(An edited version was published in The New Indian Express)
Shanker Raman’s Gurgaon puts the spotlight on the eponymous concrete jungle. The jungle is an important construct. The film begins with a voice-over that refers to man as an animal – janwar. There is a scene where Kehri Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), one of several real estate moguls who has cashed in on all that concrete, goes hunting with his aide/partner and his son. The setting looks like they are hunting something wild but all they hunt is a rabbit. They are giants standing on the shoulders of a giant formed by numerous small people. Another plot detail involves the cutting down of acres of forest area for Singh’s biggest construction project. Raman begins by showing us snapshots. Gurgaon highlights its characters, its place and setting by a series of vignettes and unconnected scenes. Singh’s daughter Preet (Ragini Khanna) returns from abroad and her brother Nikki (Akshay Oberoi) is cold towards her, while his friends film him taking the ice bucket challenge. Preet has brought her white friend, Sophie, along with her and Sophie’s bemusement at this family is our bemusement. We see Nikki and his friends abusing a woman driving a car who retaliates by showing them the middle finger. We see them stopping at a toll booth, making conversation, while in the background there is a brawl, noiseless to us. When denied entry into a club, Nikki and his friends kidnap the guitarist of a band about to perform in the club. The guitarist gives them a nervous vocal concert of his own in the middle of nowhere. These snapshots act as the welcome drink Raman serves us – his introduction to Gurgaon – where the male ego is its own boss.
The toll brawl in the background foreshadows a major event at the same toll booth later in the film. Similarly, the minor kidnapping of the guitarist leads to a high-profile kidnapping that forms the plot of Gurgaon. It’s Raman’s (writing credits shared between Raman, Vipin Bhatti, Sourabh Ratnu and Yogi Sinhaway) way of establishing that this brand of masculinity is a disease and encompasses class and caste in the city. Kehri Singh himself was a land-owning farmer and frequent flashbacks track his early days of coming into big money. With the help of crime. With the help of some businessmen and politicians. Gurgaon is very thorough in showing how every man is under the mercy of the man immediately above him in the hierarchy. First, you hate the handyman hired cheaply for the high-profile kidnapping but after an incident, as his character develops in view of the rest of the players, we begin to feel for him.
Gurgaon frequently harks back to Kehri Singh’s murky past and his journey from a land owner to real estate mogul. Some details help – like the foundation of Nikki and Preet’s, and Nikki and his parents’ relationships. Or the shot of Preet and Nikki’s mother (Shalini Vatsa), separating wheat from the chaff. It serves dual purpose – it shows how Preet and Nikki were never seen as equal by the parents and it also shows how the mother was in the kitchen when their situation was modest at best and she is still in the kitchen when in a posh household that has more windows than walls. The film, in snatches, is also about the patriarchy that pervades all. Gurgaon does feel overlong when some of the details from the past make the film uneven, especially when the film becomes plot heavy in the latter portions. After a point, Gurgaon eschews the sort of mood-piece nature it adopted for the first half. The aerial shots of the concrete behemoth. The buzzing traffic, the infrastructure, the constructions that stretch far and wide. It captures a city that is lit up forever while its citizens seemingly continue to live in the dark, in the fringes. Gurgaon suddenly realizes that it is one of those gritty movies and therefore feels the need to show violence purely for shock value. What promised to be another Titli is brought down by its own endless array of content. And bullets.