'Death In The Gunj'
Director: Konkana SenSharma
Cast: Vikrant Massey, Ranvir Shorey, Kalki Koechlin, Tillotama Shome
The last time I watched a Mukul Sharma story on screen was Ek Thi Daayan, four years ago. A novel attempt to revive original horror stories of India, the film had Konkona SenSharma effortlessly bring alive a daayan from forklore. In her directorial debut, 'Death In The Gunj', Konkona uses one of her father's memorable stories to spin a tapestry of intrigue, keeping it brimming with emotions of dejection, hurt, passion and love. She sets her story in the quaint town of Mc Cluskieganj, with a bunch of conflicted characters.
What starts off as a bland family vacation ends in a tragedy. It could have been a thriller, but Konkona doesn't focus on the suspenseful strands. She rather lets her story unfold like poetry where characters matter more than the tale itself. There is Suttu aka Shyamal, a timid, aimless child bullied like the youngest one in the family always is. He is snapped at, made to do menial jobs and is the butt of all jokes. Vikrant Massey plays the part to the tee.
He is grappling with depression, coming to terms with his father's death. His vacation is an attempt to alienate from the pain, but as the events unfold, his hurt and anger only fortify.
The beauty of this film is that it allows you to empathise with each character in equal measures, never painting any of them in a singularly homogeneous bold stroke. With the underlying emphasis on masculinity, the film decodes how the concept and its tropes have far reaching effects on people and their confidence. Ranvir Shroey as a uber cool man helps decode how the alpha male thinks - guns, punches and infidelity. Kalki is stuck with a tricky part, a woman way too fickle to commit but her eyes are filled with hurt every time she finds her lover with his socially acceptable wife. She makes out with the next guy in her drunken state, but gets over it as quickly.
Supporting actors Om Puri, Tanuja, Tillotama Shome, Jim Sarbh and the young Arya Sharma are top notch. But the man you can't take your eyes off is Vikrant, who shines in the potent part. His pain shows in his eyes and his trembling voice brings out his low confidence. He desperately wants to belong with the cool gang of his household, but he never can - a reality he can't accept.
What doesn't work for the film is the death itself, one you can spot from a distance. But the film must be devoured for other reasons. Why not laud a brave first-timer who dares to think out of the box? The film is testimony to Konkana's grand vision and penchant for experimentation. Who knows what experience can do to her skills?
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