A Death in the Gunj (2017)

It’s funny that when you search for a particular film in IMDb, all the films that are exactly related to the searched film shows up. Like when I searched for A Death in the Gunj, movies like, Trapped showed up. A film, whose fate A Death in the Gunj will suffer, undoubtedly.

It is sad how the movies are sorted, marketed and categorised in India, in-fact, this is the scenario all over the world. The small budget films, coming mostly from brilliant cast and crew, get the smallest of the screens in few multiplexes and the big-budget films, even with the most unqualified cast makes the billions. Such is the case with A Death in the Gunj, directed by Konkona Sen Sharma. Despite of being a keenly observant drama, rich in atmospherics, brilliantly performed, one could never hope for it to make a cut in the minds of the vastly star-struck moviegoing audience.

A Death in the Gunj is set in the 1970s, where a family of three, Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), Bonnie (Tilottama Shome) & their daughter Tani (Arya Sharma), is making a visit to their family home in the sleepy town of McCluskieganj, near Ranchi. Accompanying them is Nandu’s cousin Shutu (Vikrant Massey) & Bonnie’s friend Mimi (Kalki Koechlin).

Family reunions and celebrations can be tricky affairs, often churning out unpleasant secrets. Konkona, who reveals a deep understanding of human nature, layers these scenes with unspoken complexities, egos, and tensions. On the surface, everyone seems to be having a good time. Well, perhaps not everyone.

Twenty-three-year-old Shutu (Vikram Massey) is easy to miss. He could be in a room full of people, sitting by himself and you wouldn’t notice him. When everyone’s getting selected for kabbadi, Shutu is the last, chosen after the domestic help. When people are busy drinking, Shutu’s making a drink for someone else. Shutu isn’t a participant; he’s an observer. Shutu, the unlikely hero of Konkana Sen Sharma’s directorial debut, A Death in the Gunj, is the man who was never there.

I cannot go into deeper details of the movie plot, without sharing the core dynamics of the film, which will end up ruining the experience for you. But I will tell you that you will quickly become invested as the film reveals its characters with doses of alcohol and heartbreak. A Death in the Gunj is set over the course of seven days, and a lot happens in the week – old connections are rekindled, excessive drinking leads to bad decisions, a key character goes missing, and it all builds up to an explosive climax that the film’s title alludes to.

The film is richer also on account of its remarkable technical accomplishments, especially Sirsha Ray’s brown and yellow-soaked frames, and an evocative background score by Sagar Desai that never feels invasive or disturbing.Now, if I start praising the performances delivered in this film, I might not stop with the rant. They are the reason you’re drawn to these people and why their world feels so immersive. Kalki Koechlin is mercurial as the temptress hiding complex feelings in her heart. Ranvir Shorey imbues his sadistic character with just enough humanity to never slip into stereotype. At the center of the drama, however, and standing out for his abundant talent and undeniable presence is Vikrant Massey as the troubled young Shutu.

And here lies, another sad state of our film industry. The young generation of actors and actresses who are declared to be the next big names of the industry, sadly are here with zero talent but full backing from their families. And this easily makes us, the film lovers, miss talents like Massey, who are ready to take over, if provided with the right opportunity.

Amidst all the great news about Wonder Woman sweeping the audience, A Death in the Gunj will surely be missed by most of us. I think this is one of the best films of the year, and one that you’ll find hard to shake off in a hurry, if you get the time to watch it. I’m going with 4/5 for Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death in the Gunj and a strong recommendation not to miss it. Do find time and have a peek at it.

P.S. Keep guessing till the climax, as to whose death the films title is referring to.