I was not really clued into the promotional content that was sent out by the marketing team. So, given the title of the film, I went inside the theatres expecting a whodunit thriller. Konkona SenSharma's directorial debut does have the beats of a thriller but is essentially a drama that explores various themes through a melange of characters possessing different kind of traits that come to the fore organically as the film progresses.
Towards the end of the year 1978, Shutu (Vikrant Massey) accompanies his cousins and their families on a trip to McCluskieGunj, a sleepy town in Bihar (now in Jharkhand). They reside at their uncle OP Bakshi (Om Puri) and aunt Anupama's (Tanuja) place. Unlike his boisterous cousin Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), Shutu is reserved and deals with some simmering, internal issues all by himself. Shutu harbours romantic feelings for Mimi (Kalki Koechlin) who is besotted by the married Vikram (Ranvir Shorey).
The film gives you enough insights on each of the key players but it essentially revolves around Shutu. Slowly and in a very sure-footed manner, the film unravels his character and the deep, underlying issues lurking inside him. The reason why this drama feels like a thriller is that you find most of the characters revealing their traits slowly along the course of the film. Dark secrets and uncomfortable truths come to the fore when you least expect them to. The milieu and the atmosphere contribute greatly towards building up the tension. The title of the film and the opening sequence do a good job of making you believe that it is a murder mystery and then, it gradually dispels that notion and puts across a storyline which you do not expect the unfold the way it does. At times, you do feel the pace could have been faster but for the most part, it works in favour of the film.
After playing lead roles in popular television shows and leaving a mark with important parts in a couple of Hindi films in the recent past, Vikrant Massey makes a solid impression as, what his probably his first leading role in a film. The film is laced with some sterling performances by notable actors but it would not be wrong to day that his is the soul of the film. It is a complex and difficult part to play but Vikrant plays it with remarkable ease. Ranveer Shorey is in his elements as Vikram. He brings out the various shades of the character effortlessly. Gulshan Devaiah is first rate as Nandu. Kalki Koechlin brings a certain amount of arrogance and flamboyance to Mimi's character which works very well. Tillotama Shome, last seen in Hindi Medium, leaves a mark.
A Death In The Gunj is easily one of the finest films made by a first-time director in the last couple of years. Konkona SenSharma uses the script, milieu and the other elements effectively to make an intricate, intimate and original film.