A Death In The Gunj marks the directorial debut of Konkona Sensharma. Based on the original short story by Mukul Sharma (who, I read or heard somewhere, is related to Konkona), A Death In The Gunj is about what happens to a family that decides to spend a few days in the 1970s McCluskieganj, a small, sleepy hilly town in the outskirts of Ranchi, then in the state of Bihar.
First things first, allow me to warn you that if you are a lover of fast-paced thrillers, A Death In The Gunj could be a bit of a disappointment. The film is not much of a thriller as it is drama at its core and gives it the thriller-y feel is the title above all else, which lays bare the fact that there’s an impending death happening and from the word go, you keep guessing. But this guessing game doesn’t take control over you, for Konkona’s exceptional actors keep you hooked with their histrionics. In fact, the story in itself is not very mind-blowing. If you ask me to sum it up, I would probably say, “A family outing gone wrong”. It’s that simple. But what makes the film tick is how Konkona handled it.
Written by Konkona and Disha Rindani, the screenplay is near-perfect for a film of this kind. The pacing could have been better but that would mean A Death In The Gunj would have been deprived of its soul. The film’s brightest moments are the slow ones. It’s in these little moments that Konkona brings about the best in her actors. Some of the characters are underwritten, I must admit, but all of them are given their moments. The first half of the film sets the mood while the second is where emotions become more pronounced, and the air turns calmly intense. There is no shouting at the top of the voice, no blood-curdling shrieks, hardly any jump-scares. Everything unfolds with the calm and composure of a silent home with normal people who do not have secrets. But reality is, of course, different.
The weakest portion of the film is what should have been the strongest. I did not see the climax coming, honestly (but some would and did) but after you finish the film, you realize that it was only waiting to happen all along. But again, I also think the film could have ended in several different ways, some more satisfying than the one that made the cut, in fact.
I would not trade any of these actors for anyone else. Casting is pitch-perfect. Kalki Koechlin as Mimi The Seductress, Tilotama Shome as Bonnie, Jim Sarbh as Brian, Gulshan Devaiah as Nandu, Konkona’s ex-husband Ranvir Shorey as the hot-headed Vikram, late Om Puri as O.P are perfect and pitch in fine performances. But the film belongs to Vikrant Massey (besides Konkona). He plays Shuttu, the innocent college-going boy who is also everybody’s handyman, someone’s babysitter and nearly-everyone’s target of playful bullying. Vikrant is a gifted artist and his portrayal of Shuttu with his many emotions testifies it. He is an absolute delight to watch. It would be a shame if he doesn’t bag many roles in the future.
I’m going with 3.5 out of 5 for A Death In The Gunj. It is available on Amazon PrimeVideo for watching.
PS: All the images are YouTube screenshots from the film’s official trailer.