'A Death in the Gunj' turns 4: Attacks toxic-masculinity boisterously
Konkona Sen Sharma stepped into the arena of direction with the layered, sensitive, nuanced film, A Death in the Gunj. Released in limited Indian theaters on this day in 2017, the film brought critical praise and awards for Sen Sharma and the talented cast, led by Vikrant Massey. Though Gunj bore ominousness in its title, the movie offered more tragedy than a death.
Massey played Shutu, a shy 23-year-old university student, who visits McCluskiegunj, a former Anglo-Indian hamlet along with his cousin Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), and his family. Set in 1979, Shutu continuously finds himself at the mercy of jokes and pranks. Things escalate quickly, when one member goes missing one day, leading to someone's death later. Sen Sharma tries to dissect who dies and why.
The award-winning actress wrote and directed this film. And the inspiration came from a story by her father, writer/journalist, Mukul Sharma. Sharma's short story, in turn, was based on a real-life incident. Sharma and his then-wife, actress/director Aparna Sen (mother of Sen Sharma) were actual frequenters to McCluskiegunj in the '70s. His story was spun around a game of planchette and its repercussions.
Recalling what prompted him to pen down such a scary story, Sharma said that one time he was doing planchette, and had asked the board who would die first. "When we came to our friend Chris Tripthorpe, I didn't say anything. He got scared and fled. And he died after that- got run over by a train. Many believed it was suicide," narrates Sharma.
This guilt of a prank gone wrong pushed Sharma to write the story. Coming to the treatment, in her approach, Sen Sharma distinguished Shutu from the other men in the movie right from the beginning. While Nandu, Brian (Jim Sarbh), and Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) drink like sailors, know how to be domineering, Shutu is suffering from his father's death, emotes fear more than anger.
Many times, Shutu is taught how to "man-up," which is by operating a gun or conquering emotions. But it was the last scene that haunts you. Shutu, mentally defeated, points a gun toward himself. A shot is fired, blood splashes, but we don't see who exactly gets killed. Sen Sharma clarified that Shutu did die, and the one in the car was a "ghost."
Not meant for mainstream cinema lovers, Gunj released on only 100 screens in the country. The 106-minute-long movie earned a little over Rs. 1 crore. It received eight nominations at the 63rd Filmfare Awards, with Sen Sharma winning the trophy for Best Debut Director.