A DEATH IN THE GUNJ Movie Review: Konkona Sen Sharma writes and directs a movie

 

2/5

 

That’s the sum and substance of the film. It’s a commendable effort of an excellent actor and first time director to put together a competent cast and crew and shoot a film based on her father’s story and give it an intriguing title like A DEATH IN THE GUNJ. As the film unfolds you get to know that ‘Gunj’ is actually the Hindi word for a kasbah or township, used as a suffix i.e. McLeod GANJ or Rakaab GANJ, etc.  

 

The ostensibly supernatural thriller cum dark comedy is set in the Santhal heartland, the town of McCluskieganj, somewhere in the erstwhile Bihar (now in Jharkhand), in the late sixties and early seventies when bell-bottoms and long hair were in fashion among urban Indians. It’s about a family get together. Nandan Bakshi (Gulshan Devaiah), and his wife Bonnie (Tillotama Shome), are visiting their parents O.P. Bakshi (Om Puri) & Anupama Bakshi (Tanuja) with their 7-year old daughter Tani (Arya Sharma). They plan to celebrate New Year away from Calcutta and in McCluskieganj where OP and Anupama lead a retired life. Shyamlal Chatterjee aka Shutu (Vikrant Massey), Nandan’s younger cousin, and Mitali aka Mimi (Kalki Koechlin), some distant relative, are also accompanying them. Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) another relative, recently married and who stays in the same area, joins them too and carries on his old clandestine lust affair with Mimi.

 

Shutu is the regular punch bag and butt of joke of the family because of his docile nature and age. He is also fatherless. His father apparently had stayed in McCluskieganj earlier. He is supposed to be a brilliant student but his father’s death has affected him badly and he has failed in exams. He hides this from the family until aunt Anupama gets a letter from his worried mother.

 

The story revolves around Shutu and how he is mocked and harassed by his cousins. Shutu apparently likes Mimi but he is too docile for a girl like her. He also knows about what’s going on between flamboyant prankster Vikram and her. Shutu’s constant harassment and mistreatment by the group aggravates his inner turmoil and neurosis leading to terrible consequences. 

 

The writer-director puts in painstaking effort in recreating a familial Bengali milieu and succeeds largely. She also sexes it up, adds interesting juicy bits here and there, and keeps you engaged. Actors perform creditably, fluently, and confidently in stagy scenarios. However, she seriously falters in developing the main premise of the film effectively and cogently. The relentless harassment of Shutu by everyone in the family is indigestibly and inexplicably crude.

 

Moreover, you never get to make out if it’s a supernatural thriller, or a film about the dark side of rivalry among cousins, or a slice of life depiction of the foibles, fetishes and idiosyncrasies of an Anglicized Bengali family.

 

As a debutant, she offers no new cinematic perspective or breakthroughs. The significance of the film merely lies in its having been written and directed by her.  

 

2/5

 

Directed by Konkona Sen Sharma, Produced by Ashish Bhatnagar, Vijay Kumar Swami, Raagii Bhatnagar, Honey Trehan, Abhishek Chaubey, Neil Patel (co-producer), Screenplay by Konkona Sen Sharma, Story by Mukul Sharma, Starring- Vikrant Massey, Tillotama Shome, Gulshan Devaiah, Om Puri, Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey, Tanuja, Jim Sarbh, Music by Sagar Desai, Cinematography by Sirsha Ray, Edited by Aarif Sheikh, Manas Mittal, Production companies - MacGuffin Pictures, Studioz IDrream, Moh Maya Films (presenter)

Rajesh Kumar Singh

@khulkebolo @neelnabh

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