Sunday, June 25, 2017

Konkona Sen Sharma's very Bengali directorial debut with "A Death in the Gunj"

It ins passing that one must take note of the fact that Aparna Sen's directorial debut, "36 Chowringhee Lane" was in 1981, when the actress was 35. Her daughter, Konkona Sen Sharma's directorial debut, "A Death in the Gunj" comes 36 years later, when Sen Sharma is 37. Both are films about urban Bengalis, and middle class. In "36 Chworinghee Lane" the Anglo-Indian strand of the story is dominant, and as a matter of fact, Jennifer Kendall's memorable performance as the Anglo-Indian school-teacher is th defining characteristic of the film, and the excellent cinematography of Ashok Mehta with the perfect frames etches itself in memory. In "A Death in the Gunk", the Anglo-Indian strand is a minor one, but it is there. The Bengalis in McCluskie Gunj are quite Anglicised, like many middle class Bengalis of a certain kind.
"A Death in the Gunj" explores in a subdued manner the mildly dark undertones of many of the characters beneath the veneer of cheerfulness. Everything that happens in a distraction from the real issue. It concerns Shutu, played well by Vikrant Massey,the failed graduate student who is mourning the death of his father, and who seems to be on the edge of regression as well as depression. Then there is Mimi, and Kalki Koechlin at last gets the role where she can showcase her acting talent, who is a jilted lover unwilling to let go. The family, Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), Bonnie (Tilottama Shome), their daughter Tani (Arya Sharma), their parents, the Bakshis, played by Om Puri and Tanuja, form the fulcrum of the story.
What Sen harma manages to do is to get the nuances of a middle class Bengali family, which lives away from Koljata, as many Bengalis do, and retain much of their Bengaliness in terms of middle class values and anxieties.The story unfolds slowly, and the details fill the scenes.It is a 1970s art-house movie -- the story is set in 1979 -- made in 2016. Of course, it is charming. The camera captures the misty loveliness of the hills and the forests. The tragic note is embedded in the lap of gentle wilderness around. Unhappiness becomes memory, which can be recalled without experiencing the trauma.

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