A Death In The Gunj is a 2016 drama-thriller directed by Konkona Sen Sharma, written by Konkona Sen Sharma and Mukul Sharma and stars Vikrant Massey, Tillotama Shome, Gulshan Devaiah, Om Puri, Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey, Tanuja and Jim Sarbh. The film follows the lives of a family who go on a seemingly uneventful holiday to McCluskieganj.
There are two schools of thought I had to look into while watching A Death In The Gunj. One side of me wanted to enjoy this movie for being a deliberately paced, character driven art film. The other end of me wanted to scream out at the tedious, plodding and pretentious mess this film was on the cusp of becoming. The film, miraculously, tows the line between being entertaining and sticking to its art house roots quite well.
The things I loved about this film are aspects which may stay with me and marinate in my mind for the foreseeable future. Vikrant Massey’s spellbinding performance as Shutu had me riveted from the first frame I spotted him in. The character is fantastically written and carried off with aplomb. Full marks to the man’s physical acting, his mannerisms, his facial emoting, and so many other little ticks that make the character who he is. I could have done without the “My Favorite Words From E” moment as it feels a bit too on the nose to add some quirks to a soon to be fully fleshed out character.
All the other great parts of the film fall under the technical/filmmaking category. The film is gorgeously shot and every frame is lit perfectly. Be it candle lights, dark rooms or bright sunny days, the film’s mood and tone are carried across by how strong those technical aspects are. A shout out to the sound department. The foley work and ambient score are just magnificent and add much-required personality which sets the film apart from the herd while working as a showcase for Konkona Sen Sharma’s assured direction. Some of the shots in the film are expertly composed and one of the final shots of the film, which involves a tree, is not one I’ll forget soon.
On the flip side, the film’s drawbacks are its supporting characters and pace. This is not to say the actors aren’t doing their job well, far from it. I’d categorize these supporting characters are functional characters more than fully formed people. Yes, there are allusions to backstories for these people but their current state of affairs are not compelling enough to make me care. Ranvir Shorey’s “douchebag” character is cringeworthy at best and some choice words I’d rather not use at worst. Some of the dialogues they are given are stilted and function as exposition dumps which do not help the cause.
The film suffers from weird ebbs and flows. There are these exceptionally tense scenes sandwiched between long stretches of nothingness. The film’s energy level dips constantly. A tighter edit and shorter scenes might have gone a long way in making this film a hugely more enjoyable experience.
That being addressed, I’d highly recommend this film to people and ask them to look at it from an insular perspective. The character work put into Shutu and how deftly his mental deterioration is handled impressed me to no end. I’d not go as far as to call his mental condition depression, as I’m clearly not qualified enough to make assumptions when the film doesn’t do it itself, but a deep dive into a young man’s much-damaged psyche executed with the slow-burn it deserves is commendable show of a first time director’s fortitude.