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Bleak City

Saturday, August 05, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

Shanker Raman
Cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Akshay Oberoi, Ragini Khanna and others
Rating: * * 1/2

Gangster movies set in Mumbai have been overdone; it’s time for filmmakers to look for other dystopias and cinematographer-turned-director Shanker Raman’s film Gurgaon has found it in that extension of New Delhi, which is, however, light years apart in spirit.

With its gleaming malls, lavish bungalows and smooth flyovers, Gurgaon has become a metaphor for soulless progress; the development of the Haryana town put money and power into the hands of those who brazenly misuse it, and left behind unfortunate farmers whose land was grabbed. In a scene in the film, an architect shows the model of a new colony to a poor man, who points out that it stands where his village used to be.

Haryana is, by all reports, a misogynistic society where female infanticide is carried out with impunity. The rich young men swagger sure that their dads’ wealth and connections will protect them. Kehri Singh (Pankaj Tripathi) is one such baron, who is drowning in alcohol. His son Nikki (Akshay Oberoi) throws money around and has that arrogance that comes from entitlement; his brother Chintu (Ashish Verma) and buddy Rajvir (Arjun Fojdar) silently follow his lead. They are the kind of guys who, when denied entry into a nightclub, kidnap a musician (Srinivas Sunderrajan) scheduled to play there.

When Nikki needs to repay a bookie, he plans to kidnap his adopted sister Preet (Ragini Khanna), whom he hates since she is his father’s pet. In this male-dominated world, women have little value; the mother (Shalini Vatsa) hovers around cooking and serving meals. The abduction goes wrong, and while Kehri’s old friend Bhupi (Amir Bashir) tries to track down Preet, the film slowly reveals the family’s past and the crimes that made Kehri Singh what he is.

The plot is not a whodunit, but an attempt to point out that every action may have an unexpected reaction. And, rather naively in today’s age, it is insistent on punishment for all the wrongdoing, which is certainly commendable, but also, for one particular character, unbelievable and clichéd. At least two characters, Preet’s white friend (Anna Ador) and the musician are mostly redundant.

What Raman does well, with the help of Vivek Shah’s brooding camerawork, is capture the ominous contrasts of the place, and the lingering discontent of the characters. Tripathi, in a well-deserved lead role, channels a mumbling Don Corleone, but one whose best days are behind him. Oberoi gets the haughty, devil-may-care Nikki down pat, so does Vatsa as the woman who tries to keep her dysfunctional family together.

In the end, what lets the film down is that it is not a pleasant or edifying watch, nor can the audience invest in the fate of any character.

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