Case Files – The Bollywood Detectives

It’s raining detective films,we investigate into B-town’s sudden interest in the genre.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published:October 25, 2013 2:27 am

In Baadshah,Shah Rukh Khan sings to a dog,dances in a nightclub,acts blind to woo his girl and does practically everything a Bollywood hero is expected to do,while playing a detective in the film. While the 1999 comic caper isn’t the most veritable portrayal of a private eye,it was after a long time in the Hindi film landscape a leading star played a detective in a big-ticket movie. Fourteen years later,the men-in-white director duo,Abbas and Mustan,are in the prep mode for another full-fledged detective movie.

“What makes us keep going back to detectives is the fact that we had few such movies in Bollywood,” says Mustan,one half of the director duo who describes their upcoming film as a “stylised detective thriller”. With a ready script but the star cast yet to be announced,Mustan doesn’t reveal more,but it is,however,not the only Hindi detective film in the making.

While Dibakar Banerjee has tied up with Yash Raj Films for his noirish take on Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s Bengali literary classic Byomkesh Bakshy featuring new star on the block,Sushant Singh Rajput in the title role,Vidya Balan-starrer Bobby Jasoos,directed by debutante Samar Sheikh and co-produced by Dia Mirza and Sahil Sangha is a “coming of age” tale of a young woman. Bobby Jasoos is touted as India’s first lady detective on screen,which proved to be a clincher for the film’s leading lady. “I found the idea of a lady detective irresistible,as did the title Bobby Jasoos,” says Balan.

Then there is Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos,toplining Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif. Incidentally,Kapoor turns producer with this film — he and Basu have launched a production house called Picture Shuru Productions. Jagga Jasoos is being touted as a children detective film on the lines of Indiana Jones meets Tintin. Kapoor plays a 17-year-old,Class XII schoolboy in the film,while Govinda plays his father. In Rajshri Productions’ Samrat & Co,Rajeev Khandelwal plays a realistic private investigator. All these films go on the floor this year end.

But Bollywood films haven’t always got its detectives right.

Usually these films border on murder mysteries,or are closer to the spy thrillers,the most notable examples being the Vijay Anand classic Jewel Thief starring Dev Anand,or comedies such as Do Jasoos and Gopichand Jasoos — in the former Raj Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar starred as two middle-aged detectives. The more recent examples such as Ek Tha Tiger,Madras Café and Agent Vinod are more “spy films” than detective mysteries.

The truly detective genre movies have been few and far between. While Shakti Samanta’s 1957 film Detective is largely forgotten,Rajat Kapoor’s debut film Two Plus Two Plus One didn’t even get a proper release. Then there are the campy portrayal of government agents such as Jeetendra-starrer Farz (1967) or the 1992 film Mr Bond featuring Akshay Kumar.

“Detectives are currently going through an identity crisis in our cinema. They are meant to be anything — from a jasoos to a spy to an agent. The term detective means an urban man gifted with detective skills like observation and intelligence. We’ve never seen this in a Hindi film,and that excites me,” wrote Dibakar Banerjee in an earlier column for this paper on Byomkesh Bakshy.

So what explains Bollywood’s sudden enthusiasm for detective films? While it hasn’t proven to be a winning formula yet,with all the films just being announced in the last six months,it comes at a time when the industry,in general,is more conducive to newer stories. And detective films are emerging as a potential new genre. “When I was making Detective Naani,Bollywood producers and distributors weren’t ready to take a risk with a story about an eighty-plus old woman,two children and a dog. Had I made the film today,it would have got a better chance because the industry is opening up,” says Romilla Mukherjee,director of the film,who eventually managed to make it with private funding including her own.

Cinematically too,detectives,with a set of character traits,are an attractive proposition for the filmmakers. “What make detective stories fun is the unpredictability with which cases are solved. Unlike a police officer or a RAW agent,there are no legal or bureaucratic barriers. That naturally makes them adventurous in their way of reaching the conclusion,” says Mustan. Shoojit Sircar,who dealt with the life of a spy in the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war in the hard-hitting Madras Café,is a self-confessed enthusiast for such stories.

“Detective stories excite us because the world of detectives is so different from people’s everyday lives,” says Sircar. His dream project is to adapt Satyajit Ray’s popular Bengali classic Sonar Kella,featuring one of Bengal’s most loved literary characters Feluda,into a pan-Indian movie with Aamir Khan in the lead. “But it’s only on my wish-list for now. I don’t want to touch the genius of Ray,but I feel such magic should reach out to a wider pan-Indian audience,if Sandeep Ray (Satyajit Ray’s son) doesn’t have any objection,” he says.

Another possible factor behind the trend of detective films is perhaps the popularity of the genre in literature — be it celebrated Western sleuths such as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot,or closer home,Feluda or Byomkesh.

“We are all fascinated by how a detective’s mind functions,his keen observation skills,high IQ,attention to detail and the ability to put the pieces of a puzzle together — all that we have read in Sherlock Holmes novels,” says Dia Mirza,producer of Bobby Jasoos.

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