By Poulomi Das Aug. 06, 2017
Shanker Raman’s Gurgaon is the latest film to explore the predatory disposition lurking just beneath the surface of supposedly civilised men.
About 32 kilometres southwest of New Delhi lies Gurgaon, the vibrant yet inorganic city that symbolises the epitome of achievement in newly affluent India. Yet, it’s a city straddling two Janus-faced mentalities. There is the Gurgaon of swanky skyscrapers, sprawling golf courses, and the third-largest per-capita income in India. And then there is the Gurgaon of casual violence and barely controlled aggression that hasn’t quite caught up with the 21st century.
In his brooding directorial debut Gurgaon, National Award-winning cinematographer Shanker Raman, exploits this study in two halves. The contradictions of the “millennium city” act as a potent metaphor to emphasise the primal, predatory disposition lurking just beneath the surface of supposedly civilised men.
The Singh family’s transformation closely mirrors that of their city. Just the way the village of Gurugram continues to thrive within the cosmopolis that came up seemingly overnight on vast tracts of agrarian soil, the Singh family were once superstitious rural landowners who turned into wealthy real-estate moguls. Shades of the violent men they were in the past, often overpower the progressive identities that they’ve carefully carved for their present, much to the detriment of the women in their lives.
Kehri Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), the alcoholic patriarch of the family, is of the blind belief that the arrival of his adopted daughter Preet (Ragini Khanna) is the sole reason for the improvement of his family’s fortunes. As a result, every piece of land he owns is in her name, as is his real-estate business. This constant favouring fuels the inadequacy of his eldest son Nikki (Akshay Oberoi), resulting in his absolute disdain toward Preet, “picked from the rubbish heap”.
In Nikki’s head, the road to earning his much delayed validation is interlinked with the urgent need to get his step-sister out of the way. He sets out to right the wrong the only way he can, and the only way he knows how to; through violence, an act that immediately transforms him into a shadow of his father, for whom, violence was a way of life.
This ugliness remains hidden under layers of civilised behavioural codes, but as the film illustrates, it takes very little to unravel it.
Kehri and Nikki’s eschewing of their civilised illusions, and morphing into the true beasts that they are inside, isn’t an exercise in isolation. It is in fact, the oldest refuge known to humans, incapable of restraint in high-intensity situations. Nikki, for instance, could seamlessly fit in with Pinky’s band of brothers in NH10, who take it upon themselves to exact a brand of murderous justice. This violence is spurred on by the assumption that they are the self-appointed protectors of honour. For Satbir, Pinky’s brother, slaughtering a girl is a rite of passage, a belief even more deep-set in his reproachful uncle, who admonishes him for using a gun instead of sticking to the traditional rod.
Similarly, for Rahul and Shoumik, the father and step-father duo of Kali in Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly, the disappearance of their 10-year-old daughter draws out the literal ugliness of their personalities, whether it is the corrupt bureaucracy adopted by Shoumik, or Rahul’s manic-intensity fuelled by sheer helplessness. This ugliness remains hidden under layers of civilised behavioural codes, but as the film illustrates, it takes very little to unravel it. In that moment, when anger turns into brutality, violence is not just their release, but also a part of their identity.
Kehri Singh, the alcoholic patriarch of the family, is of the blind belief that the arrival of his adopted daughter Preet is the sole reason for the improvement of his family’s fortunes. Image Credit / Jar Pictures
Kehri Singh, the alcoholic patriarch of the family, is of the blind belief that the arrival of his adopted daughter Preet is the sole reason for the improvement of his family’s fortunes.
Image Credit / Jar Pictures
In Kanu Bahl’s Titli, Vikram, the hot-headed elder brother flirts with a seething anger that takes the shape of abuse, both physical, and emotional. His unravelling comes in fits, and bursts, especially in the scene where he is requesting his estranged wife, Sangeetha to wait a little longer so that he can be there for his daughter’s birthday over persistent cries of the furniture unloaders to pay them their dues. The men pester, his wife tries to leave, and all it takes is that split second for the animal in him to rise. In the world he inhabits, violence is not only casual, it is also, cathartic.
In several of these movies, the women end up paying the price for the brutality that the men around them unleash. In Gurgaon, it is Preet and Karma Devi (Shalini Vatsa), the matriarch of the family. It also remains a reality for Pinky, Kali, Sangeetha and Titli’s wife Neetu. Sometimes, we witness real-life examples of it, as in the case of Pakistani actress and social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch, who was murdered by her own brother. As with Gurgaon, the question that lingers is, what will it take for the monsters in our highrises to break out of the basement?
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.