A warm, dark and intriguing welcome to the brilliant actress Konkona Sen Sharma as the storyteller with the A DEATH IN THE GUNJ - A brilliantly haunting and unnerving disclosure of human behavior and emotions.
A DEATH IN THE GUNJ
Inspired by a short story by Mukul Sharma (Konkona's father), A DEATH IN THE GUNJ is about how the world enjoys bullying the weak for their pleasure and how dangerous and fatal it can be to be isolated and constantly neglected amongst your own people (family).
Tipped in nostalgia and told in a dark thriller tone with a wink at black humour, co-written for the screen by Konkana Sen Sharma and Disha Rindani, the movie is set in circa 1979 (post the death of Elvis Presley and the end of Emergency in India - more on that later). The movie opens in the Guy Ritchie, Tarantino tradition (thanks to Anurag Kashyap during the opening credits of the film that hinted towards some influence) where Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah) and Brian (Jim Sarbh) are seen discussing ways to place a dead body (not seen) into the trunk of their car. As we move on in this seven day story by Mukul Sharma claimed to be inspired by true events, we get into the Chekhovian mode where a shy, young and repeatedly bullied young man - Shutu (Vikrant Massey), cousin brother of Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah) accompanies the family for a weeklong holiday to a beautiful cozy colonial house in McCluskieganj, Bihar.
Greeted by a waiting aunt Tanuja (Tanuja Mukherjee), uncle O.P. Bakshi (Om Puri), Nandu's daughter Tani (Arya Sharma), Shutu's sister-in-law Bonnie (Tillotama Shome) and Bonnie's childhood friend Mimi (Kalki Koechlin) it seems to be a happy family reunion until family friends Vikram (Ranveer Shorey) and Brian (Jim Sarbh) join in with local 'mahua' (hooch) and grass.
Underlining the power of screenplay, the narration puts the character in the driver seat and the movie flows smoothly where the free flowing conversations in English, Bengali and Hindi give us the kick of reality.
For a while, the movie take a dark tone when Vikram starts playing dangerous games like calling spirits only to bully Shutu and the whole family willingly participates to enjoy the fun.
Beneath all these get together and pranks a sense of turmoil and tensions make their presence hauntingly felt in between and here Konkona comes triumph in her debut as a story teller. Even the house helps have their say in this film.
Later, after witnessing the Tarantino and Chekhovian mode the influence of Aparna Sen's 36 CHOWRINGHEE LANE is noticed. Konkona never fails in using metaphors that are just perfect. Shutu wears his deceased father's woolen sweater but conspicuously hides his mark sheet in a diary.
The props used are bang on, be it the black colour telephone used during those times, to the 10 paise coin, to that vintage charminar cigarette packets, the joke to bring the spirit of Elvis Presley back before harassing Shutu but quickly admitting that Presley is not dead and the mesmerizing Salil Chowdhury's composition 'Dhitang dhitang bole'
adds to the eclectic retro 70's flavor.
Sirsha Roy's splendid camerawork enhances the director's vision and expression.
Powered by performance of the highest order, A DEATH IN THE GUNJ extracts the best from the highly talented ensemble cast.
Vikrant Massey is the soul and he is a stand out. Om Puri and Tanuja as older couples are outstanding, Gulshan Devaiah is fantastic, Tillotama Shome has moments of brilliance, Kalki Koechlin is terrific, Ranvir Shorey gets into the skin of his character with ease and Jim Sarbh is fantastic. Child artiste Arya Sharma chips in with fabulous support.
A perfect debut as a director for an actress like Konkana Sen Sharma, DEATH IN THE GUNJ is a well observed, hauntingly brilliant and unnerving disclosure of human behavior and emotions that is dipped in nostalgia winking in intense, dark humour tones. Not for the entertainment hungry souls who look for feel good, mass entertainers, A DEATH IN THE GUNJ is a profoundly remarkable debut by Konkona Sen Sharma as a story teller with a different arc that can make a difference.