The Godfather (Copolla, 1972) is not just the best film of the mafia genre, but also a gold mine of characters and situations. It is difficult to track the number of films in Bollywood, which have either copied the film, or drawn inspirations from it. Well, the second most influential mafia film is obviously – Scarface (De Palma, 1983). With a rags to riches story, involvement of very little brain and bloodshed written all over, Scarface became the template for the 80’s and 90’s crime cinema of India.
Then in 1990, Goodfellas was released. Dark and sinister, in this extremely complex, less grand, but equally enjoyable film, Scorsese created the exact opposite of Godfather, while remaining solidly in the mafia genre. While Godfather showed the elite nature of the mafia families through its larger than life characters, Goodfellas created a funny, foolish, quirky, shrewd mosaic of the ‘smart guys’ living on streets. The complexity of Goodfellas led to lesser inspirations and liftings of it in Bollywood.
Fast forward 2012. While Gangs of Wasseypur (Anurag Kashyap, 2012) did have a reluctant young man forced to join the mafia after his father and elder brother are dead, it was certainly more Goodfellas than Godfather. The film’s line up was filled with quirky, bizarre, and gloriously psychotic characters, who were more or less dim-witted, blood thirsty and filmy. The street smart saga ends with Faizal Khan, the generally diffident man’s little friend says hello in blood boiling Scarface style.
I do not mean to say that Gangs of Wasseypur was copied. It was as original as cinema can get. Dynastic crime was not invented by Copolla, nor was Scorsese the first to think of street smartness. With the templates of the Good(fellas), the God(father), and the Ugly (Scarface) available, it is almost impossible to make a crime mafia film which does not fall into one or many categories of the three. If this reluctance was the reason the film was not nominated into Oscars’ foreign film category by India, then what made them nominate Barfi!, is something we will never understand.