‘Gurgaon’ review — A terrifying landscape of anxiety diluted by narrative problems
‘Gurgaon’ illustrates the dangers of a fixed and deep rooted idea of the patriarch in our post-modern, increasing liberal world. Pankaj Tripathi plays a defeated man, channeling shades of Brando’s Vito Corleone but the film’s narrative disappoints
by Rutwij Nakhwa
‘Gurgaon’ starts off with a lot of promise and intrigue. The opening shots — a silent forest; a pensive lake and a blood red rod emerges as the surface bubbles; a tranquil Ragini Khanna sleeps in her car, the window reflects the city — create just the perfect amount of interest. Meanwhile the gloomy images of the city interspersed throughout, and the increasingly ominous music steadily establish the landscape — a shroud of foreboding and anxiety placed over Gurgaon — within which the film unfolds. If this wasn’t enough, there is an opening monologue in rough, guttural Haryanvi about the predatory rules of the (human) jungle.
Preet (Khanna) is returning to her palatial home from the US, where she went to study architecture. Her father is a property tycoon, Kehri Singh (Pankaj Tripahti), who has named and devoted all his projects and land to Preet and has “never said no to her for anything.” Singh also has two sons, the elder, Nikki Singh (Akshay Oberoi), failure at doing anything constructive but takes a silent, sadistic pleasure in gambling and bullying those weaker than him. The younger brother lives under his shadow. Nikki resents Preet, for being entitled to everything that he sees as “his”.
‘Gurgaon’ can be read as a film about repressed emotions (and all the usual suspects are in attendance) — anger, guilt, shame and jealously. Somewhere in it is also a critique of the contemporary idea of “development” and of capitalism, in particular of the popular belief that capital equates to power and material prosperity to happiness, but it doesn’t quite flesh it out.
Most of all, it illustrates the dangers of a fixed and deep rooted idea of the patriarch in a post-modern and increasing liberal world.
The film is visually very enticing and stylishly made by cinematographer-turned-director Shanker Raman who has crafted it with a very steady, restrained hand. This is a very strong and well-handled debut and shows promise for Raman’s future work.
Where ‘Gurgaon’ disappoints greatly is the script, which the film informs you in advance, was inspired by true events. The film is riddled with plot twists that are extremely implausible; if these events did really happen then they are not convincingly presented. The logic seems to be: if the action stops being interesting enough — shoot someone in the head. The film periodically cuts to a back-story that also feels forced and tropes of kidnapping and family-feuds that have been recycled endlessly in Hindi cinema make a comeback.
Pankaj Tripathi takes on a character quite different from his previous roles. Kehri Singh is a man who has everything imaginable, but a soul-crushing guilt of something he sees as the price paid for his fortune eternally grinds away at him. Tripathi’s interpretation is of a defeated man, who has taken refuge in his drink and speaks only in wounded whispers; at times channeling shades of Brando’s Vito Corleone. Ragini Khanna and Shalini Vatsa (the mother) turn in strong, credible performances as the only two female characters in a film otherwise dominated by men. Aamir Bashir stands out in a small but significant role, as Kehri’s brother. Akshay Oberoi plays Nikki with a steely intensity that feels equally psychopathic and vampirish. He is, despite a rare human moment, an almost immobile visage of repressed rage and resentment (stemming from toxic masculinity) springing into action only when beating someone to pulp. But ultimately it has hard to believe in the performances, no matter how good, once one has lost faith in the narrative that they are trying to play out.
‘Gurgaon’ is an engaging, thrilling and haunting film but it also equally disappointing if one thinks about the potential for what it could have been. Go watch it, but at your own risk.