Gurgaon movie review: The town as a metaphor for family dynamics, gender politics, greed
As far as cautionary tales go, director Shanker Raman follows the rules closely in his gritty noir thriller Gurgaon. Undeniably, the modern town is a metaphor for several themes Raman and his writing team have explored here — family dynamics, gender politics, greed, violence, discrimination, urban alienation being a few.
From the opening bars it is clear that this story cannot end well for anyone who is a part of (it) — there is certainly unlikely to be a light at the end of this dark tunnel that Kehri Singh and his family inhabit.
Singh (Pankaj Tripathi) is a successful real estate developer who must have been a sharp businessman at some point but now operates mostly in a haze of intoxication. His long-suffering wife (Shalini Vatsa) has stood steadfastly by him even as he has made some highly questionable choices. Their three children walk a tightrope too. This is a family that has never talked about what got them from a life of hard labour to this plush but cold mansion in Gurgaon.
Singh’s favoured child is his daughter Preet (Ragini Khanna), after whom he has named his business. Having completed her education abroad, Preet returns to India and is immediately thrust back into the simmering family set up. Older brother Nikki (Akshay Oberoi) seems indifferent to her return. His resentment towards his father’s beloved Preet is accentuated when Kehri dismisses Nikki’s idea of opening a gym on a plot the patriarch has earmarked for architect Preet’s dream project.
Frustrated and slighted, Nikki recklessly bets a huge sum of money on a cricket match. The astronomical losses lead to a devious extortion plan, which spirals horribly out of control. The pivot for most of the unfolding events is Nikki’s deep hatred of Preet. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to remind her of her adoptive status. Oberoi brings a frightening intensity to the part of the reckless, ruthless, entitled son with deep contempt for his sister and society. It takes some getting used to Nikki being simply black — with no redeeming qualities at all. Tripathi is brooding and constantly drunk. That even in the face of great adversity he’s unable to lift himself out of a quagmire is hard to fathom. Violence is the default option for these characters and the actors play them with quiet commitment.
The screenplay (writers Raman, Sourabh Ratnu, Yogi Singha and editor Shaan Mohammed) structure is a bit gimmicky and distracting, with sepia-tinged flashbacks revealing Kehri’s past and a dark secret, bit by bit. There’s also a random appearance of a politician/bureaucrat with his agenda, an over-the-top bookie and Nikki’s sidekicks, including an abhorrent hand-for-hire who turns out to be a loose cannon. Other sidebars include a kidnapped musician and Kehri’s brother Bhupi, played by Aamir Bashir, who is brought in to help the family out of the crisis (a bit like Liam Neeson from Taken, i.e. a one-man army).
The characters that really make an impact are Preet and mother Singh — two women who surprise you with their actions, and two actors (Khanna and Vatsa) who bring it home with their performances.
The background music by Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor, and the moody lensing by Vivek Shah underline a sense of foreboding. You are left with no option but to feel the weight of Raman’s message and embrace the metaphor.
The climax is pulsating. I was gasping and willing for the characters to make different choices, to think, to be smarter. But Raman’s film is not about the comfortable. It’s very much about unearthing and facing the ugly truth, and that’s a rather bitter pill.