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Real Wasseypur on edge

Pangs of wasseypur

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GROUND ZERO: Wasseypur's main square with the towering Jabbar Mosque (left); Mohammad Sharif (below) says the town has changed for the better over the last few years

Cine buffs may be eagerly awaiting Anurag Kashyap's new movie, but there is one town which is dreading its release - the real Wasseypur in Dhanbad.

Wasseypur is on edge. Soon, the entire country will know it as a grimy town where goons shoot on the streets and women strut around sexily. With word out that Anurag Kashyap has portrayed the town as a cesspit of every conceivable vice in Gangs of Wasseypur, the district administration is expecting a hostile reaction to the movie's release this Friday.

The local cinema hall - Ray Talkies, which also features in the film - will have heavy police presence to prevent trouble, says deputy SP (law and order) Sanjay Ranjan Singh. Wasseypur, he admits, is a "notorious" place.

To make matters worse, Wasseypur has also turned into a Peepli Live of sorts with print and TV journalists parked here in the hope of grabbing some headline-worthy stuff this Friday. Then there are demands from some politicians and local leaders that the film be banned.

Though Kashyap says the movie is fictional, not everything is a figment of the writer's imagination. The town, set up by the British as a colony of labourers, has seen its share of violence (it was named after Wassey Saheb, who was the "sheriff" of the area and brother of a leading contractor MA Jabbar). It became notorious three decades ago for the bloody warfare between goons owing allegiance to Fahim Khan and Shabir Alam. Fahim's father ran a taxi at Dhanbad railway station and his word decided who could park inside the railway station. Fahim became a scrap dealer but his business was challenged by Shabir Alam of the Naya Bazar area. This hostility led to casualties on both sides and also the birth of a rangdari (protection) empire. Wasseypur did at one point get used to gunbattles and zipping bullets. Both gangsters are now in jail - Fahim in Dhanbad and Shabir in Hazaribagh. In the movie, Nawazuddin Siddique plays Faizal Khan who appears to be modelled on Fahim.

According to police records, Wasseypur, even today, is notorious for auto thieves who specialise in breaking down cars and trucks and selling their parts as scrap. But Wasseypur, say its prickly residents, is not half as bad as it appears in Kashyap's film and there is more to it than abusive folks, gang warfare, gun battles and brothels. "There is a big gap between the real and reel Wasseypur, " says young housewife Bilkis Khanam who runs an NGO for empowering women. "In which mohalla do people not hurl abuses at each other? You hear it in the national capital too. But the film shows people of Wasseypur talking only in abusive language. As for the women here, they are as studious and hard working as those living in other towns of Jharkhand. "

It irks residents that the film skips over the town's real problems, such as absence of political leadership, the shortage of drinking water, the absence of banks, nursing homes and hospitals.

"Yes, people fear Wasseypur. This keeps banks and doctors away, " says Nasareen Qaiser, professor at the SSNT Girls College. "During the gang war years, there was tension in the area. When they anticipated trouble, people would go indoors and shut their doors and windows. " She shifted from Wasseypur because she did not want her children to grow up there. She now lives in Naya Bazar, a couple of kilometres away. Naya Bazar recently got its first ATM while Wasseypur still awaits one.

Ashratur Rehman, a local contractor, is upset that the film does not show the town's small achievements and its good men and women. His younger brother, he points out, was selected for the IAS and allotted Jharkhand cadre this year. "He studied in a primary school of Wasseypur and is now an IAS officer. But they chose instead to show the shooting of a Congress leader during a marriage reception last December, " he says.

Mohammad Sharif of Char Rasta in Wasseypur, who runs a tailoring shop, says that his town has improved in the last 25 years. "They should have shown the rise in educational status of our children. Many of them are studying in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. Two girls are journalists. There is no red light district here and no prostitution, " he says.

A bad image is not Wasseypur's only problem;there are fears that the film will fan old hostilities. "The film will give rise to fresh tension. Feelings and emotions that died a long time ago may come alive, " says Mohammad Sarfar of Rahmatganj, a small-time entrepreneur. And then, as someone else asks, who will now marry girls from Wasseypur.

Maulana Sarfaraz, who conducts prayers in a mosque, is nervous about the response to the film. "There is enormous curiosity about the film. People will definitely go to watch it, " he says.
One cynical voice points to a plausible reason for the protests. "Maal lene ke chakkar me hain (They are hoping to extort money from the producer), " says scrap dealer Shahid Raza.

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