When you rewatch A Death in the Gunj, you realise how one of the first scenes, of Shutu, Vikram and Nandu, in the Ambassador car is a premontion to how Shutu’s character will be treated throughout the film. The shot is framed such that Nandu takes the wheel, with Vikram sitting shotgun, while Shutu sits uncomfortably in the back, holding on to both their seats. The scene preceding it, hints at a dead body in the trunk of the car: almost making Shutu seem like an apparition. That is what debut director Konkona Sen was getting at: how some people remain invisible, even when with their family. Konkona, who scripted and directed this film based on story her father wrote, has been awarded the prestigious Gollapudi Srinivas Award. She talks about her journey from being an actor to a director. Excerpts:A Death in the Gunj was a sort of Lord of the Flies for adults, where you had to establish a pecking order. Every scene is just the right amount of uncomfortable to watch.
How do you manage to get that?
It isn’t just about Shutu, it could be the story of any family. The power dynamic between family members is very interesting. How some people, some family members have more power than others. And why that is the case. Maybe they are better providers… After all, we need some kind of social order for security. These were the things that were interesting to me, so I was trying to put that across. Even with the music, the shots, I wanted the audience to feel that sense of paranormal. I wanted to play with that idea and then dispel the notion, only to bring back a bigger metaphorical ghost.
What were the challenges in making the movie? Was there ever a point where you thought it won’t get made?
The major challenge would have been shooting in McCluskieganj, a small sleepy town with minimum infrastructure. And you know how messy films can be. Most of us were living in Ranchi and had to commute three hours a day. So those were logistic challenges. It wasn’t a mainstream movie, so we were working with a small budget. Time was a very limited resource, we had to finish shooting in 30 days. And then there were a lot of bandhs in that area due to some political unrest. We lost four days to that.
What is your process as a director? Do you need to write the story yourself?
In A Death in the Gunj, I wrote the script myself, along with an associate. I have made only one film, so I don’t have any fixed ideas about how this is going to be down the line. This one in particular, was part of me since childhood. I knew the people, I knew the place. So I developed the story in my head for a while before I actually sat down to write it. I don’t know how it will be with future films but I’m open to the idea of reading a script written by someone else and taking it up.