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Review: ‘A Death In The Gunj’ Unravels The Reality Behind ‘Happy’ Families

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The ground is set already when the scene opens in a city, trembling in peak winter. The tired sun that cannot decide if it wants to rise, the insects already stocking their nests and ready to hibernate, the orchestra of cicadas that easily blends in the suspicious eerie silence of the evenings, the absence of roses and the long purple nights. In such a set-up, the only noise that rips apart the slumber of the forest is the loud laughter of a happy family. The perfect family with rotund bellies feasting on meat and wine, slyly rubbing bodies against each other in jest, and like every other family, unable to keep track of the share of love every member is receiving.

It’s easy to feel left behind in a world dishevelled by adults. Where the youth is thought to be cooped up with only a compensatory adrenaline rush, sex is but a form of hospitality, and children and servants are outcasts for just not being alike. Amidst these artificialities, humble Shutu draws dreamy figures in his diary, takes interest in dead moths and the funeral of ants, befriends his six-year-old niece Tani and vehemently resists metamorphosis.

His brother Nandu, like most elder siblings, puts him through helpful tests to man him up – driving, planchettes, kabaddi. But Shutu is already a man with weak arms but a muscular heart that can carry immeasurable weight. He is the reincarnation of Franz Kafka, sniffing for traces of love in his dead father’s sweaters and his seductive muse’s white ankles and the melancholy of his wailing mother. The film brings back to my aching mind a nostalgia of theatrical plays, where the characters were the fodder and the story but a resource, rather than the other way round.

Nandu’s wife, Bonnie, and mother, Anupama are an accurate reflection of the legacy of homemakers; dreamless eyes, unquestioning obeisance, and principled Elizabeth Bennet-like always in charge of what more than one person could possibly handle. Vikram (Ranbir Shorey) is the perennially candescent splinter and Mimi (Kalki) is the moth dancing in its flame. O.P (Om Puri’s character) has drunk, blood-shot eyes and a jovial persona, which often confuse his granddaughter for a tortoise, and dismiss the bruises under Shutu’s eyes as child’s play. Tani is a young and curious fluttering butterfly who just broke out of her cocoon. Maniya and Manjuri, their domestic help, are observers of the building up of crime, which in this movie, is neither an accident nor an event, nor a well-hatched conspiracy, but a sudden condensation of reality.

The timeline of growing up is riddled with tough milestones to surpass. The degradation of the parents’ narrative from ‘are you facing a problem we don’t know about?’ to ‘what is the problem with you?’, bodily changes, the political intrusion of lust and control in relationships and the devaluation of childhood dreams, which are too much for a heart which still has not grown anaesthetic to pangs of betrayal and dishonesty. As Shutu tries to brush through these and more, he watches little Tani with wet eyes who will soon be stepping into this war too. A war which is endless and perpetual. It is called adulthood, where the temporary campsite on the battleground is supposed to be your permanent home. Where defeat is inevitable but the contest is about who can survive longer.

With this debut, Konkana Sen Sharma blurs the lines between a book and a movie, unveils how modern art is about context rather than content, undresses the guilty faces of families, where it is surprisingly easy for someone to not matter at all. By the end, I wished the movie could have been longer and I was given more time to build intimacy with the characters of Mimi or Vikram to know what went into the making of their lustful, unconquerable and ambitious hearts. But alas, a movie can only be a window to another world and not a door, an excerpt of an unending saga which is still happening behind the closed walls of silent homes and secluded hostel rooms, a crime that is taking place without any blood dripping – which no one knows about now, no one will figure out the reason behind, but everyone will blame themselves for.

My rating: 4.5/5.

Image Credit: A Death In The Gunj via Facebook
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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