An Jo on ‘A Death in the Gunj’

– Spoilers ahead

The first scene of ‘A Death in the Gun’ itself kind of informs the audience as to how the movie might shape out. Gulshan Devaiah’s Nandu and Ranveer Shorey’s Vikram open up the trunk of a blue-colored Ambassador car and talk, as a matter-of-factly, about twirling the body in a fetal shape: You will know at the end the significance of that scene. What is a fetal position? It is just the stage/state before you are born from the womb; the child then born sees the out-side world, but it still is oblivious to the world’s and its human inhabitants’ machinations. Its brain is still not mapped with tricks. This is hardly a horror movie; well, in a way, yes, it does talk about the horrors of not being worldly-wise.

This movie is a terrific treatise in character-study; and I find a lot of similarities with Arthur Fleck’s character-arc and that of Vikrant Massey’s Shutu: While it is bullying in ‘Joker’, it is invisibility in the ‘Gun.’ Every character is so well-detailed, and the actors so well-fit for their roles, it is a great feat that Konkona has pulled off as a director. Initially, I was starting to get put-off by these characters speaking in English, I started getting skeptical – and I am not a fan of the ‘award-waapsi’ members – but smoothly, unknowingly, Konkona took me into the era of the decline of the Anglo-Indians. I never realized it until I saw the attention that was paid in the film to cuisine and cutlery: Or the casual comfort of the members of the family, including women, in 1979, drinking, and enjoying smoking. [In 1979 also, smoking and drinking killed, per the censor board.]

The movie spans 7 days, and in those 7 days, Konkona peels apart each and every character’s nature as though she is peeling onions. Per every layer peeled, there’s a hit in your eyes. There is Nandu’s authority, there is Vikram’s so-called    ‘masculinity’, there’s Tanuja’s conveniently used traditionalism, there’s Kalki’s inherent, confused nature that she covers up with a use-and-throw mentality, there’s Bonnie’s on-the-wire act between conservatism-as-a-wife and as a ‘friend’ to her hubby with whom she shares a drink and a light, and then there’s Om Puri’s character as the father of Nandu. He is great as the drunkard Mr. Bakshi who still has a rifle that doesn’t fire bullets – no pun intended – and doesn’t recognize the difference between a grandchild missing and a puppy gone AWOL.

This movie is based on a short story by Mukul Sharma –Konkona’s father. No wonder Konkona has a deeper insight into the story. Shuttu is an artiste, a 23-year-old-guy who failed his college exams, keeps drawing pictures of frogs, keeps a log of his favorite English words from A to Z, and most importantly, so subdued, that he prefers the company of his 8-year-old niece rather than the company of adults. In a very poignant scene, he and his niece Tani, visit the so-called ‘family-trees’, i.e. having their names scratched on the trunks of trees; and Tani asks, ‘I don’t see your name Shutti.’ And Shutti is busy just throwing a rope and adjusting it around the branches of the tree, he doesn’t even notice, because his family doesn’t notice him, and we don’t notice him. It’s a great scene, and a terrific ‘clue’ towards the finale, and a great thread that the director and the writers use to tie between this scene and the climactic scene.

Vikrant Massey’s character-arc and his efforts in show-casing them are truly admirable. The script/story, gives him props: a) Before, and during his and his extended family’s stay in McCluskieganj – what a name – he is almost the only errand boy. He is a ‘close’ relative, but only an observer. He’s the one who doesn’t drink, but pours drinks b) He fetches vegetables, but is always the last one to get served c) He is the guy who is supposed to be responsible for Tani. He is just there; there are actions, but there’s no visibility. They are captured beautifully by Konkona in the plainest of scenes: Kalki asking him to light her cigarette after a drunken sexual encounter; Vikram ordering him to open up the cap of his flask, and then, asking him to put it back on again: He gives a sip of the drink to Nandu, but not to Shutti. When Tani queries him about his diary, he mentions he has favorite words for every English alphabet. When it comes to ‘E’, Konkona specifically stresses on ‘Eclectic’, and ‘Eulogy.’ Remember that. And Tani passes off ‘Eclectic’ as ‘Eclairs.’ He plays chess and wins; nobody cares. He plays kabaddi, although he is pulled into the game as an after-thought, after the domestic help is pulled in, still beats Vikram, and gets his face mauled. What does the family notice? His scars, not his victory. You see, he is swimming against the norms of society, and its definition of masculinity. He draws, he writes, he is not a gun-lover, is grieving his father’s death and unable to come out of it. One of the most horrid sentences that a man could ever hear is this: “You are so pretty; you could almost be a girl.” Kalki says this to Shutti, and it carries a pro-found meaning as to meeting the expectations of society, of family, of traditions. That sentence piles on a hundred pounds onto our pre-conceived notions as to how a man and a woman should operate in society. A massive truth, captured in the most minimal of words. Albeit aided by these props, Massey delivers a powerful performance and you can see the smile/radiance vanish from his face bit-by-bit, scene-by-scene, emotion-by-emotion, until he just withers down. This, is where, Shutti’s life started, and perhaps stopped, captured so beautifully in the scene where Tani is swinging along on a tire with Shutti as the only company.

When it comes to family trees, it is ‘blood’ that matters and is thicker than water; not scratching names on family trees with knives, and that is conveyed beautifully by Konkona.

Not that the ‘invisible’ person in a family or a society-themes haven’t been dealt before. You have ‘Peepli Live’, ‘Saheb’, ‘Pyaar Jhukta Nahin’, and many more in the commercial format that have expressed these emotions. However, this is a deeply-rooted character study, without any frills and fusses, and a highly impressive directorial, a gem of film.


5 Responses to “An Jo on ‘A Death in the Gunj’”

  1. sanjana Says:

    This is a good movie which i watched long back. I will try to watch it once more.


  2. Also, it should be ‘Shutu’, not ‘Shuti’ – apologize


  3. Beautiful review AnJo, the minute details that you go into and offer perspective is amazing .
    I too liked Vikrant’s performance a lot, felt the movie was a bit slow pace though.
    Also, I did not realize that the writer of the movie is Konkana’s father .


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