Vikrant Massey, Ranvir Shorey, Kalki Koechlin, Tilotama Shome, Lt. Om Puri, Tanuja, Jim Sarbh
Konkona Sen Sharma
"A DEATH IN THE GUNJ resonates in your hearts and mind long after the end credits roll," writes Shubarna Mukerji Shu.
A town on a decline, the people still living in the glory days refusing to accept the truth – that’s the first impression you get of Konkona Sensharma’s directorial debut – A DEATH IN THE GUNJ. The sedate town of McCluskiegunj seems like an ideal place for a family holiday, away from the city’s humdrum but even as you drive along with the protagonists you cannot shake off the feeling of despondency. Why is it that despite an ensemble cast of a ‘macho’ Nandu (Gulshan Devaiya) and his cute family, and sexy Mimi (Kalki Koechlin) you keep turning to look at Shutu (Vikrant Massey)? Something about the boy wearing his dead father’s sweater asking for solace amidst people for whom he is almost invisible, seems rather sad. You want to see him smile, or at least hope people around him make him smile…. Nandu’s little girl does that but she is a feeble support to the crumbling Shutu.
In the whole sedate pace, jumps in the much married Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) who wants to get back to his old ways and his ex Mimi… his frustrations and irritations finds a vent in Shutu. Somewhere while Shutu wants to come to terms with his own life, he finds himself humiliated and bullied… Shutu’s melancholy, his mother’s voice echoes in your mind even as his aunt (Tanuja’s) tries to chat him up.
What gives A DEATH IN THE GUNJ its genius is the way Konkona Sensharma tugs at the Shutu in all of us, even without us realizing it. If you have ever felt bullied or even mildly awkward the memories from your distant past makes you relate to Shutu on an emotional level, playing on your subconscious. You realize this is serious cinema from the way the characters' dress, which is completely in sync with the late 70s to the brand of radio, the feel of the bakeries, the cycle and the strip of Saridon - everything is perfect. When the cast sings Auld Lang Syne, you know they long to keep that glory they once had, when they play the planchette you think of times gone by. Every moment, every gesture in the film is thought through, yet the pace tends to make you a little restless. You forgive her the pace because Konkona has a story for each and everyone in the film. Their history is revealed, albeit with a small scene but it is clearly making you a part of the family as we go through the course of the film. Kudos to Koko for perfecting each background work to the tee. Brian (Jim Sarbh) who comes in fleetingly in the film also stands out because Konkona ensures it. That’s the brilliance of A DEATH IN THE GUNJ. The performance, the background score, the cinematography - each is just the way it was supposed to be: pitch-perfect. Kind of like Konkona herself…