MacGuffin Pictures, Studioz IDrream & Moh Maya Films present – “Death In The Gunj.”
Produced by: Ashish Bhatnagar, Vijay Kumar Swami, Raagii Bhatnagar, Honey Trehan & Abhishek Chaubey
Directed by: Konkona Sen Sharma
Written by: Mukul Sharma, Konkona Sen Sharma & Disha Rindani
Music: Sagar Desai
Starring: Kalki Koechlin, Vikrant Massey, Om Puri, Tanuja, Gulshan Devaiah, Tilottam Shome, Ranvir Shorey, Arya Sharma, Jim Sarbh, Promila Pradhan & others
Fifteen years after her mother Aparna Sen gave us the unforgettable “Mr & Mrs Iyer” starring Konkona Sen Sharma, this reel Mrs. Iyer decides to take on the mantle of director and (main) writer, go behind the camera, and present yet another drama-based story of characters in a real and, in fact, almost sylvan setting. Yet, there is a dark feel, not of the unpalatable kind, but in the generally sensed undercurrents of many of the lead characters.
The idea is clearly to make the audiences start and keep guessing on who will be a victim and who the murderer, as death is suggested by the title. Thankfully, the film does not get into heavy psychological avenues, and we get flesh-and-blood characters, set in the late ‘70s, who are upper crust, living in a town in Bihar (then, now Jharkhand) that still has some remnants of the colonial culture—McCluskieganj, a relic from British days.
There is a minor slip (a child mentioned as being addicted to television, which in its addictive form began post-1982!), and some ambiguous angles, like what exactly is the psychological base of Shutu (Vikrant Massey), who is treated as a child at 23, even as he proves himself to be a complete adult in sexual matters.
The exact relationship between aggressive Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Shutu is almost like a red herring. The other lead characters—Brian (Jim Sarbh), the MCP-ish Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah) and his almost mercurial wife Bonnie (Tilottama Shome), the rebellious ex-flame of Vikram, Mimi (Kalki Koechlin)— are all case studies of normally abnormal adults!
Stabilizing influences in the story are the hosts, the Bakshis (Om Puri and Tanuja), and, despite their sketchy roles that do not exactly grow or go anywhere, the veterans effortlessly create endearing characters. Kalki Koechlin is very believable as Mimi, etching the perfect balance between the normal side of her character and her eccentric-cum-stubborn nature. Arya Sharma as Tani is natural.
Vikrant Massey as Shutu is a scene-stealer, holding several sequences as a man of layers, who refuses to talk to her mother on the trunk line (as STD calls were termed then), succumbs to Mimi’s charms, is used to be being taken for granted yet resentfully accepting about it, gets along famously with the small and innocent Tani, is constantly ribbed about small things, generally submissive and at the same time ambitious.
Perfect material for a smoldering murderer? Maybe, but then, Shutu also has decided to do something that is at odds with such plans.
Writer-director Sharma lets the grip slacken often, and that is the major faux pas of this otherwise well-told tale of suspense that gets to the point from scene one (a body taken out of a morgue and somehow fitted into the boot of a car) and is then narrated from a week earlier in chapter form, from Day One to Day Seven. The dialogues are a slice-of-life highlight, seamlessly blending English, Bangla, and Hindi with the ever-present and well-done English subtitles.
Sagar Desai’s music is alright, but special pats to the camerawork (Shirsha Ray) and the production design (Siddharth Sarohi). Of course, top marks to the casting director (Honey Trehan) for having done her job bang-on, while doubling up as one of the producers.
“Death In The Gunj” has everything going for it as a film, and we hope that the niche movie breaks even as it releases alongside two Hollywood and four or five, mostly nondescript, Hindi movies on a crowded Friday. As a thriller, it ambles as placidly as a Jack Diickson Carr novel or an old-fashioned British story, and the climax is actually implosive rather than explosive.