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Gurgaon review: Shanker Raman's brilliant noir drama is visceral and worth the visit

Release Date: 04 Aug 2017

Cinestaan Rating

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Shriram Iyengar

Gurgaon is a film with a tight script, shot beautifully, and held together by some brilliant performances, that tells a tale, and tells it bloody well.

'History repeats itself. First as tragedy, then as farce,' goes the saying. In Gurgaon, director Shanker Raman tells a new tale of the warped, bloody history that has shaped one of the rising urban centres of a new India. With his smooth and captivating cinematography, thrilling plot, and a tightly woven story, Raman has created a dark thriller worth visiting.

The story begins with the return of the prodigal daughter, Preet (Ragini Khanna), to her father's home. Khairi Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), her father, is an ailing but still-in-control gangster whose power lies not in words, or deeds, but simply in his existence. He is the Haryanvi Corleone who keeps the family under his thumb. But his power only serves to emasculate his elder son Nikki (Akshay Oberoi), which in turn pushes him more and more to becoming the next Khairi Singh.

The turn in the story arrives when Nikki bets an incredulously large sum on a cricket match and loses. With no option in sight, he sets out to abduct his own sister. By doing so, he sets in motion the inevitable collapse that consumes everyone in the end. The climax reminds you of that famous Nicholson line 'Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown.'

Shanker Raman's story is the star of this dark thriller. Woven seamlessly, the film is integrated with some fascinating touches that are real and hit too close to home.

One masterful sequence is the fistfight in the background while Nikki and his friends are driving through the NOIDA toll gate. The casual nature of the violence and the lazy reaction of people around are signs of the lack of rule of law in this concrete jungle. Throughout the film, there are more signs that point to the casual nature of violence and the apathy that prevails. From the molester in the bus to the casual hunting, violence pervades the place in many normalized forms.

The characters created by Raman are powerful, but human. Khairi Singh lives and dines in an atmosphere that is sophisticated and futuristic. Yet, he cannot get the poor farmer out of him. Despite his power, he mumbles, struggles with people skills. Embodied in a fine performance by Pankaj Tripathi, this is a character that stays with you.

Tripathi is supported by a fantastic performance by Akshay Oberoi as Nikki, the insecure, violent son. Oberoi plays Nikki with an intensity that makes you feel equally sorry for and afraid of him. His character wants to be Khairi Singh, thinks he has the power, and believes he has the skill, but lacks the proficiency to even carry out an abduction.

Ragini Khanna as Preet and Amir Bashir as Bhupi represent the unwilling members caught in the violent saga, who fight but fail to escape it.

It is these jagged edges that make these characters all the more fascinating. Director of photography Vivek Shah's camera hangs on to smooth and beautiful frames that capture their characters' emptiness and confusion. It is always the city around them, and the environment, that is in motion. Add to this a slew of characters, and an edgy background score, and you have a film worth the money.

The story-telling might feel a little confusing with its flashbacks in the second half, but it adds a dimension to Khairi Singh's character. It also completes the circle of the film.

A National award-winning cinematographer, Shanker Raman has delivered one of the finer films of this year. Composed fantastically and held together by a cast of very talented actors, Gurgaon is worth a visit.