Shanker Raman’s “Gurgaon” is meant to be a dark, dystopian thriller about greed, jealousy and gender dynamics. The trouble is it makes sure you know this from the very first frame. The characters speak chaste Haryanvi, have no regard for the law, the frames are darkly lit and the background music is ominous.
Set on the edge of urban Gurgaon (or Gurugram, as it is now known), the film attempts to straddle two worlds – the traditional and the urban - that rest uneasily in the city. Kehri Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), a once-poor farmer with a rasping voice, has made his fortune building shiny, glass and chrome buildings on the once rural wastelands of Gurgaon. His son, Nikki (Akshay Oberoi), resents his father for openly favouring his adopted sister Preet (Ragini Khanna). Kehri regularly berates Nikki for what he sees as his inefficiency and constantly praises Preet, who is being groomed to take over her father’s empire.
Frustrated with the constant discouragement and desperate to prove his worth, Nikki places a huge bet on a cricket match, and loses. He then conspires with brother Chintu against his own family, fully aware that it could ruin them. But he is so consumed by hatred and jealousy that he doesn’t care.
Raman’s characters don’t redeem themselves and there is no respite from the constant narrative of evil, greed and rabid hatred that permeates through the screenplay. These are not nice people, and this is not an easy movie to watch. And yet, the tension isn’t enough to deliver a punch in the gut. There is always the threat of an impending explosion, but that never happens.
Part of the reason is that Raman’s focus wavers and several characters hover on the periphery of the story. Bhupi (Aamir Bashir), the patriarch’s brother-in-law and confidant, Preet’s friend Sophie and a building contractor who wants to draw a wedge between Kehri Singh and his family all saunter in and out of the screen but never really become part of the story.
Not that there isn’t anything to appreciate in the film. Akshay Oberoi puts in a fine performance as the son willing to go to any length to please his distant father, while cinematographer Vivek Shah’s gloomy frames highlight the mood of the film wonderfully. If only this was enough to redeem the film.