A DIS­TINCT VOICE

India Today - - LEISURE - —Suhani Singh

Konkana Sensharma’s di­rec­to­rial de­but A Death in the Gunj starts on a deadly note: two men driv­ing around with a corpse. But so as­sured is Sensharma in her sto­ry­telling that in the next two hours, for the most part, she has the au­di­ence en­gaged in a family so­journ that they know will end badly. Adapt­ing a story writ­ten by her fa­ther, Mukul Sharma, Sensharma weaves a com­pelling drama where all the char­ac­ters have shades of grey.

Mist and a sense of un­ease hang in the air in pic­turesque McClusk­ie­ganj of the 1970s. Twenty­some­thing Shutu (Vikrant Massey), with his with­drawn de­meanour and a se­cret up his sleeves, is the odd one out in the family, his melan­cho­lia fur­ther set­ting him apart. He is more at ease in the com­pany of Tani, an eight­year­old girl, than the adults who mock and lec­ture him. Dom­i­nant among them is the flam­boy­ant Vikram (Ran­vir Shorey), who, when he isn’t ha­rass­ing Shutu, is cheat­ing on his wife with a family friend, Mimi (Kalki Koech­lin). Sensharma leaves moral judge­ments to the view­ers while show­ing how all the mem­bers—Shutu’s cousin Nandu (Gul­shan De­va­iah), his wife Bon­nie (Til­lotama Shome) and the el­ders played by Tanuja and Om Puri—are com­plicit in the tragedy that un­folds.

The film works best when it presents a lived­in por­trait rather than a pic­ture­per­fect one of the family, an in­sti­tu­tion oth­er­wise much sanc­ti­fied on the big screen. The family’s con­cern for Shutu comes with good in­tent but also car­ries moral en­ti­tle­ment and lacks sen­si­tiv­ity. Mirth here comes only at the ex­pense of the weak. The nar­ra­tive could have been tighter—Sensharma loses fo­cus in the mid­dle, pack­ing in more char­ac­ters than she can han­dle (Tanuja, Puri and Jim Sarbh have limited parts)— but there is no deny­ing that hers is a dis­tinct and very wel­come voice. The rev­e­la­tion here is Massey, whose alert eyes, crouched frame and con­stant­lyon­the­edge per­sona leaves one root­ing for the fal­li­ble hero.

SENSHARMA WEAVES A COM­PELLING DRAMA IN WHICH EV­ERY­ONE HAS SHADES OF GREY

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