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‘Gurgaon’ film review: Visually stunning but heavy-handed study of corruption and the Indian family

Shanker Raman’s directorial debut examines the effect of a kidnapping on a wealthy property developer’s clan.

Shanker Raman’s first film as director – after stacking up several acclaimed credits as a cinematographer – is a visual treat. That is, if a relentlessly grim King Lear-esque account of an imploding family can be described as such.

Vivek Shah’s outstanding cinematography in Gurgaon conjures up a sepulchral world in blacks, browns and greys. Like Raman’s script, which has been written by the director and three collaborators, Shah’s camera looks hard into the moral void, producing memorable close-ups and frames in the process. The invisibility that cloaks even the daytime is one of many metaphors in a film whose title itself is portentous.

In Raman’s telling, ambition and aspiration have run their course in the metropolis that has come up on land that was only recently covered by farms. Farmer-turned-property developer Kehri Singh (Pankaj Tripathi) has a palatial home stuffed with luxurious accessories and expensive paintings, but his favourite spot seems to be his bar. No matter what the time of day, he always mixes himself several drinks at a time and speaks in a low rumble that screams “spent force”.

Some of Kehri’s earlier ambition has passed on to his son Nikki (Akshay Oberoi). While the father once ruthlessly transformed agricultural land into chrome-and-steel townships, Nikki’s concerns are far more modest – all he wants is a gym to pass the time between haunting nightclubs with his posse and to place high-value bets on cricket matches.

Kehri’s real inheritor is his beloved foreign-returned daughter Preet (Ragini Khanna), who he hopes will expand his empire. When Preet is abducted, Kehri is momentarily jolted out of his stupor by his wife (Shalini Vatsa), and he recruits his old associate Bhupi (Aamir Bashir) to track down the kidnapper.

Gurgaon isn’t a mystery – the kidnapper’s identity is revealed early on – but it certainly tries to milk the enigma. Preet’s fate is intertwined not only with Nikki’s present but also Kehri’s past, which is littered with crimes and questionable choices. Preet’s abduction forces the excavation of shallow graves, and every character walks about with dirt on their person.

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Gurgaon (2017).

This visually stunning world, with its brooding underlit frames and looming sense of dread, doesn’t always know what to do with its humans. Gurgaon has at least two striking performances, by Tripathi as the lush patriarch and Oberoi as his resentful son, but other characters struggle to emerge out of the void. At the top of the list of characters who float about trying to be counted is Srinivas Sunderrajan’s guitarist, who gets embroiled in the kidnapping for no conceivable reason.

Relentlessly grim and morbidly obsessed with the idea of punishment for every action big and small, Gurgaon suffers from an overweening emphasis on producing meaning. The characters are suffocated not by the claustrophobia of mutual distrust that Raman wants to create, but by the symbolism with which he weighs down every frame.

Raman’s battle has actually already been won by the title and the setting, but like the deep shadows in which the characters are trapped, he pushes his story towards points of no return. Events get unwieldy as the investigation into Preet’s abduction wears on, raising questions about Kehri Singh’s actual sphere of influence. The unsubtitled dialogue, most of which is in Haryanvi-inflected Hindi, clarifies matters that should best have been left unsaid.

Suggestion, rather than explanation, might have helped Gurgaon wholly fulfill its ambition of being a study of dystopia in a place that is held up as an example of all that is desirable about the market economy. The movie works best in fits and starts, especially when it lets itself by guided by its richly layered atmospherics.

Among the most effective scenes is the one in which Preet is kidnapped from her office. Minutes before Preet is abducted, she is looking at the scale model of a township in her name, which is her father’s gift to her and the bone of contention with her brother. The shadows are gathering around Preet, and one of them will materialise into her kidnapper, but an overhead light is throwing off a warm and inviting glow. It proves to be an illusion, like parts of Gurgaon itself.

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Baatein Gubbaro Si Udi, Gurgaon (2017).
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.