A Death in the Gunj

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Good stories do something to us. They make us cross the line of disbelief. We stop being passive viewers of a film and become a part of the story. The first thing you will do after stepping out of the movie hall is to swear that you will go for a vacation to McCluskiegunj (Gunj for short). It is a hop step and jump from Ranchi in Jharkhand state. The film’s title is a reference to the town where the story is set.

The small town has about 20 of the original 300 Anglo-India families that settled there in 1932 at the invitation of Ernest McCluskie, a businessman from Calcutta. The tribal culture and the rapidly fading Anglo Indian groups create a unique flavour of the town. Then when you see the foggy mornings unfolding in McCluskiegunj, you will want to curl up under the quilt and watch the beautiful landscape.

Director Konkona Sen Sharma’s debut film is a thriller that opens with Nandu and Brian trying to stuff a body into the trunk of a car. They need to carry the body all the way to Calcutta (since the film is set in the seventies, it would be Calcutta and not Kolkata).

Family gatherings are always great settings to show the human dynamics. An event brings several family members together. Stuff happens, and the cracks begin to show in the seemingly “happy family”. This is the way this story unfolds too.

A Death in the GunjThis is the last week of 1978. Bonnie and Nandu live with their daughter Tani in Calcutta. They are on the way to McCluskiegunj in the characteristic blue Ambassador that will fill you with a sigh of nostalgia. Bonnie’s cousin brother Shutu (Vikrant Massey) and friend Mimi (Kalki Koechlin) are in the car with them. Bonnie’s parents OP (Om Puri) and Anupama (Tanuja) live in that sleepy town where everyone knows everyone. Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Brian who live in the Gunj are friends of Nandu, Bonnie and Mimi. All of them gang up every now and then to bully the easily scared and intimidated Shutu who has not yet come to terms with his father’s death.

The recently married Vikram is the loud-mouthed bully who was in a relationship with Mimi. He is the bully we all hoped never to meet in school or college. Vikram’s behaviour seems to give the others the permission to join in and bully Shutu. Vikrant Massey (take a bow) puts in a powerhouse performance as a grieving, sensitive introvert that makes the audience want to step in and protect Shutu. It reminds you of all the times when you were bullied. Or the times when you bullied someone who was powerless before you. Maybe you never bullied your friends. Maybe you never bullied a less fortunate colleague in the office…

The language in the film switches between Bengali, Hindi, English. The music is eclectic but never intrusive. Each character is well etched. The result is a film that builds up tension with each turn of the story through all the romance and lust and tears. It is like a gun that is cocked and the finger is pressing the trigger lightly and then the grip solidifies. You know that the gun will go off any time. When that happens, it is almost as if the death is a relief from the bullying. You have to see the film.

I have always thought of Konkona as a terrific actress. Now I think of her as a director to be watched. I can’t wait to watch the next film you direct, Konkona.

 

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