A Death In The Gunj: A Fine Attempt To ‘Whitewash’ Our History

I can rarely stand Masala in anything other than food. I even  hate Masala tea. Naturally, this means I don’t watch many Bollywood movies. However, many of my friends argue that there are many non-Masala Hindi movies which I am not aware of because I’m an ignorant Madrasi. So when I found a movie called ‘A Death In The Gunj’ on Book My Show which I hadn’t heard about in an advertising blitz, I thought I’ll try it out, especially since the critics had written that Konkana Sen Sharma had made a marvellous debut as a powerful story teller with this film.

a death in the gunj
1979 Bihar

What I saw however was a pretentious attempt to make the audience believe that India/Bihar in the 1970’s had a culture that very closely resembled the one shown in American sitcoms like Friends. They just looked a little different and drove ambassador cars apparently. The acting was pretty good, especially Vikrant Massey’s performance as Shutu. The cinematography, camera work, etc. were all good but none of that could make me get over how the characters used the F word and talked exactly as how people would in a pub in Bangalore or Delhi in 2017. Apparently in 1979 Bihar, elderly parents were completely cool with guys and girls drinking, smoking and joking about the promiscuity of one of the characters. They would just sit, smile and pour a drink for you. Shutu talks about getting back to college in ‘Cal’ (Calcutta) and Mimi blows cigarette smoke in his face and asks if he has any time for girlfriends in between all that studying.

Also 1979 Bihar

If anybody who loved the movie like the critics did reads this, I’m sure that they would protest and say that I do not know what the lifestyle was like in McCluskieganj, a small hilly town in Bihar, present day Jharkhand that was founded specifically to serve as a homeland for the Anglo -Indian community. But guess what, neither did my friend who is from Jharkhand. He had to look that up in Wikipedia and tell me. I’m sure there might have been small places or groups in India where this culture existed, and I really don’t mean to be morally preachy or something. My problem is, why are we so desperate to find niche communities whose culture and lifestyle is very far from most of our country to showcase in our stories? Of course movies can choose any setting that the writer or director sees to be fit for storytelling purposes, but there was nothing in the plot of this movie that required such a setting. It could easily have been set in modern day India, or it could have been set in normal, non progressive 1979 India and the story would not have been affected. 

Being a blog, this is purely my personal opinion about the film and I’m aware that I might not speak for everyone. But I’m sure that at least a few other people want to see movies and stories that are more representative of what our society is like and used to be like. As far as I know, in most of India, especially in the 70’s, parents were more likely to disown you rather than pour you a drink as you talk about your friend Vikram’s family jewels in front of his wife. I’m not one of those people who are worried about western culture spoiling our new generation or anything of the sort. I just think we should be more honest about what our society is like and was, instead of imagining 1979 as we would have liked it to be and pretending like it was real. Let’s not reboot Indian history please. Its not a Spiderman movie.

Of course, the movie makers might not have intended to do any of this and might have genuinely just picked a story about some obscure town with very different traditions. Filmmakers are not obligated to tell stories about population samples which are statistically representative of India as a whole, but when Karan Johar movies pretend like every high school in India has prom night and the supposedly different and realistic Indie movies have Om Puri pouring a drink for the kids when they talk about Vikram’s nuts, some people in the audience will think that all our movies are escapist and far from reality.

Show me a movie with a more accurate portrayal of 1979 Bihar that my friend from Jharkhand would be able to identify as Bihar without opening Wikipedia and I will consider it worth my time and money. If reality absolutely doesn’t matter in any genre of movies, we should all just watch porn then.

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