A Death in the Gunj has created a lot of buzz since its release. To everyone hearing about this film now, it was actually released back in September 2016 for film festivals. It was screened at a film festival in Indian Habitat Centre (IHC) in May this year even before its release. So this film has been around for a long time, and after four months of trying (since February) to get a copy somehow, I finally saw it in the hall. And it was well worth the wait, almost!
A Death in the Gunj is by no stretch of imagination the best film of this year, but it’s still a fantastic one. It is a drama/thriller film, which in my opinion is one of the most mismatched combination of genres, along with Horror/Comedy (I don’t who even does this. I and a few friends of mine stumbled onto this on a night stay.).
A Death in the Gunj is more Drama than thriller. A Death in the Gunj has a huge cast of characters: Shutu (Vikrant Massey) as the sad, troubled (for the lack of a better word) cousin of Bonni (Tillotama Shome), who is the wife of Nandan/Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), and their child is Tani (Arya Sharma). Then, there are O.P. Bakshi (Om Puri) and Anupama Bakshi (Tanuja) as the parents of Nandu, whose house serves as the location for the film. Then there are friends of Nandu and Bonnie: Mitali (Mimi) (Kalki Koechlin), the weird and sultry friend, VIkram (Ranvir Shorey), the asshole (as in you’ll find him to be an asshole, but most of the characters think he isn’t), and Brian (Jim Sarbh), the friend whom we never get to know. Then there are the comic helpers of the Bakshi’s, Manjiya and I forgot the name of his wife. Apparently no site mentions these characters’ full names or the actors. So they are either not given enough importance, or are not actors. Which feels wrong, because their name should have been mentioned.
The film pays a lot of attention to the characters and the interaction between the characters. It takes its start sloooooooowwwww. I think what Konkana Sensharma did was flesh out the characters by their interactions. For eg- You get to know about one side of Shutu when he is with Tani, and another side when he is with Nandu, and another when he is with Mimi. So, you never truly explicitly get to know the characters well, or what the others feel about everyone, because the relation between Bonni and Shutu isn’t very well fleshed out, and the relation between Nandu and his father only stays at the surface. Or why nobody every questions or says anything about Vikram being an asshole (God he is such an asshole, all throughout. So is Nandu as well, so I guess that’s why they never realise). While I do admire what Konkana Sensharma has done, I couldn’t help but feel that there was a lot missing from the characters. The characters, except Shutu are largely 1D, especially Brian who is 0.5D.
The acting though, by all of them was superb! I came to the acting portion of the movie only two hours after the movie. It felt strange, because I never noticed the acting, even while watching the movie; which isn’t something I do. That’s when it hit me. They were all (the cast) so natural and so lifelike, with their weird mannerisms, stupid antics and their spot on odd 1970’s hairstyles (The movie is set in 1979 BTW), that you never realise any of them is acting.
One thing I did while watching the movie was guess who would die in the film. It says a DEATH, why not have some extra fun? I actually tried to make up reasons why some character or the other would die and how. Also, all of you will get a warning about Paranormal activities at the start of the film. Let me just inform you that there is very minimal paranormal stuff going on. The disclaimer makes it look more serious than it actually is and take it with a pinch of salt. That disclaimer really distracted me, because I kept on thinking that there would be some paranormal element, which there wasn’t. Thank you Pehlaj Nehani.
Konkana Sensharma has overall done an amazing job at direction. I think this is one of the best directorial debuts I’ve seen in my life. I wouldn’t be surprised that she receives tons of nominations for her work here. The pacing of the film is a bit slow however. It takes a lot of time to set the characters up properly, and there are some scenes here and there which could have been trimmed, and shorten the movie up by five minutes or so. It doesn’t seem like much, but those five minutes could make the movie crisper. The cinematography is outstanding as well, to say the least. There were two shots of McCluskieganj which were so beautiful, like right out of a game or a Japanese movie. The trees, the terrain around them, all seen through the mist from an overview. Phenomenal. That is the most beautiful scene I have ever seen in a film.
Even if A Death in the Gunj hadn’t been a debut, it would’ve still been a phenomenal film. There isn’t much to hate on in this film, though a lot to love. It’s a natural film, like the flow of the ocean with some low tides and a high tide.