Walking under the shadows of Anurag Kashyap's radicalism, imitating Coppola's essence of drama, DOP Shanker Raman's (AUTUM, FROZEN) debut (as helmer of) GURGAON is a moody noir study of psychotic human behavior (Kashyap's favourite theme) which in the debutante's enthusiasm gets overstretched and becomes sordidly difficult to be called realistic or believable for Indian audience.
Metaphorically titled GURGAON - the city divided between the Indian states of Haryana and Capital Delhi, GURGAON is a region that displays heavy contrast in its behavior. Boosting the third-highest per capita income in India, Gurgaon is also booed for its deteriorating law and order situation with rapid increase in cases of homicides, rapes and thefts.
Followers of Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, Coen Brothers, Fellini, Polanski, etc. in this part of the world like Kashyap, Motwane, etc. have smartly used the psychotic human behaviour with the current atmosphere in the country and brought UGLY truths, in no way GURGAON differs from the Anurag Kashyap's UGLY path. Even though it names the said vulnerable city in its title, the movie prefers to shy away in making any political statement.
The intelligence observed in naming the film and the initial prologue statement on the laws of the jungle displays the flair and the sheen Shanker Raman can possess as a story teller if realized to its full potential. Raman and Sourabh Ratnu's screenplay begins with Preet (Ragini Khanna) returning home after a degree in architecture from abroad, the ambitious and talented Preet is an object of jealously and sibling rivalry that hints towards gender inequality. Preet's brother Nikki (Akshay Oberoi) hates his sister. Father Kehri Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), a real estate Moghul has a dark past; the superstitious real estate King has adopted Preet in order to change his fortunes. The good for nothing Nikki hates Preet for remaining his dad's favourite. Nikki resembles the spoilt brat of a wealthy businessman. Denied permission to open a gym by his father, Nikki bets heavily on a cricket match and losses. An evil plan gets cooked up by Nikki to get the lost booty from his father, obviously the plan goes off track and hell breaks loose in the life of Nikki, Preet, Kehri and some dark secrets are out.
It's basically a simple plot which gets its share of nuances from Shanker Raman's treatment. The debutant director's mastery as DOP in AUTUM and FROZEN is evident in those shots taken in sepia tones (Vivek Shah's camerawork is brilliant over here), but somehow in its enthusiasm to shock and stun ala Kashyap manner, the director fails to sharpen the emotional and dramatic arc in the proceedings and maintains an unrealistic approach in characterization which cuts this initially promising dark de noir into an affair that fails to excite and provide insight after a while.
The sound and art department doesn't disappoint, Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor's score adds to the ambience and Cyli Kharre's vocals give a rustic feel.
Shankar Raman's choice to add superstition to Kehri's character is questionable and the biggest flaw in this film. The director should have given a convincing chapter to explain Kehri's superstitious traits that ignores blood relation and on top of that a fantastic talent like Pankaj Tripathi is reduced to a whiskey guzzling real estate king who struggles to even speak clearly. Akshay Oberoi fails to deliver as the menacing jealousy stricken brother. Shalini Vatsa is fine as the mother. Further, the movie is marred by underdeveloped supporting characters like Hooda (Aamir Bashir) and Srinivas Sunderrajan (Anand Murthy). The disappearance of Preet's foreign friend Sophie (Anna Ador) remains a mystery.
Any film in any genre needs a hero and shockingly GURGAON struggles to find one in this clutter of characters that fail to display signs of some good virtues. Agreed, movies that celebrate evil like Kashyap's RAMAN RAGHAV 2.0 was grossly grease with absence of characters possessing good virtues, but undoubtedly the movie on India's most dreaded serial killer maintained the 'spirit' of its evilness with quality shades in the characters of Nawaz and Vicky Kaushal.
You feel sympathetic towards Preet and Ragini Khanna does a decent act, the kidnaper from the slums shows some positivity otherwise in all its cynicism, GURGAON is damaged by its dissolute characters whose human conditions are unconvincing and unearned in this moody noir study of psychotic human behavior that may attract some festival nerds abroad but for an Indian viewer it gets overstretched and sordidly difficult.