Since my relatively recent descent into Indian cinema, one of the elements that continuously impresses me is the diversity of the films produced in this vast country, with the many different cinemas. This time, I came across a noir-styled thriller, by first time director Shanker Raman.

“Gurgaon” screened at Fantasia International Film Festival

The story takes place in the titular district in the northern Indian state of Haryana, one of the most economically developed regions in South Asia, and revolves around a family, the Singhs. Preet, the adopted daughter of real-estate construction mogul Kehri Singh returns from studying architecture abroad, with her father expecting her to get into the business, and gradually, to succeed him. His openness about his plans is a source of constant frustration for his son, Nikki, whom Kehri considers a failure. The dynamics of the family, that also include Nikki’s hatred for Preet, surface in the worst way during a dinner, when Nikki announces to his father that he is opening a gym. His answer is so demeaning, that Nikki’s frustration leads him to bet 10 million rupees in a baseball match, an eventually, lose. Desperate not to let his father know of another blunder of his, he comes up with a hideous plan, in which the younger brother Chintu, becomes involved despite his will. The plan is supposed to help him get the money, but also to hurt Kehri in the worst possible way. Unfortunately, and expectantly, almost nothing goes according to plan.

Shanker Raman directs a film that revolves, mainly, around a single concept: violence. Violence seems to be everywhere in the movie, in the house among the family members, in the streets of the city, the clubs, the roads and the tollbooths, practically everywhere. Violence is also the force that has shaped the characters in the story and their relationships. And although in the beginning of the film, the main source of violence seems to be Nikki, as Raman shows Kehri’s past through flashbacks,, is becomes evident that the son is the reap product of the violence his father sowed in the past. In that fashion, Raman comments on the concept, eloquently stating that once the cycle of violence opens, it is almost impossible to close, as the consequences becoming worse and worse. The only fault I found in the script is that it features a tad too many characters, whose presence is not so thoroughly explored, or even necessary for that matter.

The acting in the film is on a very high level, and definitely among its biggest traits. Akshay Oberoi portrays a great Nikki, a man of few words, but many and almost always despicable actions. His laconic portrayal of his character suite the role perfectly, as he presents a man who rarely thinks before he acts, driven by his violent instincts, his hatred for his sister, and his bitterness for his father’s treatment. Pankaj Tripathi is also great as Kehri, giving an imposing performance that highlights the fact that despite his behavior, he is a very dangerous man, as he emits violence from every pore. Ragini Khanna as Preet closes the cycle of the great, main performances with her portrayal of a woman who tries to appear strong in a male dominated world, despite her fears, but ends up being sucked in the power games of the dominant gender.

Shakar Raman has been a DP for quite some time before he directed this film, and his prowess in the field is evident throughout the movie, although the actual director of photography in “Gurgaon” is Vivek Shah. The one responsible for the cinematography aside, the film is visually impressive, presenting a number of elaborate scenes in different settings, being in the house of the family, the rich or the poor part of the town, the forests, a landfill, and the rural setting of Kehri’s past. With the film having noir aesthetics however, the visuals find their apogee during the scenes shot in the night. Shan Mohammed’s editing suits the aesthetics of the film perfectly, as he retains a good pace, while his presentation of the various flashbacks that interrupt the main story keeps the film from becoming confusing. Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor’s music includes some impressive and very fitting tracks, but at times, I found the constant presence of music a bit bothersome.

“Gurgaon” is a great directorial debut for Shanker Raman, who proves to know the medium quite well, and a very interesting film, with a truly shocking finale.