A Touch of a Winter Sun — Death in the Gunj review

Konkona Sen Sharma debuts as a director with Death in the Gunj — a lovingly told story. While it was marketed as a thriller — the film is actually a meditative experience. Soon, you stop looking for a plot and become involved in the idiosyncrasies of a bunch of characters who feel strangely familiar. Maybe you have been the kid who tried to set fire to paper with a magnifying glass, or had an aunt who would unfailingly slip crisp currency notes into your hand, when you said your goodbyes at the end of your vacation — something about this movie transported me back into childhood. The film captures a time when things moved at a slower pace. And without being dull it invokes a full, inescapable, pleasant kind of boredom that we may have lost the capacity to experience, today. Who remembers swinging on a creaky metal gate for hours or peeling and chewing the tender white insides of a blade of grass? The cinematography plays a big role in making you feel these things. I haven’t seen anything sweeter than this in Bollywood except in Lootera in recent times. The music which is sort of ominous and creepy offers a nice counterpoint to the visuals, but did feel forced at times.

The casting and acting is pitch perfect. Nobody overplays their bit. Ranveer Sheorey is particularly good. He plays Vikram — an overly macho, deeply insecure man — a player past his prime, full of the false bravado of likeable bullies we know. A few scenes with the young kid Tani remind you of how cruel, self-centered and unfeeling kids can be. Or maybe I am projecting. But the heart of the film lies in Vikrant Massey ‘s performance as Shutu. While I have seen him in Lootera and Dil Dhadakne Do in this film he is a real revelation. Massey essays a complicated character. His body language, his fragile aura, his disheveled sexiness and his melancholic, unsure yet longing-for-love and affection- demeanor stays with you after the film is over. The writing works because Shutu is an absolute contrast to Ranvir Sheorey’s believably boorish character.

Shutu and Tani. Image Courtesy: Mens XP

For me, Death in the Gunj is good cinema, because the experience is greater than the sum of its parts. While some critics have found issues with the thinness of the plot and pacing — I would like to think this works for the film. While I was lulled by the languid pace of the film, the narrative veered off into unexpected territory. I was taken aback by how deeply I had identified with Shutu. The ending kept me guessing till the last minute. But the nicest thing about the writing and direction is that the film doesn’t rely on narrative crutches. For instance, there is no inclusion of incest to lend the film some substance (Highway anyone?), No gratuitous violence or unexplained murder to move things along. No backstory to explain the motivations of characters.

The principal characters Mimi, Shutu, Vikram — don’t appear decisive, they sort of meander into messy situations without thinking them through .And while NOT a thriller in the strictest sense — the film is suffused with unease. This feeling of discomfort remains even when characters pour tea, eat custard, go for picnics and ride bikes drunkenly. And it seems to me that this — weird claustrophobic, too-intense, always-messy feeling — lies at the heart of every family and close friendship . Or perhaps, this too, is me projecting. But you should go watch the film yourself and decide. For me, Death In the Gunj will remain as delicious as my memories of a fleeting, winter sun.

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