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It is hard to believe that this is a directorial debut! It isn’t so much the concept, because fans of Indian literature an Indian short stories will be familiar with tales like this, but the way she uses her actors and effortlessly manages to bring out a film that leaves you incapable of looking at anything else but the screen.

Konkona Sen Sharma excels at emotions, both at expressing them and at getting her talented actors to do so.  Not that the actors here need any prodding since they are all worth their salt but somehow, it just seemed better than their usual work. I realise I haven’t told you what the story is so let me do that. We follow Shutu, a very shy student who is doing his masters as he accompanies his relatives and heads to a relative’s house at a small town to vacation for a week. The story spans that time and is divided into day one, day two and so on. It is set in the late 1970s and the clothes seem to reflect that but the language sort of seems a bit more current.

Shutu isn’t the most popular in his family, in fact he seems to be the….runt of the litter so to speak and is constantly bullied and made fun of. He is torn between wanting to be a part of the “cool kids” group and wanting to be safe by spending time with Tani, his niece. Apart from this he has a few skeletons in his closet and seems to be suffering from depression. All of this put together in a tense holiday atmosphere brings out the worst in everyone and the holiday goes to hell.

This is where Konkona Sen Sharma sets herself apart as a writer and director. Where another director would have turned this into a gory story of voyeurism, a bloodbath and other such things she takes a subtle route and showcases human suffering, loneliness, rejection and isolation. The actors are stellar in their roles, particularly Vikrant Massey whom I don’t remember seeing much on screen. He carries the role of Shutu so well that you probably will have trouble seeing him as anyone else! And Kalki Koechlin carries off Mimi with ease. Yes the other characters did their job well too but these two, and Ranvir Shorey remain in my mind vividly.

The camera work was tastefully done, the editing was top notch and the sound was perfection. They say the sign of a good film is when you do not notice these things and that is how it is in Death In The Gunj. You do not notice the music you do not notice the camerawork and you certainly don’t notice editing. It is done expertly and I should have expected nothing less than this from such a class act like Konkona Sen Sharma.

If I had one problem it would be that the ending was a bit predictable. I knew what would happen after the opening scene and that, if there had been one small change in one of the actors’ reaction, would have made it more difficult to guess. I know what she was truing to do with putting those actors there but it would have been better if one of them hadn’t been there since they give away the ending. I believe this is based on a short story (I was too busy mixing my flavouring with the popcorn to notice what was written about that before the movie started) but I haven’t read it so my review is based purely on the film as a standalone form.

Here are some things to note before going to watch this film. You will not enjoy this if you are a typical commercial film fan, if you enjoy mindless entertainment then this isn’t for you. It also isn’t for you if you expect something lewd because it’s an “art film” (yes I know people like this, I don’t know why I know them). The story is slow paced and purposeful, each scene and each dialogue means something and if you are going to get bored that there isn’t any action, best give this a miss. Or maybe expand your horizons by learning to appreciate something that is artistic and beautiful.

I would say this is a must watch film. I’m probably going to get it on DVD as soon as it is out and it’ll be a good film to rewatch on cold sleepless nights.