A Death In The Gunj movie review: Konkona Sensharma makes a brilliant debut
A Death In The Gunj
Cast: Vikrant Massey, Ranveer Shorey, Kalki Koechlin
Director: Konkona Sensharma
Konkona Sensharma’s directorial debut A Death In The Gunj is set in McCluskieganj, nearly 60 kilometres from Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi.
It was home to the hundreds of Anglo-Indian families whose mixed culture was often referred as ‘chutney’ as they borrowed traditions from different communities. A majority of them later migrated to nearby cities especially Kolkata, and then to other countries. A Death In The Gunj is actually about a death in McCluskieganj.
McCluskieganj, the town, isn’t a patch over its earlier self, but this story begins in 1979 when all wasn’t lost. Some fine English-speaking members of a family arrive from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to spend quality time with Mr and Mrs Bakshi (Om Puri and Tanuja).
Others who join Nandu (Gulshan Devaih) and Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) are Bonnie (Tillotama Shome), Mimi (Kalki Koechlin), Brian (Jim Sarbh) and Tani (Arya Sharma). Some of them occasionally switch to Bengali as well.
You start meeting and realising the traits of different members of this odd group. If Vikram’s infidelity is quite obvious, Nandu’s overarching patriarchy isn’t hard to detect either. Bonnie appears to be the most grounded and finds it hard to deal with Mimi who doesn’t believe in hiding heartbreaks. Mimi is like a defiant teen stuck in a time wrap. Aloof, sarcastic and loner, she brings to the table a genuineness that binds the motley band together.
The story is centred around 23-year-old student Shutu (Vikrant Massey), Nandu’s cousin, who’s struggling on many fronts. From sexuality to depressive behaviour, he has many battles to conquer. A soft target for family bullies, Shutu is the thread that makes A Death In The Gunj a layered film.
A Death In the Gunj isn’t about just one theme or a person. Different tracks lead to different meanings and they might not have a common resolution. The colonial hangover has reflections in crumbling buildings and the gun nailed on the wall. The Bakshi family and their friends love their drink and mostly perceived as the refined version of rural landlords.
It’s just been three decades since independence, but women of this family behave and talk like today’s women - confident, vocal and ready to resist male domination.
Be it a kabaddi match or a hunting game, men want to display their masculinity. Mostly in your face, sometimes subtle. Easy to spot.
The one emotion that comes out of this weird gathering is the sense of loneliness, the feeling of not being desired, the pain of not being loved back. It’s a recurring theme throughout the 104-minute film.
Konkona Sen Sharma tries to give it a blanket look of ‘just another day in a sleepy town’, but she has treated it like a thriller. There are many characters who keep crossing and hurting each other. They swiftly resort to physical and verbal violence. Vikrant Massey’s Shutu emerges as the one to sympathise with in all this. It’s his silence that makes the atmosphere hauntingly eerie.
A Death In The Gunj totally relies on acting skills of a stellar cast. Ranvir Shorey’s astonishing aggression to Tilottama’s self-centredness, each of them has a tale to tell. This was the prime requirement in a film that’s unconventional and doesn’t intend to bring you to a conclusion. Only good performances could have given it a discreet yet perceptible appearance. Vikrant Massey stands out among these immensely talented actors, and is the face you’ll recall about this film many years later.
Sirsha Ray’s camera work helps set a gloomy, mysterious, dark (not sinister) mood. The choice of locations and background scores does the rest. For the want of a better word, A Death In The Gunj has a ‘distinct’ feel.
Konkona Sen Sharma’s film is a successful experiment despite loopholes. And it is brave.
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