A Death In The Gunj
Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Vikrant Massey, Gulshan Devaiah, Ranvir Shorey, Tillotama Shome
Director: Konkona Sen Sharma
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Reviewed by: Nandini Roy
Konkona Sen Sharma’s first film as a directorial debut draws inspiration from a family anecdote. It parlays the tragic tale into a deeply felt, splendidly calibrated drama. A Death In The Gunj ends on a funereal note, which is nostalgic. But it embraces life in a tight clinch, besides heralding the birth of a filmmaker to watch. Konkona Sen Sharma’s storytelling is strikingly sure-handed: proof that she is as fine a director as she is an actress. Her script is shorn of superfluities, cinematographer Sirsha Roy’s exquisitely lit frames unerringly evoke the film’s time and space, and the effortless acting by the ensemble cast is of the highest order.
1978-79. A light blue Ambassador. Bell-bottoms. Long sideburns. Charminar ciggarettes. McCluskiegunj. That’s the setting in which Konkona Sensharma gently eases in her main characters:
- OP and Anupama Bakshi, an elderly couple who live in a spacious property in the small town.
- Their son Nandan ‘Nandu’ Bakshi, his wife Bonnie and their daughter Tani. Mimi and Shutu their relatives, who accompany them to the gunj to spend a vacation together.
- Vikram and Brian, Nandu’s childhood friends.
The film is about a Christmas vacation Bonnie ( Tillotama Shome), Nandu ( Gulshan Devaiah) take with their daughter Tani ( Arya Sharma) with cousins and friends in Mc Cluskiegunj which happens to be their parent’s house. Shutu ( Vikrant Massey), Mimi ( Kalki Koechlin) and Vikram ( Ranvir Shorey) accompany them on the vacation and through their eyes we see a lot. Mimi is dissatisfied with many things and certainly wants a lot more. But her character is not sketched very well. She is the cliche Anglo-Indian you must have heard your grandparents talk about. She is every man’s fantasy and that is why sometimes she is not looked at respectfully. Mrs. Batra essayed by Tanuja also makes a remark about how frivolous she is and hence not marriageable.
Shuttu essayed by Vikrant Massey is one character that has been drawn and performed brilliantly. Shuttu is a recluse and endures silently. Despair seems to be his best friend. In the scene when he is seen wearing his dead father’s sweater is beautifully crafted. Massey underplays Shuttu effortlessly. There are time when you expect him to blast with fury but he doesn’t and you’re captivated. He takes the cake.
While Shuttu is the one who broods silently, Ranvir Shorey’s portrayal of Vikram is the anti-thesis of Shuttu. He is loud, obnoxious and is bursting with male ego and testosterone. You might hate him in the film. Vikram deserves to be hated throughout as he does not have one sensitive bone in his body. He is married and has always been physically drawn to Mimi. But then again- no regrets.
Jim Sarbh as Brian and Promila Pradhan as Vikram’s wife Purnima do a decent job. Ranvir Shorey is remarkable as Vikram, a character which hints at foregone royalty. Then there is Kalki Koechlin (Mimi), who has made it a habbit of shinig through in almost all her films, even those where the scripts doesn’t leave her with too much to do. Fortunately, Gunj doesn’t belong to that category as Kalki and the film both deserve each other. The real find, though, is Vikrant Massey. It was quite a task to get Sutu, the shy Bengali boy from the turbulent ’70s, correct. Massey was brilliant in portraying him and peaking at the right moment.
The movie also tackles two very serious issues – bullying and depression – in a subtle way. No wonder the film has gained quite some applause in the festival circuit. A third generation filmmaker, Sensharma has always been known for her acting chops, what with a National award under her belt. Gunj proves she can be equaly capable calling the shots.
The film is beautiful, it captivates you through and through but honestly the payoff is predictable. If you know how narratives work, you’ll be able to crack whose death is Konkana talking about in the film. There are many large and compelling reasons to watch A Death in the Gunj. Here’s a small one: It’s a beautiful goodbye to Om Puri, who died this January. There he is, saying “Nothing gets better at this age” in that instantly familiar rasp. There he is again, getting drunk, confusing his granddaughter for a tortoise. He doesn’t have much heavy lifting to do in the film, but he still manages one great moment. In one scene, his character shuffles around the house at night, disoriented and half-awake. When Nandu tries to talk him into returning to bed, that famous Puri irascibility rises to the surface. “Am I the father, or are you?” he demands of his son.
Konkana here’s a pat on your back for a job that someone needed to do!