Free Press Journal

A Death in the Gunj: Subliminal unravelling of a troubled mind


Cast: Vikrant Massey, Ranvir Shorey, Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiah, Tillotama Shome, Jim Sarbh, Tanuja Mukherjee, Om Puri, Arya Sharma

Director: Konkana Sen Sharma

Konkana Sensharma’s writing and directorial debut is adapted from a story credited to her father Mukul Sharma, which in turn was inspired by real events. A Death in the Gunj takes place in 1979, in the Anglo-Indian community setting of McCluskiegunj, where a family of friends and relatives – including a matriarch Anupama (Tanuja), her husband O P Bakshi (Om Puri), their son Gulshan Devaiah), his wife Bonnie (Tilottama Shome), their young 8-year-old daughter, a relative Mimi (Kalki Koechlin) and two friends (Ranvir Shorey and Jim Sarbh) gather on vacation and have an impromptu celebration ushering in the new year.

A sensitive, troubled, diffident young 23-year-old student, a cousin, Shutu (Vikrant Massey) is part of the ensemble and the more confident, macho, cocksure, unfeeling set of friends and relatives pick on him for their everyday fun. The unravelling of his young mind happens in a space of six-seven days as events occur and the young man starts feeling even more isolated, victimized and alienated.

The story opens with an unexplained body in the boot of a car and rewinds a week back to give us a dekho of what transpired to make this killing happen. It’s an interesting hook that reveals a macabre setting for bullying and victimization to happen. The setting is stunning. The house nestled in misty wooded terrain close to McCluskiegunj, provides a befitting eeriness to the prank-filled mood and moments here.

Sen Sharma’s style of rumination allows for an intimate analysis of this dysfunctional family gathering and harkens back to Bengal’s greatest, Ray’s own auteur style. There’s a laidback quality to the narration, allowing for a lazy, almost ghostly manifestation of fears – that prove to be telling in the end. While the tension is not breath-taking, there is an almost fatalistic feel to the narration – which asserts itself steadily.

The technical detailing aids the story-telling beautifully. A few lighter, leavening moments can be had in the familiar Bengali/Assamese numbers that the family play along with when in partying mode. Vikrant Massey, fresh from his Half Girlfriend turn puts on a brilliantly sensitive performance – one that stays in your mind much after the movie is done. Tanuja and Om Puri lend thespian support while Shome, Devaiah, Shorey, Koechlin, Sarbh and the rest of the cast give amiable ensemble performances that make this narration more memorable. This is a heart-breaking experience- one that everyone must watch!