A Death in the Gunj
Cast: Vikrant Massey, Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey, Om Puri
Director: Konkona Sen Sharma
Trailer length: 3 minutes 22 seconds
THRILLED TO DEATH
If trailers are to be compared to appetisers, A Death in the Gunj gives us finger food that can make you forget further courses. It is rich with possibility. It whets the appetite, yes, but in many ways, this starter is meal enough. The trailer has tremendous repeat value. Watch it ten times over and you’ll still find something novel to detect. The details are scrumptious. Be it the erotic unbuckling of a belt or the death of an insect, even the smallest of moments in this three-and-a-half minute preview are charged with meaning that seems both, unfamiliar and relatable. Konkona Sen Sharma may not have done herself any favours. Her directorial debut now carries with it the burden of great expectations.
Set in 1979 and in the Jharkhand hill station of McCluskiegunj, there’s something a little Lootera (2013) about A Death in the Gunj. Atmospheric specificity apart, Vikrant Massey exaggerates that link. The Devdas of Lootera has been given a role here that looks meatier, one that should perhaps do more justice to his talent than those parts in teleserials like Dharam Veer and Balika Vadhu. Massey’s Shutu appears to be coming of age in Death. Having finished his exams, he is the one who brings in the luggage. He fetches a shawl. It is expected that he’ll look after the dog. Quite obviously a pushover, he’s easily scared. Masculinity is something that Massey will discover for a nerdy Shutu.
Kalki Koechlin (Margarita with A Straw, Waiting) becomes that bridge which helps Shutu cross over from late adolescence to early adulthood. He stares at her legs and smells her hair with a desire that is evidently newfound. Ranvir Shorey (Khosla Ka Ghosla, Titli), with his half-unbuttoned high-collared shirts, plays the bully who has it in for Shutu from the start. These characters are all on a family vacation and Konkona Sen Sharma has chosen some of our finest actors to make her cast. After we saw him play a hijacker in Neerja, Jim Sarbh will again be seen in Death. Gulshan Devaiah (Shaitan, Hunterrr) and Tillotama Shome (Monsoon Wedding, Qissa) are instantaneously convincing, while Om Puri and Tanuja bring a heft to this ensemble that will make even the more cynical cinephile salivate.
It’s hard not to think of Satyajit Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest) when watching this trailer. The 1970 film seems to share a narrative pattern with Death – the protagonists all go on holiday to a region that’s relatively secluded. They encounter tribal life and each of their lives change over the course of their trip. But a sense of unease which was palpable in Aranyer is doubly amplified in Death. The film, from the looks of things, will hinge on the disappearance of a child, Tani. Shutu, with whom Tani had struck an instant friendship, will suddenly become an object of suspicion. Ranvir Shorey will violently wrestle him to the ground. Blood will trickle down a tree and as a mystery begins to unravel itself, worlds, we can now safely decipher, will transform forever.
The characters of Death once sit around, summoning ghosts by candlelight. We see a dead chicken and a machete in focus. The silhouette of a man with a gun can be seen standing by a door. Konkona Sen Sharma has directed a film that promises to be equally menacing and entertaining. Jodie Foster and Nandita Das are great examples of actresses who have made that transition from actress to director seamlessly. But for Sen Sharma, she can find a yardstick closer home. With films such as 36 Chowringhee Lane and Mr and Mrs Iyer, Aparna Sen developed a cinematic language that was all her own. Her daughter, with a film that is bilingual and seemingly riveting, is all set to further that idiom. One can only complain that those at the Toronto International Film Festival will see Death before us.