Every time I watch Konkona Sensharma’s A Death In The Gunj, I take out something different from it. Every single time I’ve had a bias towards some other character, I like some scene more than another, I fall in love with just another dialogue. But what doesn’t change is my love for Sensharma’s writing. When I watched the film today, I fell in love with Tillotatma Shome’s Bonnie.
Bonnie is a kind of person we would meet in our everyday life. She’s a protective mother, the perfect daughter-in-law, a loving wife and an amazing friend, whether to Mimi or Vikram or Brian or even Shutu for that matter. She has a beautiful collection of sarees and shawls, she smokes with a kind of sass and ease at the same time which is tough to pull. Konkona seems to have taken a lot of time (and done a lot of research) while writing this character. And even though, all of us have a Bonnie in our lives, there is something different about Sensharma’s Bonnie.
What works best for this character is the impeccable acting by Tillotama Shome. I had perhaps fallen in love with her craft in Monsoon Wedding. She’s recently played powerful roles in Qissa and Hindi Medium as well. Though her role in Hindi Medium is short, she owns the screen even when Irrfan Khan is on screen. Shome has always had a hold over the character she plays, no matter what she plays. Even in ADITG, Shome plays Bonnie like no one else could have. Even though I felt that Priyanka Bose and Sensharma herself would have played this character with equal ease, but Shome brings a certain texture to Bonnie that maybe just she could have. The raising of eyebrows, the (so natural) laughter at the dinner table, the tears in her eyes when Tani is lost, the irritation on her face when Mimi isn’t done cutting the tomatoes, everything is done with a kind of natural grace that we don’t see so regularly in Hindi Cinema.
This is a kind of a film that Sensharma would have been a part of as an actor…
We are all very well versed with Konkona Sensharma’s ability as an actor. With movies like Mr and Mrs Iyer, Omkara, Wake Up Sid and more to her credit, she’s proved to the world that she is an excellent actor, with perfection being her forte. A Death in the Gunj is her first attempt at direction and that too is an example of excellence of art.
There always are certain movies that you watch and think:
It couldn’t have gotten better.
I haven’t seen such a beautiful work of art in long.
I am not even going to watch a film as good in a long time.
That is A Death in the Gunj for you.
The film traces the story of Shutu (Vikrant Massey), who is the unsaid protagonist – a 23 year old student who is considered to be a child by everyone else. Shutu, along with his family – Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), his wife Bonnie (Tillotama Shome), their daughter Tani (Arya Sharma) and Mimi (Kalki Koechlin) have come to visit Aunty (Tanuja Mukherjee) and Uncle (Om Puri) in McCluskieganj for New Years. There also are Brian (Jim Sarbh) and Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) who are Nandu’s friends. The film is about this dysfunctional family and how they go about the daily chores of life, sexual tension between some of them and their approach towards gender differences.
A Death in the Gunj is the retelling of real life incidents from Sensharma’s life. She traces the stories her parents used to tell her and carves a screenplay that is far away from artifice. It’s so good! The dialogues are short and crisp. While some of them are written in Hindi, most of them are in English, and that is what creates more of an impact.
With an ensemble cast of nine actors which includes a kid, A Death in the Gunj could have just fallen apart. But all the actors play their parts with equal grace and everything is in place. Gulshan Devaiah, Jim Sarbh, Om Puri, Tanuja Mukherjee and Tillotama Shome are all fine actors. No one has acted too much or too little. Kalki Koechlin and Ranvir Shorey are way beyond praise. Kalki’s portrayal of a broken Mimi, deprived of love is outstanding. The way she can seduce a man or even smoke a cigarette, are outstanding. The anger in Shorey’s eyes, the sense of superiority in his tone and the robustness of his body are all marvellous. But, among the entire cast, Vikrant Massey and Arya Sharma are standouts. I remember watching Massey in Lootera and falling in love with his craft. He is perfect as Shutu – there couldn’t have been a better alternative. As far as Arya is concerned, she has a long way to go.
Again, what is best in this thriller is the writing. It was like reading an Agatha Christie book. You will never know who is to actually die. Is it Tani, is it Shutu, or Vikram, or Mimi or someone else? Watch the movie to find out. Also, it is very difficult to not feel a part of this family. Sagar Desai’s background score is haunting. It sets the mood right as it compliments the writing in a very beautiful fashion.
Update: When I saw A Death In The Gunj for the second time, I noticed things I couldn’t have noticed had I not watched it again. This film not only belongs to Vikrant Massey and Aarya Sharma but equally to Kalki Koechlin too. She brings to the table different nuances of Mimi’s life, whether it’s the sexual tension inside of her, or a part of her, that maybe secretly loves. And as I pointed earlier, the biggest jewel in this crown is Sensharma’s writing. And we have seen such writing – with a smooth flair, a place for comedy, for tragedy even – earlier. But almost only once before this. Sensharma’s writing is, in fact, very close to Satyajit Ray’s. She’s not only a gifted writer, but over the years, she has definitely mastered her art, maybe through acting!
All in all, I will definitely recommend A Death in the Gunj to everyone whenever it releases, or if you can, catch a special screening like I did.
If I had to rate the film, 1200 seats hain Liberty Cinema mein. And it was house full. Soch lo what you might be missing…