A Death In The Gunj (English- mixed): Still born

A Death In The Gunj is one of those films which reminds one of the mystery novels and movies from the British black-and-white era. A bunch of people, usually friends, family and extended family gather at a lonely — as in far from a civilisation — place for a vacation. Seemingly, there is laughter and bonhomie yet, the vibes are not good.

For such a story to be told, a film’s roster needs to be talented. And, on that count, the film is well equipped. The writer director being Konkona Sensharma, an industry person herself, her goodwill counts to this end to put together a good cast.

The characters of Om Puri and Tanuja live in a remote place called McCluskieganj, in Bihar (now Jharkhand). During the winter of late 70s, the couple’s family comes to visit. It includes Gulshan Devaiah, Tillotoma Shome, Arya Sharma, Vikrant Massey and Kalki Koechlin. Ranvir Shorey, Jim Sarbh, their local friends also join in.

The makers dont deem it necessary to enlighten you as to how they are related or what their connections are. They know each other from before but we, the viewers, don’t and that does not seem to matter! So one assumes, Om Puri and Tanuja are a retired old couple living a life of seclusion but peace in this far off place in a huge cottage surrounded by jungles. The character of Gulshan is their son and Tillotoma the daughter in law with Arya being the granddaughter. Vikrant is Tanuja’s nephew from her sister’s side. There is no way of placing Ranvir, Jim and Kalki except as family friends.

Among those gathered, Vikrant comes out as the odd man out. All pranks are made at his cost.

The place has no TV and the only transistor radio is monopolised by Om Puri for cricket updates. It is an open house and there is no taboo on alcohol or smoking. The crowd gets around to play old-fashioned games. Being of Bengali origin, the first try is planchette, a board game (?) about calling the souls of dead folks who are asked to reveal family secrets.

But, they are not really playing a game, they are all together in targeting Vikrant for no rhyme or reason and making him the butt of a practical joke. Next, they play kabaddi and, again, Vikrant is almost throttled when he seems to be winning.

Vikrant, who has had a bad time in college, is avoiding his widowed mother and is a total wreck mentally, comes to terms with the fact that not only is he not welcome here but also nobody cares if he lives or dies.

The script of the film expects the viewer to understand a lot without being told. What is happening and why stops mattering because if you ask your companion next to you, he/she is as much at loss as you are. By the time the film reaches its conclusion, which lacks logic, it makes the whole lot out on a vacation look like a bunch of sadists who derive more fun out of teasing and torturing an innocent young man looking for a shoulder to lean on than their planchette and kabaddi. Direction is average as in what could have been a 75 minute narration is stretched to 110 minutes and yet failing to establish connections as well as the purpose of torturing a down and out youth! There is no comic relief, music or visuals for distraction. Only sadism.

The casting is good as mentioned earlier, but the characters lack background. Om Puri and Tanuja, the two stalwarts, have nothing to do and they do it ably. Rest act well but to no avail. Vikrant Massey is the one excels.

Producers: Honey Trehan, Abhishek Chaubey, Raagi Bhatnagar, Ashish Bhatnagar, Vijay Kumar R Swami.

Director: Konkona Sensharma.

Cast: Tanuja, Om Puri, Gulshan Devaiyah, Tillotoma Shome, Vikrant Massey, Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey, Jim Sarbh, Arya Sharma, Promila Pradhan, Ashok Pathak, Saraswati Devi. 

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