Verdict – Konkona Sen Sharma marks her debut as a director with a stellar film.
When we were introduced to Konkona Sen Sharma as an actress, one thing was crystal clear, she was not your average item number performing actress. She carved a niche for herself with her choice of films and grew a strong fan base. So when she made her debut as a director with some of the finest actors in the country, we had high hopes. And oh, how beautifully has she delivered. Set in the hilly town of McCluskieganj, Jharkhand, A Death in the Gunj follows a group of family members as they head to this quaint little town to visit their parents.
We have Mr and Mrs Bakshi (Om Puri and Tanuja), their son Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah) accompanied by his wife Bonnie (Tillotama Shome) and daughter Tani (Arya Sharma). Others in this story are Nandu’s cousin Shutu (Vikrant Massey), Mimi (Kalki Koechlin) and family friends Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and David (Jim Sarbh). While this appears like just another family at first, the layers soon begin to emerge and half way into the film you’ve formed an opinion about each member. Be it the scene where the group engages in planchet to some tribal dancing around a fire, the film has a dark undertone from the beginning which is, at times, mixed with humour. The central character of the film is Shutu, a 23-year-old who seems to be battling way too many struggles within him. While still silently grieving his father’s death and dealing with his family’s constantly picking on him, the only person he shares a special bond with is little Tani.
Be it the Anglo vibe of the town, the sideburns and flared pants, or the handwritten letters, the film takes you back to the 1970s through its narrow winding streets, something cinematographer Sirsha Ray has made use of extremely skillfully, adding to the visual beauty of the film. The star cast has done a splendid job, each bringing their own set to skills to the table. Be it Kalki as Mimi the bold woman who seems to be stuck in reverse or Ranvir Shorey as the macho Vikram, the cast is what anchors this story, with Vikrant Massey delivering a stand-out performance.
One aspect that particularly stood out in A Death in the Gunj is the progressive manner in which women have been portrayed. While we see different shades of patriarchy, for a film based in the 1970’s the woman of the household seem way ahead of their times. While mostly in English, the narrative often switches to Bengali and Hindi making it seem effortlessly natural.
Despite the slow pace, not once does the film make you want to take your eyes off the screen. The subtle themes of aggression, alienation, depression and sexuality that emerge among the members of the group are convincing and will leave you empathising, an emotion the characters in the film seem to lack. Ironic much? Be it the scenes of eerie silence to the unfortunate death, the film is like a brightly burned candle that when blown out, still leaves you staring at the extinguished flame that once was.
Why You Should Watch This Movie:
There is no denying the fact that A Death in the Gunj is a visually stunning film that will give you the feels. Sen Sharma knew exactly what she was doing and despite a few flaws, this is the kind of quality cinema that the Indian film industry desperately needs.