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A Tragedy Foretold

Saturday, June 03, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

A  Death In The Gunj
Director:
Konkona Sensharma
Cast: Vikrant Massey, Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiah, Tillotama Shome and others
Rating: * * *

Konkona Sensharma’s debut feature, 'A Death In The Gunj', has a fine ensemble cast, an unhurried pace and enough intrigue seething under a seemingly calm surface.

For some reason, it is set in 1979—so no modern gadgetry on display—in a cottage in McKluskieganj. Based on a story by Mukul Sharma, the film is like a piece of intense theatre, where emotions, motivations are casual cruelty and are revealed in layers. There is a needless piece of foreshadowing right at the start, which somewhat takes away from the slow-burning suspense.

The old Bakshi couple (Tanuja-Om Puri) have a bunch of visitors over the Christmas vacation at their large, isolated home—their son Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), his wife Bonnie (Tillotama Shome), daughter Tani (Arya Sharma), shy cousin Shutu (Vikrant Massey) and a friend Mimi (Kalki Koechlin); their friends Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Brian (Jim Sarbh) frequently disrupt the peace with their boisterousness arrival in noisy vehicles. There is some sexual tension between Vikram and Mimi, which the others pointedly ignore.

Shutu, deeply affected by his father’s recent death and failure in exams that he has hidden from the others, becomes the butt of a nasty prank; he is generally treated like a poor country cousin—the only one who befriends him is the bored kid, Tani, and he gets an occasional nod of kindness from his aunt.

Nothing much happens, the usual holiday fun and games, but there is an emotional churning going on that affects Shutu the most. The catalyst for the tragedy (the title of the film indicated a death) that follows is a New Year’s Eve party and Tani’s brief disappearance.

Vikrant Massey is perfectly cast as the vulnerable man-child, “pretty, like a girl,” as Mimi comments before she contributes to his destruction as unfeelingly as the others. The actors are all perfectly natural, and in sync with the others. It is a pleasure to watch Tanuja in one of her infrequent screen appearances

The location, music, cinematography all come together in an assured first film, that looks on Bengali and perhaps European cinema for inspiration, and does not pander to the box-office. There are longueurs and at least a couple of extraneous characters, but it’s the kind of film that requires patience.

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