‘A Death in the Gunj’ is a 2016 family drama movie directed by Konkona Sen Sharma. The movie has an ensemble cast of Vikrant Massey, Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiah, Ranvir Shorey, Jim Sarbh, Tilottoma Shome, Tanuja and Om Puri. Konkona Sen Sharma is brilliant in conveying the problem of toxic masculinity via a seemingly simple setting. In 1978, Ranchi, seven individuals gather at McCluskiegunj to spend a short winter vacation. The movie sets out to show a complex set of emotions and relations that develop and escalate further.
The protagonist of the movie is Shutu. Played to perfection by Vikrant Massey, he is a gentle and sensitive boy who has recently lost his father. He is struggling to come to terms with the overwhelming sense of loss and has consequently failed his exams. His emotions are rarely understood by anyone in the family. However, he finds a close companion in the eight-year-old Tani. They spend time together which once again calls for much banter. Consequently, the movie escalates to present to us a story of toxic masculinity and how diabolic it ends up being.
Throughout the movie we see the men trying to imbibe traits of violence and coarseness in the tender Shutu. There are understated elements of horror which come full circle towards the end of the movie. The motif of creepy atmospheric settings and cliched planchets are represented from the beginning but the truest form of evil is not a ghost. It is the stereotypical expectations of masculinity which lead to the titular ‘death.’
Shutu is not interested in rowdy games of kabaddi but is forcefully made to play. In the game, Shutu is injured by a fierce Vikram (Ranvir Shorey). However, this violence is discarded with a simple statement of “boys will be boys.” In another instance of the film, we see Shutu’s cousin (Gulashan Devaiah) being a vehement driving teacher to him. He smacks his head which metaphorically show us the fierce upbringing that men are indicted into.
Shutu’s sensitivity makes him feel increasingly alienated. Sen Sharma is marvellous in bringing out how family structures become oppressive for some. The increased sense of suffocation that Shutu feels is transferred onto the viewers. This alienation reaches a tipping point in a physical form of isolation. On a scary night a defenceless Shutu is left all alone amidst a wolf-infested forest. His predicament is paid very little attention.
The movie began with Devaiah and Sarbh stashing a dead body in the car trunk. The movie accordingly ends with them driving off in the same car. The death is indicated at various points throughout the film. This occurs with glorification of old guns and the machismo attached to them. However, the gun is once again a metaphoric representation of violent masculinity. ‘A Death in the Gunj’ is streaming on Amazon Prime and deserves your attention. Give it a watch to understand and find out more about Sen Sharma’s discreet horror film which is giving its viewers a new perspective on gender roles.