Konkana Sen Sharma’s debut A Death in the Gunj is a beautiful take of the neglected. It is so realistic and uncontrived that it makes you wonder why Konkana didn’t pick up direction in the first place. There was a director in her all this time, and it is so darn good that it instantly places her amongst the elite.
A Death in the Gunj also gives us an opportunity to see the very talented Late Om Puri onscreen once again. His acting is so relatable that it makes you miss him even more, now that he is gone. To constitute the primal plot of the movie, we have a family trying to spend a week’s holiday at their parent’s in a small town in Jharkhand. The backdrop is set in the year 1979 and Konkana Sen does a fine job to bring that period feel to it.
Direction of A Death in the Gunj
Whilst the Indian Film Industry is abounding with bad directors, it is going through a hopeful change. People are getting more focused towards making serious movies, and the educated audience has been responding well too. There are talented budding young directors showing up every month or so, who have their eyes set on parallel cinema to helm really good movies, and they are doing a fine job at that too. With people like Konkana Sen Sharma, that hope further solidifies making us cocksure of this revolution.
She started her career as an actor, which gives her an upper hand to witness story building up close. I am so glad that she has taken up all the good things. Her direction literally screams about her genius. She is outright brilliant for a feature film debutant. Her frames roll with a purpose, and she doesn’t omit the essential minutia worth capturing. Few minutes in her movie and you can feel the beautiful direction literally oozing out.
Konkana pays apt attention to the build up, giving us a proper insight into the story, introduces the main plot gradually unfurling it just how it is supposed to be. I think she needs to keep on directing. She is going to become a great director.
Plot of A Death in the Gunj Movie (Spoilers Ahead)
Death in the Gunj starts with a prologue of two people recklessly and unfeelingly talking about a dead body, so we know there’s a murder on the cards. It builds up its fair amount of suspense as it lets us introduce ourselves with the characters first.
It is a family who is visiting their parent’s Anupama Bakshi (Tanuja Mukherjee) and O.P. Bakshi (Om Puri) to spend their holidays. We have Gulshan Devaiah as Nandu who is the angry guy calling shots, Tillotama Shome playing his wife, Kalki Koechlin as Mimi and a litte one Tani played by Arya Sharma. Vikrant Massey plays the young protagonist Shutu as the cousin of Nandu. We also have Jim Sarbh playing Brian and Ranvir Shorey playing Vikram as Nandu’s two childhood friends.
Shutu is always the butt of the joke, being younger, gullible and vulnerable. He is pranked upon, scolded and scorned by everyone. What the family forgets is his tendency to feel unloved in a place that is smothering him every second. And all of that begins to take shape owing to just one week of family time.
Shutu is still trying to get over his dead father, wearing his father’s sweater all the time, crying himself to sleep. His pitiable emotional state is considered as a childish behaviour by Nandu who frowns upon him all the time. At one point he even hits him while teaching him how to drive.
Tani being the youngest is the only company he enjoys. They spend time together trying to pass time in a place that doesn’t have anything for entertainment. Shutu is constantly condescended by Vikram and Nandu who never miss out the opportunity to boss him around.
He has lied about his results to Anupama, who goes on to figure it out through a mail from Shutu’s mother. Shutu wishes to be away from home, and is going through a real hard time. But to fuel that fire we have this family constantly nagging him into doing things.
Mimi is in love with Vikram who is now married. She tries to rekindle the spark but fails to do that ending up drunk one night, and then having sex with Shutu playing him as a rebound guy. Shutu, too young to understand the situation, ends up falling for her hoping to continue the fling. He is rejected in an abject sense of disregard.
The Lost Soul
With hopes to win Mimi, he ends up overlooking Tani at one point. Tani becomes furious and ends up getting lost somehow. As Nandu and Shutu go into the woods to locate Tani, Shutu becomes a victim to a trap. Nandu ends up driving away leaving Shutu in a pit without even bothering to check for him.
Spending hours in the pit in the precarious woods, Shutu is discovered by their servant who then helps him out. On returning Shutu realizes Tani has been found and on seeing everybody on the dining table unbothered by his plight, it hurts him a lot. He goes to apologize to Tani, the only person he cared about in the whole house, but she refuses to talk to him as well.
Shutu realizes nobody cares about him. He feels like a neglected soul, constantly being hammered by the family, pushed around to get their own job done. Owing to all this neglectful buildup, he ends up taking his own life. It is hands down one of the saddest bits in the flick.
A Death in the Gunj compels you to relate to the character. It evokes a sense of poignancy. It will have you thinking for hours about the neglect Shutu faces all along. And it isn’t just one person to blame for that, but the entire family. Sometimes we get so lost in our lives that we forget to pay attention to the people who need it the most.
The height is when in an attempt to find Tani the family forgets entirely about Shutu. His encounter with a wolf, the very paragon of death itself who chooses to leave him alone (nobody kicks a dead dog), is so beautifully captured that you feel like showering all the love to the poor fellow. And when he returns nobody bothers to even ask where he was, and in what perilous fate he had found himself in. They were busy dining forgetting him unknowingly.
It is just downright terrible what humans could do by simply being themselves.
There is one remark by Tani who is busy reading names on their family tree and wonders why Shutu’s name is not there. I loved how in the end Konkana decided to let his blood paint that same tree as if finally Shutu too makes it there by being dead.
A Death in the Gunj has this strange thrilling vibe to it that belies its original theme. For a second the movie has you duped into believing that it is a semi-horror flick. But you realize that it isn’t what it tries to sell through the trailers. It is something more entirely.
If the writers were keen on hiding whose death we were going to see in the end, I think it became quite clear in the prologue itself. While some couldn’t guess it by the vague frames, it was easy for the rest to crack the code. The sense of neglect Shutu faces even when he was sitting in the car, gave it away that he was nothing but a ghost sitting behind, looking at his drivers and wondering how could be a person still be so arrogant and neglectful towards him even after death.
The Final Verdict
I think A Death in the Gunj is a profound gem that needs to be celebrated. All of the characters in the movie did a fabulous job playing their roles with conviction. You can’t even sense a teensy flaw in their acting. They are absolutely natural in their ways.
The movie is really deep for a thriller and shouldn’t be placed in that genre, I feel. It keeps you constantly rooted, lets you enjoy all the family letting you relate to its characters. The movie also becomes successful in making you feel extremely sorry for its protagonist for ending up in such colossal sense of abandonment.
It makes you question your actions and tries to make a bold point of keeping your eyes open for people who need your love. Every soul needs your attention and you shouldn’t get so much lost in your life that you forget to notice fragile living beings around.
Konkana Sen Sharma has proven herself to be extraordinary with the camera. I hope we get to see more of her films in the long run.
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Check out the trailer of A Death in the Gunj here: