speck of an industrial town Wasseypur, I was shocked to learn how local families became powerful organized crime syndicates over a period of decades. More than what the mafia did, I became obsessed with why they did it. These family grudges continued for years, often-times with the younger generation not knowing why. I am thrilled that the film continues to find new audiences now in the US, and I look forward to audience reactions to it. “
“When we set out to make Gangs of Wasseypur as a passion project, we had no idea the impact it would have on audiences around the world,” adds producer Guneet Monga. “Not only is it a portrait of a small town politics, it’s a historical tale of the rough transition from post-colonial India to the privatized and often corruption-filled independent state that perseveres to today.”
Cinelicious Pics President Paul Korver, President of Business Affairs Kristine Blumensaadt, EVP Dennis Bartok and India Acquisitions Coordinator Anu Rangachar negotiated the deal with French sales agent Elle Driver on behalf of producers Guneet Monga, Anurag Kashyap and Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, along with consultant Ben Rekhi.