MAMI Review: A Death In The Gunj - An Unnerving Disclosure

Posted on 1 November, 2016 by Team Wishberry

Image Courtesy: TIFF

A Death in the Gunj officially opened the 18th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, marking Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut. The film, that screened at the Toronto Film Festival first, is set in the late 1970s following an extended family’s New Year gathering, at McCluskieganj.

The plot highlights the inner-workings of a shy, young, constantly bullied young boy - Shutu (Vikrant Massey), who accompanies his cousin brother - Nandu’s (Gulshan Devaivah) family for a weeklong getaway to a farmhouse in a Gunj. The family includes Shutu’s aunt Tanuja (Tanuja Mukherjee), uncle O.P. Bakshi (Om Puri), his niece Tani (Arya Sharma), sister-in-law Bonnie (Tillotama Shome) and Bonnie’s childhood friend Mimi (Kalki Koechlin). Also while at the farmhouse, the family receives frequent visits by their family friends Vikram (Ranveer Shorey) and Brian (Jim Sarbh).

This reunion of friends and family brings out the dark interpersonal dynamics they all share, which later on leads to a death. Inspired by a short story by Mukul Sharma (Konkona’s father), the story is a breath of fresh air for Indian cinema. Albeit the air is pretty grim and intense.

The film is a dark one, with a thriller tone set right from the get go. It opens at the close of the seventh day, with Nandu and Brian figuring out a way to place a dead body into the trunk of their car.

Cut to Shutu - a shy lonely boy who seems to be slipping into depression after multiple failed attempts of trying to fit in. While he simply is entertained in the camaraderie to babysit Tani, Vikram makes sure the boy is constantly bullied and is the butt of all jokes. Shutu has a thing for Mimi, and on the other hand, despite Vikram’s recent marriage Mimi is into Vikram. And the two share a toxic unhealthy sexual relationship.

Co-written by Sen Sharma and Disha Rindani, the screenplay has maintained the character as key to the narrative. Every character is complex and well written, to the extent that even 8-yr-old Tani and the domestic help display shades of grey.

The film however, is not about depression or a depressed man. It is an interesting take on how society thrives on weakness. It reminded me of the social experiment conducted by Marina Abramovic – a performing artist. She sat immobile in a gallery for 6 hours and let people do whatever they wished to her. The results were brutal, masses turned aggressive within hours and the exhibition ended leaving Marina stripped naked, sexually assaulted and scared for her life.  

Society enjoys putting you down, blaming you for their ills and abandons you without a thought when you’re weak. The film speaks volumes about being silent and isolated. Something every human has experienced, and it is disturbing for the very same reason - you relate.

The acting powerhouses – Om Puri, Tanuja, Kalki Koechlin, Ranveer Shorey, Gulshan Devaiah, Tillotama Shome and Vikrant Massey - are brilliant as ever. Kalki is hypnotic in everything that she does - the way she carries her glass, smokes, flirts – she’s one of the most versatile actresses I’ve ever seen, and in the film she’s mesmerising. Ranveer will make you hate him, he’s that good at portraying a masculine bad boy from the 70s. But it is Vikrant Massey who steals the show. His performance outshines everyone else’s. You keep rooting for him till the very end of the film.

The slow paced direction with nostalgic dialogues, haunting background score and the 70s dread will leave you irritated, tired and distressed. I walked out feeling uneasy but puzzled. The content feeds on you; it took me three days to understand and appreciate it. The film is innovative in its narrative but isn’t something everyone would enjoy. It is superb nonetheless.

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