Gurgaon (U/A) 108 min

Cast: Akshay Oberoi, Pankaj Tripathi, Aamir Bashir, Ragini Khanna, Shalini Vatsa, Arjun Singh Faujdar, Ashish Verma, Mukul Chaddha, Yogi Singha,  Anna Adon, Srinivas Sunderajan

Direction: Shanker Raman

Rating: ***1/2

Suparna Sharma

Several films have been made on Gurgaon, but none explores and explains the estranged relationship and indelible bond of the city’s original inhabitants with their own land like Shanker Raman’s noir thriller Gurgaon does.

Born of and set in new Gurgaon — now a hyper, cyber city that’s simultaneously bustling, busy, growing, and rotting at its core — the film opens with a disconnect that’s all too apparent and common.

As a car from the airport brings Preet (Ragini Khanna), and her friend Sophie home, we see that the expensive, large house of Kehri Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), owner of Preet Estate, has a row of palm trees decorating its entrance.

Inside, men are celebrating Kehri Singh’s victory in the Rotary Club election.  

Kehri Singh’s elder son Nikki Singh (Akshay Oberoi), younger son Chintu (Ashish Verma), their friend Rajvir (Arjun Fauzdar) and others are taking the ice bucket challenge in the garden.

Everything Kehri Singh owns belongs to Preet — his adopted daughter.

His own son, Nikki, he says, is manhoos, no good. 

When Nikki talks of building a gym on a prime piece of land they own, Kehri Singh lists the things he failed at — school, business, construction site — and dismisses the plan rudely.

That land, he says, is for Preet’s office. A foreign-trained architect, she will take over the business and her first assignment is Preet Nagar, a Rs 25,000 cr township that will have a “Shanghai, Dubai-waali feel”.

In this world, where the pursuit of power and money is perennial, and women remain the most dispensable items, Preet owes her special status to a dark twist of fate and a guruji’s pronouncement.

She’s not keen on either joining the family business, or marrying the man Kehri has picked for her. But she can’t say no.

Nikki, hurting from the insult and feeling powerless, goes on a drive, and en route places a huge bet on Virendra Sehwag’s century, setting in motion a chain of events that tumble to a disaster, tragedy. 

A lost bet requires a plan to get money. The plan involves a kidnapping, satta boss Vikki, his minion Jonty, Rajvir’s Mamaji’s house, an innocent bystander Anand Murthy (Srinivas Sunderrajan) and, eventually, the special skills of Kehri Singh’s brother, Bhupi (Aamir Bashir).

But the plan, like all else Nikki has done till now, is idiotic, and its execution inept.

Bhupi, who won’t answer calls by his brother but sets off the minute his bhabhi Karma Devi (Shalini Vatsa) calls, brings with him flashbacks to a life before Gurgaon was handed over, one plot at a time, to builders.

His tightly-knit brows, piercing eyes, crusty demeanour tell the story of a city that demanded unspeakable sacrifices, most of them familial. 

But the city’s changed now. And today the violence — whether over Rs 27 at a toll booth, or a perceived slight — is often an exercise in reclaiming lost power.

Disempowering another is the only way these men can feel their own power. And reaffirmation of their identity, status comes from people who have intruded into their land — innocent bystanders whose existence is taken as a taunt.

It’s more than just a clash of cultures. It’s a question of feeling alive.    

Gurgaon, national award winning cinematographer Shanker Raman’s directorial debut, diligently follows the themes, style of noir films — neon lights, urban landscapes, corruption, deceit, squalor and luxury living cheek by jowl — and it draws some bits from genre predecessors, like the murder in the car.

The film grips you instantly with its moody cinematography (Vivek Shah) and thrilling background score (Naren Chandavarkar, Benedict Taylor).

The film’s script and screenplay — by Shanker Raman, Sourabh R, Vipin Bhatti and Yogi Singha — are sharp. Every scene, character is load-bearing.

The film’s sharp dialogue are not just soaked in the city’s flavour and ethos, but they also pack in stories of where these characters come from.

The language we hear — colloquial, brusque, abusive — is born of a world that’s long gone, a world of farm lands, cows, milk and women who were seen more as a liability than Lakshmi.

Though the film’s plot is simple, linear, Gurgaon draws its power from the unpredictability of what its simmering characters may do, and from a stellar ensemble of actors.

Each and everyone is truly excellent. Despite that, Pankaj Tripathi, Aamir Bashir, Shalini Vatsa and Akshay Oberoi stand out.

Tripathi’s Kehri Singh is either drunk or drinking. He speaks little, yet through his forceful presence controls the film. His grip over it loosens a bit when Aamir Bashir arrives.

OMG!! Where has Bashir been all this while?

He inhabits Bhupi with a menacing, complex mix of emotions and purpose. He carries a dark burden and yet has a sharp focus on the present. 

Akshay Oberoi’s Nikki Singh is like a double-edge sword. Under his quiet, calm, rather charming exterior dwells a mind so desperate and disturbed that he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Shalini Vatsa’s character is a relic from the past. She plays a woman who tries to make this house a home, while never quite believing that it can ever be one. 

Like most good noir films, Raman’s Gurgaon is also very political. Even the locations that he’s picked — from the toll booth to the garbage dump, from the empty but posh bar, to the hotel with a jacuzzi bath — are all rich with meaning.

Home — that’s one of the many fascinating themes of Gurgaon.
These are spaces where familial bonds are strong and paramount. Here business is discussed around the dinning table and over drinks with partners. This is the place from where every member draws their power.

Yet the upholstered, plush living rooms and manicured lawns wear a haunted look that’s disturbing. They tell a tale of dysfunctional families living with debilitating guilt and secrets buried under shiny skyscrapers.