A Death In The Gunj And Its Violent Cycles Of Masculinity

Writer-director Konkona Sen Sharma makes brilliant use of atmospheric horror to instil a disturbing apprehension of doom among the viewers
A Death In The Gunj And Its Violent Cycles Of Masculinity

A Death in the Gunj is a 2016 family-drama movie directed by Konkona Sen Sharma. She makes brilliant use of atmospheric horror to instil a disturbing apprehension of doom among the viewers. Set in 1978, Ranchi, the movie begins with seven family members gathering at McCluskiegunj to spend a short winter vacation. Subsequently, the movie follows a slow but uncomfortable descent into development of complex emotions without any resolution to them. The movie has an ensemble cast of Vikrant Massey, Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiah, Ranvir Shorey, Jim Sarbh, Tilottoma Shome, Tanuja and Om Puri. All of them are aptly selected to bring out an almost perfect expansion of their characters through the 110 minutes of its running time. 

Vikrant Massey plays the protagonist of the movie, Shutu. Shutu is a gentle and sensitive boy who has recently lost his father. He is struggling to come to terms with the overwhelming sense of loss and this turmoil has resulted in instability in both his academic and personal life. To escalate this internal disorder further, his emotional vulnerability is ignored for the most part by his family. However, he is able to build a relationship with the youngest member in the family. The relationship between the 8-year-old Tani and Shutu is tender and represented through affectionate cinematography.

A Death In The Gunj And Its Violent Cycles Of Masculinity
First Shot Last Shot: Konkona Sensharma’s A Death In The Gunj

They spend time against muted backgrounds carrying out mundane activities. Shutu finds comfort in Tani because he is unable to find relief in the other members of the family who are constantly trying to make Shutu imbibe traits of violence and coarseness. Be it in a game of kabaddi or through cruel pranks, Shutu is always seen to be the feeble link who is at the receiving end of the banter. 

Throughout the movie we witness an upsurge of blatant expressions of toxic masculinity. Shutu’s cousin (Gulashan Devaiah) has no sympathies for him and says that he must learn to be a man and take up the mantle of responsibility left behind by his father. His masculinity manifests itself through physical violence when he teaches Shutu how to drive. During the lesson, he smacks Shutu and tells him that his father taught him though similar methods.

A Death In The Gunj And Its Violent Cycles Of Masculinity
A Death In The Gunj: An Unconventional Destination Film

Konkona Sen Sharma is not subtle while exhibiting the violent cycle of masculinity that is transferred through generations. Furthermore, we also see how transgressional characteristics are often punished violently by upholders of traditions of masculinity. Shutu is not interested in playing a boisterous game of kabaddi. He is forced to nonetheless and is consequently injured badly. However, this instance is shrugged off by an obvious statement of “boys will be boys.”

Sen Sharma succeeds in displaying the politics of hegemonic family structures. Gendered perspectives form layers of oppression within familial relationships. Consequently, these oppressions become suffocative and reach disastrous tipping points. Shutu’s sensitivities are boxed similarly. He is able to express his emotions only within pages of a notebook and hurriedly hides them away in fear of being uncovered as his vulnerability is an object of humour for his family members.

A Death In The Gunj And Its Violent Cycles Of Masculinity
A Death In The Gunj Seeks to Press Pause on Life

Shutu’s sensitivity makes him feel increasingly alienated. The viewers in turn experience the same kind of suffocation. The audience is made to feel constantly uncomfortable with the metaphorical exhibitions of violent machismo. However, Shutu’s alienation attains saturation in a very physical and brutal form of isolation. On a cold night Shutu is forgotten in a ditch by his family in a wolf infested forest. He is found by the house help and Shutu’s predicament appears to be as hilarious to him as horrifying it was for Shutu.

A Death in the Gunj has elements of horror snugly packed within its crevices. Set in an isolated home in an alien town, Sen Sharma makes use of canonised aspects of horror to set unease from the beginning. These elements intersect with the violence and horror of the intangible aspect of toxic masculinity. The family members plan a planchette to prank Shuttu into believing a spirit is going to kill him. With Shutu already struggling to grasp the perception of death, the men in the family add more complications for the emotionally distraught Shutu. The titular ‘death’ in the title of the movie refers to a physical death as well as an emotional one brought to fruition through violent masculinity. 

A Death In The Gunj And Its Violent Cycles Of Masculinity
Download The Script Of A Death In The Gunj

The atmospheric motifs of horror come full circle towards the end of the movie. The movie begins with Devaiah and Sarbh stashing a dead body in the car trunk. The movie accordingly ends with them driving off in the same car only with an added cargo in the backseat. The cargo is representative of the violence both physical and emotional charged through masculinity. The titular ‘death’ is hinted at through various points in the movie.

Through glorification of old guns and consequently the orthodox machismo attached to them, the movie makes the viewers aware of what is to occur. Sen Sharma pulls the viewers into a story of familial structures and makes them witness the horrors of gender roles.

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