The news flashed on Facebook. Actor James Gandolfini is no more. After all the condolences and remembrances, it was time for some thinking of what made this actor who seemed like Santa Claus but who acted like your neighbourhood Al Capone, so lovable. What made his Tony Soprano a character to reckon with?
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I confess to seeing ‘The Sopranos‘ quite late but the show still intrigued me. Very rarely do you come across a film or television show on the gangster’s life as glitzy and aspirational as this. Gandolfini’s Tony dealt with a wife and daughter who weren’t happy with his work or attitude and a son who has personal issues paired with the full knowledge of his father’s work. Complicated business and family dealing made this series more than just a mob drama.
Gandolfini came out as a normal man/mobster dealing with ‘normal’ troubles. Gandolfini managed to make us fall for Tony. He is real. Till his death on June 19, we knew Gandolfini just as Tony but he carried on and also did some memorable characters in movies and Broadway.
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The guns, that attitude, an interesting way with words (or lack of it rather, not exactly Shakespeare) and drama… gangsters always found a way to trigger our interest. We root for the bad boys. While guys might love the guns, the ladies find the attitude sexy. While American gangster flicks were filled with Italian (Sicilian to be precise) and Irish mobsters, our very own Mumbai films were tales of immigrants or those from the lower strata. As a viewer, you are fascinated by their rise, their sob story taking them to a closed tunnel and a victim to his circumstances, your heart weeps tears. Our very own straight and morally strong valued selves know that this life is wrong. Yet we want to lead that life via a character like Tony Soprano. As long as it is on screen, I am all game for it.
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Do call The Sopranos a part of the whole saga on mobster stories. When you see ‘The Godfather‘ on Mario Puzo’s classic, you couldn’t refuse the offer set by Vito Corleone. Marlon Brando’s Vito was a classic act and base for all other such characters. Sam Mendes’ ‘Road to Perdition’ turned out to be a family drama with the Irish mob backdrop. Many might not have noticed a British gangster film, ‘Eastern Promises‘. A take on the Russian mafia in London, it has all the drama: enigmatic (and good-looking) gangsters, a beautiful lass and a drama around a baby. ‘Witness to the Mob’, a TV drama, spoke about Sammy Gravano who rose to become an important member of the Gambino family run by the ‘Dapper Don’, John Gotti. Sammy becomes the rat who brings down the empire. What makes American mafia flicks on mostly Italian gangsters different is casting of mostly American Italians.
The Mumbai-centric gangster flicks did have all the meat. Big city, morals threatened and fight to survival. When Bhiku Mhatre screams “Mumbai Ka Don Kaun?” in Satya, you shout with him. Anurag Kashyap’s tribute to gang wars in Bihar, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, was what the doctor ordered. It is an amazing revenge drama with a right mix of politics and gang war. Mani Ratnam glorified Mumbai-based don Varadrajan Mudaliar in his ‘Nayakan’. Sadly, television has yet to see a good gangster drama worth its salt. YRF did have its brush with ‘Powder’, a serial on the drug trade and Mumbai police’s battle against its handler. Realistic story, good acting, and crisp direction sadly could not garner as much TRPs as possible.
As long as some lead a saintly life and others draw blood, this fascination for the gangster continues. And we wished actors like James Gandolfini let us know that all’s not hunky-dory in a gangster’s life.
PS: The choice of movies are on the ones seen and not from any list of ‘Best gangster movies list’ tabled by websites and magazines.
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