A Death in the Gunj – Movie Review

Directed by:Konkona Sen Sharma
Written by: Konkona Sen Sharma, Disha Rindani
Music: Sagar Desai

Shutu (Vikrant Massey)
Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah)
Mimi (Kalki Koechlin)
O.P. Bakshi, Uncle (Om Puri)
Brian (Jim Sarbh)
Tani (Arya Sharma)
Bonnie (Tillotama Shome)
Vikram (Ranvir Shorey)
Aunty, Anupama Bakshi (Tanuja)

Paisa Vasooli: 3/5

A Death in the Gunj (ADITG) is a ticking time bomb which takes its own sweet time, tests your patience and explodes at a visceral level; leaving behind a thought-provoking debris of unanswered questions. Konkona gingerly mixes the elements of eerie and supernatural to paint a picture of an ostensibly happy family and its dynamics on a canvas of 70s nostalgia.

Plot:A family’s winter getaway doesn’t go exactly as planned.

The film quashes every sort of expectation one could derive from its title or teaser. It’s not a horror film neither a conventional suspense thriller. It does carry fine strokes of suspense and thrill but doesn’t let these elements take over the original intent. Gunj is not your regular fast paced entertainer but a sedate observer which gives you the rare opportunity to appreciate the subtle. Despite the runtime being 110 minutes, it carries the ability to make you fidgety as it never resorts to cheap thrills throughout its course. It determines its own pace and objective and never waivers.

Konkona – with her debut film – proves that she has inherited, in totality, the delicate and veridical nuances of filmmaking from her mother, the legendary Aparna Sen. Her character detailing is pure envy. She creates a perfect trip down memory lane for our parents’ generation. Her film has letter opener, trunk calls, Ambassador, Yezdi, Kabaddi, passbooks, moths for bookmarks, winter gowns among other things. Her characters lie down prostrate on the ground and burn ants with radiation through their magnifying glass – their favourite pastime. She never appears in a hurry to excite or enthuse her audience and deftly lets the story take a form and shape of its own.

Talking about performances, Vikrant finally gets the break he deserves. An explosive talent and a television regular, he has charmed the audience with his bit roles on celluloid too (Lootera being one of them). But with Gunj, he proves why he is such a talked-about-artist in the filmmaking space. As a remarkably talented but bullied and jumpy Shutu, Vikrant admirably reaches out to the audience with his pent up longing and pain. After his father’s demise, he yearns for a meaningful connect but amongst the group of bullies, fails to establish any and retreats further into his shell. Shutu is delicate, intelligent and calm with a gracious smile but lacks the conventional virility. Vikrant breathes life in these traits of Shutu.

Ranvir Shorey and Gulshan Devaiah are perfectly contemptible as friends with a perpetual hangover of masculinity and control. Shorey and Devaiah play bullies with distinct elan. Devaiah – in a scene where he instructs Shutu to drive – is an exact imitation of those family members (may include fathers too) from whom we never wanted to learn zilch, let alone driving, even if that meant not acquiring that particular skill at all. Both of them are such great artists, it’s a pity they don’t frequent the celluloid regularly.

Kalki and Tillotama Shome add yet another feather to their caps. As a careless mother who isn’t ready to take the blame, Tillotama is real as always. Kalki plays a seductress and does so in her own signature way. Jim Sarbh who took us by storm as an antagonist in Neerja is a delight despite limited screen time. Tanuja plays the level-headed mother and carves her own impressive space in the ensemble. The film comfortably rests on her shoulders and she proves – with dignity – that she is considered senior for a reason.
If only we could freeze-frame everytime Om Puri entered the scheme of things.

Gunj’s musical score is one of its crucial strengths. Sagar Desai’s melancholic tunes carefully complement the film’s visual imagery and nostalgia. Sirsha Ray’s photography deserves a special applause too. The chilly, blanket-clutching nights and lazy, sunny mornings of winter come alive on screen through his lens. His fog-filled panorama of Mcluskiegunj makes us long for winter already.

Verdict: If you are a compulsive flag-bearer of instant gratification, this film is not at all for you. On the other hand, if you are always on the lookout for stimulating works of art and open endings don’t make you go wild and vile, you may find Gunj appealing.


About Vikas Srivastava
A postgraduate from Symbiosis University & a digital marketing consultant, he loves being sarcastic as it's extremely healthy for the mind & adds up to 3 years to life as well. Cinema is to him what oxygen is to people. A voracious reader who never tolerates anything negative about Matthew Mcconaughey & Govinda.