A Death in the Gunj
A Death in the Gunj: A Mixed Bag of Emotions
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
It is known that Aparna Sen is quite the celebrated filmmaker. In fact, you could even say that her legacy is laced with an abundance of vibrancy and earnestness. So, it came as no surprise when Konkona Sen decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps with her directorial debut.
A Death in the Gunj will leave you with a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, you have intriguing characters, an unexplored premise supported by an artistic backdrop. On the other hand, the very characters you are intrigued by lack a sense of completion in the shaping of their character arcs. Later, a lack of undisclosed depth is also prevalent.
Set in the Anglo-Indian community of McCluskieganj, A Death in the Gunj, follows the unraveling of eerie circumstances surrounding a family in the winter of 1979. Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), Bonnie (Tillotama Shome) and their 8 year old daughter, Tani (Arya Sharma) set off on a family holiday to their Aunt’s home along with their cousins Mimi (Kalki Koechlin) and Shutu (Vikrant Massey). Soon, after they land, they are reunited with their friends Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Brian (Jim Sarbh) who conjure up the idea to communicate to spirits through a constructible Ouija board. Following this night of eerie fun, misunderstandings and unavoidable conflicts lead to a horrifying incident that results in the death of one family member. The elucidation of this mysterious event forms the rest of the story.
The first half is undeniably brilliant. The tone Konkona Sen Sets for the film exudes admirable confidence. The story is backed with such cinematic expertise that it effortlessly owns up to its contemporary tendencies. In the first sixty minutes, you’ll fall in love with the characters and embrace their intriguing shades of grey. But, the problems in the screenplay begin when you realize that the roles of these characters are never really seen through completion in the second half.
Post interval, the film wastes time in re-establishing every little detail over and over again. As a director, it is important that Konkona Sen masters the art of knowing when to stop in her following films. If this clarity is achieved, the problems in her screenplay will eventually disappear. If the re-establishment had been toned down, the audiences could’ve been a witness to the reactions of these characters and learnt their take on what is happening around them.
Perhaps, a prolonged climax carrying the afterthoughts of the central characters and showcasing the manner in which they move on could’ve fetched the onlookers some much-needed closure.
Also, the other characters are constantly seen bullying Shutu. If the screenplay delved deeper into Shutu’s story or if it had presented us with an explanation as to why the other characters never grow to respect him, the reasoning would’ve been more justified and clear.
Putting these flaws behind, there are more than a few brilliant scenes in the film. In one particular scene, Vikram brings his newly-married wife, Poornima to the New Year’s Eve dinner much to the dismay of an envious Mimi. The metaphors used in this wonderful sequence are quite fascinating. The scenes bearing Shutu’s interaction with Tani are especially endearing.
One of the primary reasons why A Death in the Gunj works so well is thanks to its dazzling cast. From Vikrant Massey to Kalki Koechlin, all the actors own up to their roles and deliver breath-taking performances with a load of conviction. As Mimi, Kalki exhibits unaltered arrogance, Massey portrays Shutu with just the right balance of curiosity and Inhibition and Ranvir Shorey assumes his role as Vikram with an overpowering machismo that strengthens the despicable traits of his character
In some places Sagar Desai’s music is overused. But the manner in which the tribal rhyme plays out is hauntingly marvelous. Cinematographer Sirsha Ray’s lighting sense is remarkable. Every frame resembles an intricate painting. The climax shot of the tree is especially inventive.
On the whole, A Death in the Gunj will fascinate you and leave you discontented at the same time. It is most definitely a mixed bag. But just for its mighty flashes of brilliance, this is one experience you’ll want to have.