In Gurgaon, I've explored themes of urban alienation, sexual repression: Director Shanker Raman
Shanker Raman swaps hats with ease. A physicist by education, he shifted streams to film when he joined the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) specialising in cinematography. A fascination with the visual arts and imagery has kept him engaged in the film and TV commercial space ever since.
Besides shooting feature films such at Frozen for which he won a National Award, and Peepli Live, he has also written and co-written screenplays including Frozen and Harud, bot of which he also co-produced.
Now with the noir thriller ‘Gurgaon’ he adds the credit of director to his filmography. The Hindi language film starring Akshay Oberoi, Pankaj Tripathi, Ragini Khanna and Aamir Bashir releases August 4.
Excerpts from an interview:
Writer, cinematographer, producer, director: which role do you identify with the most?
I don’t see myself as multi-faceted. I just love filmmaking. I love what it offers.
After graduating FTII, it took me a long time to find my footing and get a sense of belonging. I didn’t end up doing a lot of work in the early days, so I started to teach myself other aspects of filmmaking. So for example I would shoot something and then try to edit it. A lot of that learning, which I invested in, became useful, especially as a writer. I don’t call myself a screenwriter, but I do write, and I write because it’s just easier to get it done.
I am grateful to have met people who where willing to risk everything to tell their stories. And I believe you can be several things; you don’t need to create an identity that has limits.
Tell us something about Gurgaon and what it signifies, beyond the brick and mortar city.
For me filmmaking is about context. Without context it’s just footage or content. The stories we tell come from a desire to express or from an inability to express ourselves. Gurgaon is about one’s relationship with one’s environment, it’s about how everybody craves acknowledgement, love and a sense of belonging.
Gurgaon is a new city. Someone planned it. What was the promise that came with it and is that promise being met? Is what we are building serving our fears or giving us security? This is the foundation of every relationship. I am hoping this film means different things to different people. After watching the film, I hope they are able to talk about things they are resigned to.
Gurgaon is a metaphor for the challenges we face and feel stuck in. I was looking at circumstances, that is to say this is the precondition, now what do people (in this case members of Kehri Singh’s family) say to each other in these preconditions?
What would you say the film is about? Is it about the drama within real estate baron Singh’s family, the politics with his son and daughter, gender discrimination, greed?
I have explored themes of urban alienation, sexual repression, entitlement and how both men and women can experience disempowerment. And yet somehow women can be more in control as they summon power from within. I have looked at where violence comes from. While the story is inspired by true events, it is not based on any one incident but an amalgam of news stories, reports etc – things we read here and there — but shifted context.
How did you arrive at this ensemble cast?
The first to be cast were Pankaj Tripathi (as Kehri Singh) and Aamir. Ragini auditioned for the part and she just felt right for Preet (Kehri’s daughter). Nikki Singh (Kehri’s older son) was the hardest to cast. He’s the most outrageous character in the film and I was keen on getting a known name to play him.
Ragini suggested Akshay and when I met him I knew he’s the guy. When he read the script he was on too. Shalini Vatsa was immediately agreeable to playing the mother. The mother’s character is also very challenging and once I put a face to her, that character began to develop.
The palette of the film is tinged with a sense of the sinister. What was the idea behind that?
I just had to get the world of the story right. I asked who is pretending/ hiding what and what do they care about. And then I thought about the how. I asked what do we want to see and what don’t we want see? And then with my DOP Vivek Shah, we arrived at a visual palette, which carries an undercurrent of murkiness, fear of the unknown and a fear of the consequences of actions from the past.