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There is a strange kind of fear that every man faces at least once in his life. It’s the fear that arises from the constant need of proving his masculinity.  In this fetid jungle of manhood, the young sensitive boys often become the prey. They are forced to obey certain rules i.e. ‘You are not man if you can’t drive car flawlessly in the first attempt’, ‘Your manhood is disqualified if you get startled by the sound of creaking door’. It starts with teasing and taunting and soon turns into torture. Such is the case with Shuttu (Vikrant Massey), a fragile man who is subjected to emotional abuse.

The film starts with two men trying to fit a dead body in the trunk of car. And then it cuts back to the seventh day before the death occurs. This passage of time adds to the suspense. With each day, we get closer to solving the mystery. The mysterious part is not what is going to happen but how it is going to happen. The film is set in misty woods of McCluskiegunj in 1979.  A family reunion takes place in the house of uncle Bakshi (late Om Puri). They celebrate New Year’s Eve with drinks, games and little mischief.  But without their knowledge, they’re involved in another game that includes eight bourgeois adults, a modest servant, a neglected child, her puppy and a gun hanging on the wall- it’s the game of death.

Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) represents the hyper-masculinity in terms of ego and aggression. He’s kind of guy who’d kill someone to protect his ego. Every time he visits the house, he brings new objects, i.e. tape recorder, motorcycle and lastly a revolver.  All these objects somehow disrupt the balance of the house. He is chaotic evil. If it weren’t for him, the party would’ve been the usual dinner and dance. Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), on the other hand, is mischievous but not mean. Shuttu represents hypomasculinity, a man with artistic sensibility and childlike innocence. Vikram causes him to feel afraid, and that fear, that insecurity drives him to the brink of madness.

One of the most intriguing scenes in the movie involves the game of summoning the noble spirit. They form a circle, burn the candle and wait for the spirit to answer. Vikram asks the spirit who is going to die first. This scene cleverly establishes characters, allowing us to know each of them. Despite being overcrowded, every character is well developed and brilliantly performed. Vikrant Massey (Shuttu) has delivered one of the finest performances of the year, one that will linger in your mind and haunt you. For a debut, Konkona Sen Sharma’s direction is astounding. Despite being a murder mystery and spooky thriller, the film has the right amount of humor. The film is gorgeous to behold. Every frame is shot with perfection and is accompanied by playful score. Even in her debut, Konkona’s artistic sensibilities are on display.

Watching Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death in Gunj is like reading your personal diary from the days of childhood and discovering a beautiful butterfly stuck between the pages of rusted memories. The sad thing is, the butterfly was burnt with a magnifying glass just to become a bookmark in your life.

★★★★

 

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